This page has basic information about divorce in South Carolina. You will find more information about divorce, including the risks of taking your children out of state while a divorce is pending, on our general Divorce page. To watch brief videos about divorce in Spanish with English sub-titles, go to our Videos page. Lastly, learn more about the court process on our Preparing for Court – By Yourself page.
- What are the residency requirements to file for divorce in South Carolina?
- What are the grounds for divorce in South Carolina?
- Can I get alimony/maintenance?
- What types of alimony/maintenance are there?
- What other orders can a judge make related to alimony?
- What are the basic steps for filing for divorce?
- Where can I find additional information about divorce?
What are the residency requirements to file for divorce in South Carolina?
To file for divorce in South Carolina, either you or your spouse must live in of South Carolina for at least one year before you file, or you both must live in South Carolina for at least three months before you file.1
1 S.C. Code § 20-3-30
What are the grounds for divorce in South Carolina?
Grounds are legally acceptable reasons for divorce. You can get a divorce in South Carolina without claiming that your spouse is at fault if you and your spouse live separate and apart without “cohabitating” for at least one year. Cohabitating means that you and your spouse lived together as if you were a married couple.
The judge can also grant you a divorce in South Carolina for certain “fault-based” grounds. The judge can grant you a fault-based divorce if your spouse:
- committed adultery;
- deserted you for at least a year;
- was physically abusive in such a way that your life and safety were at risk, and you would be unsafe if you continued living with her/him; or
- is under the influence of alcohol or drugs on a regular basis.1
1 S.C. Code § 20-3-10
Can I get alimony/maintenance?
Alimony, also called “maintenance” or “support” in South Carolina, is financial support paid by, or to, your spouse. In South Carolina, if you request maintenance, a judge may grant it after considering your and your spouse’s:
- marriage length;
- ages when you got married and when your marriage ended;
- physical and emotional conditions;
- educational backgrounds, and if either of you need more education or training to gain an income;
- employment histories and future ability to earn an income;
- “standard of living” while married. This is the way you and your spouse lived while married, considering things like what your expenses were and what kind of house you lived in;
- current and future earnings;
- current and future spending needs;
- property (both your separate property, or property you got in the divorce or in another maintenance action);
- custody obligations, particularly when having custody makes it difficult for the person with custody to work outside the home or work in more than a limited capacity;
- behavior, particularly behavior that affected how much money or property you have, or that contributed to the breakup of the marriage (a judge may only consider “misconduct” that happened before a marital settlement agreement was formally signed or permanent order of maintenance was approved by the court);
- tax consequences of a maintenance order;
- support obligations from previous marriages or for any other reasons; and
- any other factors a judge finds relevant.1
A judge cannot award you alimony if you committed adultery (and cannot award your spouse alimony if s/he committed adultery) until:
- you and your spouse formally sign a written property or marital settlement agreement; or
- a judge enters:
- a permanent order of separate maintenance and support, or
- a permanent order approving a property or marital settlement agreement.2
1 S.C. Code § 20-3-130(C)
2 S.C. Code § 20-3-130(A)
What types of alimony/maintenance are there?
South Carolina has different types of alimony. If the judge decides to grant alimony in your case, s/he must also decide which type is appropriate:
- “Periodic” alimony is paid on an ongoing basis until:
- the person getting alimony gets remarried;
- the person getting alimony begins living as though s/he is married with another person; or
- until either spouse dies;
- “Lump-sum” alimony is paid:
- in one large payment (a lump sum); or
- in several payments over a period of time, until the person getting alimony dies;
- “Rehabilitative” alimony is paid:
- in one large payment; or
- in several payments over a period of time until the person getting alimony is able to support her/himself financially.
For example, this kind of payment may end when the person getting alimony finishes his/her education or training for a job;
- “Reimbursement” alimony is paid:
- in one large payment; or
- in several payments over a period of time based on things that happened during the marriage, which allow a judge to order the paying spouse to pay back (reimburse) the person getting alimony.
Note: This kind of alimony payment can only end when the person getting alimony remarries, lives as though s/he is married with another person, or until either spouse dies;
- Temporary maintenance and support (often referred to as “pendente lite” support) is paid while the divorce case is pending. It continues on an ongoing basis until:
- you and your spouse are divorced (at which time, one of the other forms of alimony that are described above may kick in);
- the person getting alimony remarries;
- the person getting alimony lives as though s/he is married with another person; or
- you or your spouse die;
Note: This kind of alimony an be ordered in a separate maintenance action, even if a divorce action has not been filed, and may change based on future events or circumstances;
- The judge may also order some other form of spousal support with terms and conditions the judge finds appropriate under the circumstances.3
1 S.C. Code § 20-3-130(C)
2 S.C. Code § 20-3-130(A)
3 S.C. Code § 20-3-130(B)
What other orders can a judge make related to alimony?
The judge may set aside money for future support by requiring the spouse paying the support to post a bond,. This means that the spouse who pays alimony has to leave money or the title to property with the court (or elsewhere) to make sure that it is available to the spouse receiving alimony in case the paying spouse fails to pay. 1
The judge may also require the spouse paying support to maintain health or life insurance and to name the person getting alimony as the receiver (beneficiary) of the benefits.1
In terms of how the alimony gets to the spouse, the judge may order the spouse paying alimony to pay directly to the person getting alimony, or to make the payments through Family Court and pay any fees required by Family Court. Alternatively, the court may require the spouse paying alimony to pay off debts for the person getting alimony in addition to, or instead of, paying alimony directly to the person.2
1 S.C. Code § 20-3-130(D)
2 S.C. Code § 20-3-130(E)
What are the basic steps for filing for divorce?
While divorce laws vary by state, here are the basic steps:
First, you must meet the residency requirements of the state in which you wish to file.
Second, you must have “grounds” (a legally acceptable reason) to end your marriage.
Third, you must file divorce papers and have copies sent to your spouse. (To learn more about filing a summons, preparing a petition, and service of process, go to the Starting the Court Case page in our Preparing for Court - By Yourself section.)
Fourth, if your spouse disagrees with anything in the divorce papers, he will then have the opportunity to file papers telling his side. This is called “contesting the divorce.” In this case, you will have to attend a series of court appearances to sort the issues out. If your spouse does not disagree with anything, he should sign the papers and send them back to you and/or the court. This is called an “uncontested divorce.” If a certain period of time passes and your spouse does not sign the papers or file any papers of his/her own, you may be able to proceed with the divorce as an uncontested divorce anyway. You should speak to a lawyer in your state about how long you have to wait to see if your spouse answers the divorce papers before you can continue with the divorce.
Fifth, if there is property that you need divided, or if you need financial support from your spouse, you will have to work that out in an out-of-court settlement, or in a series of court hearings. Custody may also be decided as part of your divorce.
You can find more information about service of process in our Preparing for Court – By Yourself section, in the question called What is service of process and how do I accomplish it?
Where can I find additional information about divorce?
We hope the following links to outside sources may provide helpful information.
South Carolina Judicial Department has self-represented divorce forms for plaintiffs and defendants.
WomensLaw.org is unrelated to the above organizations and cannot vouch for the accuracy of their sites. We provide these links for your information only.