Same-sex marriages were legally recognized in South Carolina after a federal court ruling on November 20, 2014. Consequently, judges were bound to grant any gay divorce in South Carolina. Also, the state abolished the right to enter into a common-law marriage after July 24, 2019. So same-sex couples now have only one option — official marriage and official same-sex divorce in South Carolina. However, courts still recognize common-law unions if created before July 2019.
Divorce laws in South Carolina regarding the legal procedure are the same for same-sex unions and heterosexual marriages. The law is the same for all state residents, which means that all couples can file for same-sex divorce in South Carolina on equivalent terms.
Same-sex divorce online
Same-sex couples have an option to file for divorce in South Carolina without an attorney if they agree on all terms of their separation in advance. In this case, they can opt for a so-called do-it-yourself divorce and collect all the necessary documents on their own. Divorce over the Internet is a fast and easy way for DIY divorcers to handle all the paperwork without leaving home.
Same-sex divorce paperwork in South Carolina can be obtained and completed online, for example, at southcarolinaonlinedivorce.com. The website offers the customers ready printable documents at an affordable price of only $139, one of the lowest on the Internet. The cost also includes detailed instructions and customer support.
Same-sex divorce papers in South Carolina
Same-sex divorce papers in South Carolina vary depending on the type of the case and the presence of minor children. Spouses who reach an agreement and want to separate amicably must complete and file the following same-sex divorce forms in South Carolina: Family Court Coversheet, Complaint for divorce, Certificate of Exemption, Summons, and Financial Declaration Form. Additional papers may be required later in the process.
However, for a contested case, spouses will need more specific information on how to file a same-sex divorce in South Carolina that only an experienced lawyer can provide. It is not recommended to proceed by yourself unless you have an uncontested divorce.
Valid grounds for same-sex divorce in South Carolina
All same-sex couples have to meet the residency requirements to initiate a divorce process in South Carolina. At least one of the spouses must be a resident of the state for one year before filing for divorce. Also, when one of the same-sex partners plans to file for divorce in South Carolina, they must provide the court with a reason. There are two categories: no-fault and fault-based grounds.
Under South Carolina law, a couple can get a same-sex divorce based on one of the following grounds (SC Code § 20-3-10):
Desertion for one year;
Separate living for one year by agreement.
Separation for one year is considered a no-fault reason for ending the marriage. It means that a person married to a same-sex spouse can get a divorce in South Carolina without proving the other party’s guilt.
Custody of the Child
Family law in South Carolina provides both parents with equal rights regarding child custody. The court can award either joint or sole custody over children. A procedure for its determination requires that both parents submit a parenting plan for review. This plan must include living arrangements, a visitation schedule, and how major decisions about a child’s education, medical care, and religious matters will be made. The South Carolina Supreme Court has rules about how to implement the plan. One of the other requirements for couples with children is to enroll in a parenting class.
A judge will decide on the type of custody following the child’s best interests, which may include:
- the needs of a child and the parents’ capacity to meet those needs;
- the child’s preferences and the parents’ wishes about custody;
- the past and present relationship between a child, each parent, siblings, and other significant people;
- the ability of each parent to participate in a child’s life and facilitate continual contact of a child with another parent;
- the mental and physical health of all parties;
- the stability of a child’s present and proposed residence;
- whether one parent moved more than one hundred miles away from a child’s home unless it was for safety reasons;
- whether one of the parents was charged with child abuse or domestic violence;
- other relevant factors (SC Code § 63-15-240).
In South Carolina, both parents are responsible for paying child support out of their gross income, including salaries, wages, bonuses, rents, interest, annuities, social security benefits, unemployment benefits, etc. The sum of payments is determined with the help of state guidelines based on the Income Shares Model. Each parent has to pay their share according to the ratio between the individual and the joint gross income. The expenditures include food, household facilities, transportation, educational costs, etc.
If the judge believes the amount to be inappropriate or unjust, he or she can deviate from guidelines and consider the following factors (SC Code § 63-17-470):
- educational expenses for private or secondary schools with tuition;
- consumer debts and division of property;
- if there are more than six children;
- extraordinary medical or dental expenses;
- child support from other marriages;
- the significant disparity between the custodial and non-custodial parent’s income;
- other important factors.
One of the spouses with higher income can be ordered to pay spousal support to the other party if a judge discovers its need. In South Carolina, there are several types of alimony: periodic (that ends on the remarriage of a receiving spouse or death of either party), in a lump sum, rehabilitative (for a period during which a supported spouse will complete the training to find suitable employment), reimbursement, and separate maintenance and support.
If there is no prenuptial agreement about spousal support, a judge will determine its type and amount considering the following factors (SC Code § 20-3-130):
- the length of the marriage;
- physical and emotional condition of the parties;
- education and training of each spouse and their earning abilities;
- the standard of living during the marriage;
- current and future income, needs, and expenses;
- marital and separate property;
- tax consequences;
- marital misconduct;
- support obligations from other marriages;
- other relevant factors.
Each spouse can also apply for the modification of a support order if they can prove a substantial change in circumstances that affect each party’s needs or earning capacity.
Upon request of either spouse, divorce proceedings in South Carolina may include a marital property distribution between the parties. Marital property includes real and personal assets and debts acquired during the marriage and excludes gifts and inheritances.
How is property divided in South Carolina? According to the principle of equitability, a judge will divide assets based on each spouse’s contribution to the joint property. The following factors are also considered (SC Code § 20-3-620):
- the duration of the marriage;
- marital misconduct if it affected economic circumstances or led to the break-up;
- the value of marital property;
- the income and earning ability of each spouse;
- the need for additional training and education;
- the physical and mental health of the spouses;
- separate property of each party;
- existing support orders;
- tax consequences;
- other relevant factors.
All domestic relation cases are referred to mediation. It is an alternative way to resolve such issues as property distribution, child custody, and support arrangements before a final court hearing. Both spouses can go through the process with or without a lawyer. The result of negotiations is a settlement agreement submitted to the court for consideration.
The benefits of mediation are confidentiality and a peaceful atmosphere. Only spouses, a mediator, and lawyers are allowed to be present at the negotiations. Mediation is also a quick and inexpensive process if a couple is willing to cooperate. If the spouses cannot reach an amicable decision, they can still go to trial.
Filing fees for same-sex divorce in South Carolina
Couples who file for divorce in South Carolina to dissolve their same-sex marriage must pay mandatory filing fees. According to all family courts’ local rules, every new case costs $150 to initiate. If a person cannot afford this fee, they can ask for its waiver by providing the court with financial information that shows the inability to pay.
A petitioner must also decide how to serve the defendant — with the help of a Sheriff’s Department ($15), a private process server, or by US mail. If a person is married to a same-sex spouse and wants to get a divorce in South Carolina when the spouse is out of state and cannot be found, serving the papers can be done by publication.
How long will it take
Divorce for same-sex couples in South Carolina can be a lengthy process if spouses cannot agree to separate amicably. For fault-based cases, where the reason for divorce is adultery, cruelty, substance abuse, there is a three-month waiting period before any final judgment could be made. However, such cases extend from several months to a year because a couple must go through a divorce trial.
If there are no contested issues between the couple about child custody, spousal support, or property division, the length of the divorce process does not typically exceed 3-4 months from the date of filing. However, a couple has to reside separately for one year before the commencement of an action.