Dissolving a marriage is an emotional process, which means matters such as allocating assets and parenting can become complicated and contentious. There are legal issues as well, and here are points South Carolina residents should consider.

Will You Require an Attorney?

For couples without children and with scant property, it is possible to complete necessary documentation without legal assistance. It is advisable, though, to have an attorney review the case for complications now and in the future.

Other Possibilities

Though some couples investigate annulment because the process is more expedient than a divorce, annulments rarely are granted. Grounds for this procedure, which declares the marriage invalid, include marriage under duress, lack of cohabitation and bigamy. Though the state does not permit "legal separation," the law does allow orders of separate maintenance and support that settle financial and custody matters while stopping short of dissolving the marriage.

Grounds for Divorce in South Carolina

South Carolina permits no-fault divorce only if the individuals have resided separately for one year, and the state has a one-year residency requirement that must be met before the separation period can begin. Additional grounds for divorce are habitual drunkenness, desertion, adultery and cruelty.

Settlement Talks

Many couples realize quickly how expensive a protracted, contentious divorce can be and turn to mediation to formulate agreements on matters such as custody, assets and maintenance. Though South Carolina law does not require mediation, judges frequently will order it, particularly for custody and visitation matters.

Court Orders

Prior to the divorce, a spouse who fears a partner may request a protective order in an emergency, while issues such as custody or spousal maintenance can be addressed in an order for "separate maintenance and support."

Property and Debts

South Carolina mandates "equitable distribution," which means that marital assets are divided fairly. That is not necessarily an even split. If the parties cannot come to an agreement, a judge considers evidence such as the duration of the union and relative financial contributions to determine equitable distribution. All assets are not necessarily marital property, however; bequests to an individual or property obtained prior to the marriage usually are individual assets and not part of the property settlement.

South Carolina Custody and Support

Child custody includes two components: physical, which addresses living arrangements, and legal, which establishes parameters for medical, education and similar decisions. If the parties cannot resolve parenting differences, a judge will decide based on the child's best interests.

Visitation and support are unrelated issues, with state guidelines setting parameters for financial payments, though a judge has the latitude to raise or lower the amount. Parties also might want to consider the tax ramifications of support payments—spousal-support is taxable to the recipient, while child support is not.

Medical Insurance

Because of the astronomical expense, medical issues can become paramount these days. Both parents in this state have an obligation to provide for their children's medical care. Often, if one spouse has been providing insurance for the family, that person commonly will continue coverage for a specific timeframe, with parents customarily splitting noncovered expenses for children.

Seeking a Divorce Attorney in South Carolina

Either spouse—though traditionally it is the woman—may retain a married surname or return to any previous name, but the final decree incorporates any request to change the name. Sometimes one party will file a motion to alter custody or support orders after the divorce is final; a judge will decide whether to issue the order.

This article is general review of South Carolina divorce law. Consult a local attorney for questions about specific situations.

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