As divorce lawyers in Charleston, South Carolina, clients frequently ask how long it takes to get a divorce. In this article, we will explain how long it takes, the grounds for divorce in South Carolina, the procedure for getting a divorce in South Carolina, how to get a divorce in SC without waiting a year, how long does an uncontested divorce take in South Carolina, and more.
How Long Does it Take to Get Divorced in South Carolina?
Divorces in South Carolina take months while other divorces can take over a year. Whether your divorce drags on or not depends mostly on whether your divorce is contested or uncontested and the grounds for your divorce.
Uncontested Divorce in South Carolina
If the divorcing couple can agree on everything such as custody, child support, and splitting their property and finances, then the divorce is “uncontested.” Typically, uncontested divorces are based on the ground of one year’s separation. So, the faster they get their paperwork filed and get a final hearing date, the sooner they can get divorced (two to three months is a safe estimate).
Contested Divorce in South Carolina
In South Carolina, a contested divorce is likely to take 12 months or more. A contested divorce usually involves disputes about custody or visitation, alimony, child support, and property. If custody is disputed, then the family court appoints a guardian ad litem (GAL) to investigate and report back to the court. Unless the court orders the GAL to complete the investigation within a certain time, then it may take several months for the GAL to finish.
Also, in contested divorce cases, the family court allows the parties to engage in “discovery.” Discovery allows each side to obtain evidence from the other by requesting answers to interrogatories (written questions), requests for the production of documents, and depositions (out-of-court oral testimony of a witness that is reduced to writing for later use in court). Generally speaking, a party has 30 days to respond to discovery. If the party doesn’t respond, then the requesting party must file a motion to compel discovery which takes time to schedule with the court. Also, discovery can be obtained from non-parties by using subpoenas. Overall, discovery can take months to complete.
The Grounds for Divorce in South Carolina
South Carolina recognizes both fault and no-fault divorces. A no-fault divorce requires a 12-month separation period. Fault-based divorces don’t require a separation period.
Fault Grounds – 90 Days – If you are seeking a fault divorce in SC, then you can request a final hearing (a trial) 90 days after you file for divorce. In South Carolina, the fault-based grounds for divorce are adultery, habitual drug or alcohol use, or physical abuse.
No-Fault – 365 Days – The only “no-fault” divorce ground in South Carolina is one year’s continuous separation. In other words, you can’t file for your divorce until you have lived separately and apart from your spouse for one year.
The Procedure for Filing for a Divorce in South Carolina
First things first, there is time spent filing for the divorce and time for the other spouse to respond. In South Carolina, a divorce begins with the filing of a summons and complaint for divorce. After that paperwork is submitted to the clerk of family court, it has to be served on the other spouse such as by personal delivery by a process server. Afterward, the spouse who is served with divorce papers has 30 days to answer and to counterclaim. If the other spouse asserts a counterclaim, then the spouse who started the divorce has 30 days to respond to the counterclaim. So, not accounting for the time it takes to draft the summons and complaint, deliver it to the clerk of court for filing, and to serve the other spouse, it can take approximately sixty days to allow for the answer to the complaint and an answer to any counterclaims.
Final Divorce Hearing in South Carolina
A final divorce hearing in South Carolina is the formal court procedure where a judge is either approving the parties’ agreement in an uncontested divorce or is conducting a trial the judge reviews and approves the final divorce agreement. If the final hearing concerns an uncontested divorce, then the hearing is very short such as 15 to 30 minutes.
A Final Uncontested Hearing
Preparation for an Uncontested Final Hearing: Before the hearing, you or your attorney will prepare all the necessary paperwork including a proposed Final Order of Divorce, a financial declaration, and the agreement.
At the Hearing During an Uncontested Divorce: During the hearing, the judge will review all the paperwork and, after putting both parties under oath, ask questions about the agreement including:
- Do you believe this agreement is fair and in your best interests (and the interests of your child)?
- Were you under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or medications or suffering from any mental or physical condition that would impact your ability to understand and enter into this agreement?
- Are you under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or medications or suffering from any mental or physical condition that is affecting your ability to understand what is going on during today’s hearing?
- Are you capable of doing the things you have promised to do in this agreement?
- Has anyone promised you anything outside of what is detailed in your agreement?
- Were you coerced or threatened into entering this agreement?
- Are you entering into this agreement freely and voluntarily?
- Do you understand that if this agreement is approved it will be the final order of the court and will be enforceable by the contempt powers of this court including up to one year in prison, up to $1,500.00 in fines, up to 300 hours of community service, or any combination thereof?
