The decision to end your marriage is never easy but is a decision made with hope for a brighter tomorrow. Naturally, you may be curious as to when that tomorrow could officially start. This leads to the bigger question, how long does the divorce process in South Carolina take? While it’s impossible to give a precise answer to this question, the general timeline can range anywhere from approximately 90 days to over a year or longer. The following discusses the different factors that influence the divorce timeline in South Carolina, so you can prepare for the journey ahead.
The Reason for Divorce Determines the Process Length in South Carolina
The biggest determining factor in the amount of time it takes for a divorce in South Carolina is the statutory reason given on your divorce petition. South Carolina’s Code of Laws recognizes five possible grounds for seeking a divorce, which the state describes as fault or 1 year separation. A fault reason is one where the cause of divorce relates to the specific conduct of one spouse and includes:
- Habitual drunkenness
- Physical cruelty (Note: South Carolina does not accept mental abuse or cruelty as a reason for divorce)
When a reason of fault is given (and corroborated) for your divorce, the South Carolina family court cannot issue a final decree any earlier than three months after filing the divorce complaint. This is the fastest timeline for processing a South Carolina divorce with the only exception being for cases where you seek divorce on grounds of desertion or separation that have already lasted for one year. In those situations, the family court can immediately hold a hearing and issue a divorce decree after the filing of a response or default (i.e., when the defendant spouse is nonresponsive).
How Long Does a Divorce Without Fault Reasons Take in South Carolina?
The fifth reason that South Carolina accepts as cause for processing a divorce is for one year separation. This happens when either spouse files for divorce after having separated without any cohabitation for one year or longer. This reason for divorce creates an overall longer process because you must endure the one-year separation period before filing, which then starts the clock on the three-month waiting period for issuance of a decree. In other words, the process for a divorce without fault reasons in South Carolina can take up to 15 months at a minimum.
Other Factors That Can Delay or Complicate a South Carolina Divorce
Aside from the grounds for divorce, other factors relevant to your marriage can create delays or further complications in the process. Those factors generally arise when the responding spouse challenges or contests any of the terms sought in the divorce petition, which include:
- Awards for ongoing spousal support or other forms of alimony
- The division of assets and liabilities (e.g., real property, retirement accounts, investments, business interests, personal loans, etc.)
- The custody and visitation rights for children arising from the marriage
- A spouse’s obligations for child support
When spouses disagree over these terms, the divorce process can easily lengthen because of the time needed to sort the matters, either through settlement or judgment from the family court.
Stages of the Divorce Process in South Carolina
The above may make the idea of divorce sound more difficult than it is. You can more easily consider the process of divorce in South Carolina into the following stages:
- Meet with a family law attorney for help identifying the most accurate reason for the divorce to state in the petition as well as other requests you may have like spousal support.
- File a divorce petition (i.e., complaint) in the family court of your jurisdiction, which is usually the county in South Carolina where you live.
- Your spouse will file a response (i.e., answer) to the petition within 30 days (or in cases where the spouse is nonresponsive, the court may order a default judgment).
- The court, no sooner than two months after filing, will schedule a hearing to confirm the grounds for divorce exist. This is also where the court will make a statutorily mandated attempt at reconciliation to see if the marriage can continue.
- Subsequent hearings or settlement conferences may be necessary depending on whether you or your spouse disagree over the terms of the divorce.
- The court will issue a final decree that formally ends the marriage and makes any necessary rulings related to the divorce terms like division of assets or child custody.
Final Thoughts on the South Carolina Divorce Process
When the marriage is beyond repair, a divorce can protect you, your kids, and your property from further harm. The divorce process can take anywhere from a few months to over a year or longer depending on your situation. Think about your reason for seeking a divorce and whether disagreement about the terms of the divorce is likely when trying to estimate your timeline.