How do you get a divorce in South Carolina?

You may be surprised to learn that you couldn’t get a divorce in South Carolina before 1949, and, for decades after that, it was still extremely difficult to get a divorce, and options were limited. Today, it is much easier to get a divorce in South Carolina, but there is still a certain process and rules that must be followed.

Below, we will discuss how to get a divorce in South Carolina, including:

  • How to find a divorce lawyer,
  • The pleadings that must be filed in your divorce case,
  • How to get temporary relief once you have filed your complaint, and
  • When you will need to appear in court for hearings.

Divorces in South Carolina

Realizing that your marriage is not going to work out can be an incredibly painful process, full of confusion, doubt, and regrets. Once you have come to a point where you know you need to separate or divorce, it can be overwhelming.

How to Get a Divorce in South Carolina: Where to Start?

Finding a Divorce Lawyer

From start to finish, getting a divorce can be complex, and the process is full of pitfalls for litigants who do not understand South Carolina’s divorce laws and the court system.

Although we cover some basic information in this article, you may need a Charleston, South Carolina, divorce attorney to help you navigate the legal maze of procedural and substantive issues that will arise during the process.

How do you find the best divorce lawyer for your case?

  • Research local divorce attorneys – read their websites, check their standing on the SC Bar’s website, and ask friends and family for their opinions,
  • Call or email potential attorneys – if all goes well during your initial contact, set up a meeting to discuss your case and to see if you are comfortable with the attorney, and
  • Meet with one or divorce lawyers until you find one that 1) you feel comfortable with, and 2) is knowledgeable about South Carolina divorce law and the issues in your case.

Filing the Paperwork

In most divorce cases, the first paperwork that you will need to file is the Summons and Complaint. The Summons is attached to the Complaint, and it informs the other side that the action has been filed and that they will need to respond. The Complaint contains your allegations including specific information about your case and what type of relief you are asking the court to grant.

Residency Requirement

To file for divorce in South Carolina, you must meet the residency requirements – 1) you must have lived in SC for at least one year, or 2) your spouse has lived in SC for at least one year and you have lived in SC for at least three months.


You can’t just file for divorce anywhere – your complaint must be filed in the proper county. You should file your paperwork:

  • In the county where your spouse lives,
  • In the county where you and your spouse last lived together,
  • The county where you live if your spouse does not live in South Carolina, or
  • The county where your spouse lives if you are not a resident of South Carolina.

Service on the Defendant

Once your paperwork is filed, you must serve the Summons and Complaint on your spouse. You cannot serve the papers yourself, and there are specific rules that govern how the paperwork is to be served. Your spouse will then have 30 days to respond with an Answer to the Complaint.

Grounds for Divorce

You will need to explain in your paperwork why you are entitled to a divorce, alleging one of the four fault-based grounds for divorce (adultery, habitual drunkenness, physical cruelty, or abandonment) or that you have been living separate and apart for at least one year.

Unresolved Issues

In your Complaint, you can ask the court for relief on divorce-related issues like:

These issues will be resolved 1) in negotiations before your final divorce hearing, or 2) by the court at your final divorce hearing.

Temporary Hearings

There may be issues that you need help with immediately and that cannot wait for the final divorce hearing. The court may be able to resolve issues quickly in a temporary or an emergency hearing when they involve:

  • A danger to yourself or children (you can seek a protective order in an emergency hearing),
  • Child custody and visitation,
  • Child support,
  • Alimony, and
  • Marital property issues like who lives in the marital home while the divorce is pending.

Actions for Separate Support and Maintenance

You can ask the court for alimony in a temporary hearing as part of your divorce action, or, if you are not ready to file for a divorce yet, you can instead file an action for separate support and maintenance.

This allows the court to decide issues like child custody and visitation, child support, alimony, and division of assets while you are separated from your spouse but without asking for a divorce.

How to Get a Divorce in South Carolina: What’s Next?

Once you have filed the appropriate paperwork in the appropriate venue, served it on your spouse, and requested a temporary hearing, what now?

How do you get from filing the paperwork to crossing the finish line?

When Do You Go to Court?

In the simplest cases, you may be able to file and serve the Complaint, wait for the final hearing, and get your divorce papers.

Many cases are not that simple. However, depending on the facts of your case, you could have multiple hearings that you must attend in court, including:

  • Temporary hearings,
  • Emergency hearings,
  • Motion hearings to ask the court for discovery, to resolve substantive or procedural issues, or to ask the court’s help in obtaining evidence from the other side, and
  • Your final divorce hearing.

There may be specific requirements for various types of motions you need to file, there may be specific court rules that govern how the proceedings will operate (evidence rules for example, or the use of sworn affidavits instead of live testimony), and there may be requirements for documents that must be submitted in advance of hearings (financial declarations, for example).

Unresolved Issues

In a perfect world, all issues in your case will be resolved before you get to your final hearing, and the family court judge will review and approve your final divorce decree.

In most cases, however, there is a process for working out the issues in your case. Your attorney and your spouse’s attorney will attempt to negotiate and help you to reach agreements on issues like child custody, visitation, child support, alimony, and division of marital property.

If these or any other issues are not resolved through negotiations, you may be required to attend mandatory mediation where a trained mediator will attempt to help you to reach an agreement.

If any issues have not been resolved through negotiations or mediation, the family court judge will decide them at your final hearing.

Final Divorce Hearing

At your final divorce hearing, the court will:

  • Approve your settlement agreement and incorporate it into a final divorce decree,
  • Modify your settlement agreement based on the best interests of your children before incorporating it into a final divorce decree, or
  • Hear evidence from you and your spouse and decide unresolved issues before incorporating the court’s judgment into a final divorce decree.

Questions About How to Get a Divorce in South Carolina?

If you are wondering how to get a divorce in South Carolina, call an experienced South Carolina divorce attorney now who can answer your questions and help to protect your rights during the process.

Call 843-761-3840 or use this form to contact us today to discuss your case and start working towards the best possible outcome for you.

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