- Are you satisfied that you are familiar with the other party’s finances?
- Do you understand that this agreement is non-modifiable except that this court retains jurisdiction to modify child custody, visitation, and support based on a substantial and material change in circumstances?
- Are you satisfied with your attorney and has your attorney answered all your questions about this agreement (if you have an attorney)?
- Are you knowingly making the decision not to hire an attorney and are you aware that the opposing lawyer does not represent you?
- Do you understand that by asking the court to approve this agreement, you are giving up your right to a trial?
- Do you want this agreement to be made a final order of the court?
- In an uncontested divorce, one spouse (typically the one who filed for divorce) will be asked to testify. The testimony generally involves affirming the details contained in the divorce complaint, such as the grounds for divorce, the separation period, and that at least one party has been a South Carolina resident for more than one year (if that’s applicable).
Additionally, the court will review the agreement and the parties’ financial declarations to make sure that the division of property, child custody, and support arrangements are fair and in the best interest of any minor children that may be involved. If the judge agrees that all issues have been adequately addressed, and the divorce agreement is fair, then the judge will approve the agreement and make it a final order of the court.
In an uncontested divorce based on one year’s continuous separation, one spouse (typically the one who filed for divorce) will testify that they (or the other party) has been a resident of South Carolina for a year or more, the date the parties separated, and that the parties have not resumed marital relations or lived together for a year or more. Additionally, the party seeking the divorce will have to bring a witness to testify and corroborate that the parties have lived apart for a year or more.
A Final Contested Hearing (Trial)
In a contested case, a final divorce hearing is a trial that is much more complex than an uncontested divorce. These trials can last days or weeks depending on how complex the case may be.
Preparation for a Final Contested Hearing: You and your attorney will prepare your case, which may involve engaging in discovery to gather evidence, preparing documents, and arranging for witnesses to testify on matters such as the division of assets, custody, and spousal support.
At the Final Contested Hearing: Both parties will present their cases to the judge. This involves opening statements, presentation of evidence, witness testimony, cross-examination, and closing arguments. The subjects presented at trial depend on what is contested but could involve property division, spousal support, child custody, and other issues.
Judge’s Decision Decree after a Final Contest Hearing: After the parties have presented their evidence to the court, a judge will make a decision on all contested matters. The judge will decide whether the parties have proved their grounds for the divorce whether the grounds are no-fault (one year’s continuous separation) or fault (adultery, habitual alcohol or drug abuse, or physical abuse), what is a fair distribution of assets, custody and visitation, spousal support (alimony), child support, and who may be responsible for paying the other party’s attorney’s fees and costs. After the judge makes his or her decision, the judge will prepare, sign, and file with the clerk of court a final divorce decree that lays out all the judge’s decisions regarding the divorce.
The Family Court’s Docket
Whether the family court docket moves slowly depends on where you file for divorce. Some counties in South Carolina, such as Charleston County, have more resident family court judges to hear cases than other counties do. Some counties do a better job than others and keep the docket moving along. Generally, it takes more time to schedule a day or more of trial in a contested case than it takes to schedule an uncontested divorce that takes 15 to 30 minutes in court.
How the Divorce is Handled
How the parties and their lawyers handle the divorce can have a big impact on how long it takes. The more the spouses are disagreeable with each other, especially when it concerns their children, the more contested and longer the divorce becomes. In some cases, it becomes clear that one or both spouses are trying to “punish” the other in family court. When spouses use the divorce process for “payback,” then the divorce is likely to drag on for a year or more. Likewise, some lawyers are very aggressive and encourage their clients to fight over all of the details of the divorce. The unfortunate truth is the more the spouses fight and the longer the divorce takes, the more the lawyers get paid.
Final Thoughts – Don’t Rush Your Divorce
Over the years, I’ve helped clients who rushed their divorce, didn’t cover all the details, and didn’t think ahead as to the future consequences of their decisions regarding their children, their finances, and more. Don’t make the mistake of rushing your divorce especially if there are children and financial issues involved. There are very few “second chances” in family court, so make sure you take the time necessary to handle it “right” no matter how badly you want out “right now.”
If you need a divorce attorney in Charleston, SC, contact Futeral & Nelson, LLC. Our divorce lawyers have helped people in Charleston, North Charleston, Mt. Pleasant, Summerville, Goose Creek, Hanahan, Moncks Corner, James Island, West Ashley, Folly Beach, Sullivan’s Island, Isle of Palms, Awendaw, McClellanville, and the surrounding areas.