How to File a Divorce in South Carolina
By Beverly Bird
South Carolina once had a well-deserved reputation for being a difficult divorce state. It did not permit divorce at all until 1949, and it allowed it only on restricted fault grounds for 20 years after that. The legislature has come a long way since then. As of 2011, South Carolina allows all county court clerks to provide you with the forms you’ll need to file for divorce to help you expedite the process. You can also download them from the state’s website.
Gather the five forms you’ll need to begin your divorce process, either from the court or online. These include a complaint for divorce, a financial declaration, a certificate of exemption, a summons and a form for a cover letter to the court.
Complete your complaint for divorce. If you’re the spouse filing, you are the plaintiff and your spouse is the defendant. The complaint asks for information about your marriage, why you want a divorce, your children, and that you confirm you’ve been a resident of South Carolina for at least a year. Check the boxes that tell the court whether you have an agreement with your spouse regarding your property and debts, or if you need the court to decide these things for you.
Fill out your certificate of exemption. This form is only for use if you don’t need the court to decide issues of custody. Check the appropriate box explaining either that you and your spouse have already decided on a parenting plan, that you’ve scheduled mediation so you can work on a parenting plan, or that you have no children.
Complete your financial declaration, detailing your income, assets, debts and monthly budget to the court. One column pertains to your spouse’s finances and the other column relates to yours. Attach a copy of your most recent pay stub or paycheck. When you’ve completed this form, take it to a notary public and sign it in front of the notary.
Write your name and your spouse’s name on the summons form the same way you did on your complaint, with you as plaintiff and your spouse as the defendant. Date it and sign it at the bottom. This simple one-page form tells your spouse how long he has to respond to your complaint after he receives it. This information is already printed on the form; you don't have to worry about filling it in.
Write your names again on the top of the family court cover sheet. If you’re representing yourself, you can leave the line in first section marked “SC Bar #," blank. Your attorney would fill this in if you had one. Check the box that indicates you’re asking the court for a divorce and sign the letter.
Take your completed documents to the courthouse for filing. You have a choice of three counties. If your spouse resides in South Carolina, use the county where he lives. You can also use the county where the two of you last lived together. If your spouse does not live in South Carolina, you can file in the county where you live.
You must establish your ground for divorce when you complete your complaint. The state’s no-fault ground is separation of one year without cohabitation. There are also four fault grounds -- desertion, physical cruelty, adultery or habitual drunkenness on the part of your spouse. If you choose a fault ground when you write your complaint, South Carolina requires a two-month waiting period before you can be divorced, even if you and your spouse have a marital settlement agreement resolving all issues between you. If you file on the no-fault ground of separation, you don’t have to wait before scheduling your final hearing. Always consult an attorney if you have any questions. Children and large estates can make for complex divorces.
- South Carolina Judicial Department: Instructions for Completing the Self-Represented Litigant Simple Divorce Packet (PDF)
- Gorski Law Office: Divorce
- DivorceSupport.com: South Carolina Simplified Divorce Procedures
- Attorneys.com: How to Get a South Carolina Divorce
- South Carolina Judicial Department: Self-Represented Litigant Simple Divorce Packets
Beverly Bird has been writing professionally since 1983. She is the author of several novels including the bestselling "Comes the Rain" and "With Every Breath." Bird also has extensive experience as a paralegal, primarily in the areas of divorce and family law, bankruptcy and estate law. She covers many legal topics in her articles.