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South Carolina’s Marital Property Division Laws

As divorce lawyers in Charleston, South Carolina, we deal with the division of marital property. In this article, we’ll discuss what is marital property in South Carolina, what is non-marital property, how the family court values marital property, how the court divides marital property, and how the court divides marital debts.

What is Marital Property in South Carolina?

In South Carolina, marital property is all the real and personal property acquired during the marriage and owned at the date of filing for a divorce regardless of whether the property was purchased in one spouse’s name. In South Carolina, the family court views marriages, in part, as an “economic partnership” that must be divided when you divorce. To divide marital property, the family court first decides what property is, in fact, marital. Then, the family court places a value (fixed at the date either party filed in family court) on both marital and non-marital property. Lastly, the family court divides the marital property between the spouses based on several factors. Marital property usually includes anything that was acquired by either spouse during the marriage, up until the date of filing in family court, such as:

  • cash on hand
  • money in checking, savings, and other financial accounts
  • retirement or pension funds
  • life insurance cash value
  • stocks and bonds
  • real estate
  • motor vehicles and boats
  • jewelry (excluding the engagement ring which is a non-marital gift)
  • household contents; and
  • any other property of value

For purposes of whether the property is marital, it doesn’t matter whose name the property is titled in, such as a home. Anything acquired after a party files in family court is typically not considered marital property.

Some property acquired during the marriage may be non-marital. For example, if a spouse acquires property through an inheritance or gift from someone other than their spouse, that property isn’t marital. Pre-marital property swapped for other property isn’t marital. A pre-nuptial agreement may specify that certain property is non-marital. Lastly, increases in the value of the non-marital property are non-marital unless the property increased in value because of the efforts of the other spouse during the marriage such as helping to repair a run-down, non-marital home.

What is Not Considered Marital Property in South Carolina?

In addition to inherited property and gifts from third persons, property that was acquired before the marriage is typically non-marital. Also, property acquired after filing in family court isn’t marital property unless it was acquired by exchanging marital property.

Depending on the circumstances, sometimes a non-marital property may become marital or otherwise be subject to valuation by the family court when there is commingling, transmutation, or the creation of special equity.

1) Commingling of Non-Marital Property

When a marital and non-marital property is commingled (mixed together) in a way that makes it impossible to decide what is marital or non-marital, all of the property becomes marital. A classic example of commingling is when the couple deposits their martial funds from paychecks, etc. into a financial account that belonged to a party prior to the marriage..

2) Transmutation of Non-Marital Property

If the parties show a clear intent to treat the non-marital property as marital, then this property “transmutes” into marital property.  A classic example of transmutation is when one party owns a home prior to the marriage, but both parties live there during the marriage and both pay the mortgage.

3) Special Equity in Non-Marital Property

The family court can award a spouse a “special equity interest” in the non-martial property even if the property hasn’t been transmuted. A special equity interest is created when one spouse’s direct or indirect contributions increased the value of the other spouse’s non-marital property. A classic example of special equity interest is when one spouse repairs or maintains the other spouse’s inherited property.

How is Marital Property Valued in South Carolina?

After the family court identifies both marital and non-marital property, it must then place a value on both types of property. The reason the family court values non-marital property is that the value is one of many factors the court considers in dividing marital property and in awarding alimony. The court values both types of property as of the date of filing in family court. However, the court has the discretion to consider both parties’ contributions to any post-filing increase or decrease in value. As for proof of value, the court can consider the parties’ own opinions, witness testimony, and experts’ opinions. How is Marital Property Divided in South Carolina?

After the family court has identified marital and non-martial and the values for each, the court must equitably divide the marital property. There is no mathematical formula by which the family court decides how to divide marital property. Instead, the family court makes its decision on a case-by-case basis considering the following factors under Section 20-3-620:

(1) the duration of the marriage;

(2) marital misconduct or fault of either or both parties;

(3) the value of the marital property;

(4) the income of each spouse;

(5) the health, both physical and emotional, of each spouse;

(6) the need of each spouse or either spouse for additional training or education in order to achieve that spouse’s income potential;

(7) the nonmarital property of each spouse;

(8) the existence or nonexistence of vested retirement benefits for each or either spouse;

(9) whether separate maintenance or alimony has been awarded;

(10) the desirability of awarding the family home as part of equitable distribution or the right to live therein for reasonable periods to the spouse having custody of any children;

(11) the tax consequences to each or either party;

(12) the existence and extent of any support obligations, from a prior marriage or for any other reason or reasons, of either party;

(13) liens and any other encumbrances upon the marital property;

(14) child custody arrangements and obligations; and

(15) such other relevant factors as the trial court shall expressly enumerate in its order.

Typically, the longer the marriage, the more likely the court will divide assets 50/50. Essentially, the longer the marriage, the more likely that both parties divided their responsibilities in a way that they believed was fair and so both spouses should enjoy the economic benefits of their marital “partnership” equally. In a shorter marriage, the family court is more likely to look closer at the parties’ contributions to the marriage before dividing property.

If there are third persons or entities that have an ownership interest in the property (such as partners in a business that is partially owned by a spouse), then the family court has the power to add these third parties to the lawsuit to accomplish the equitable division of that property.

In the end, if the property can’t be divided by giving each spouse “like-kind” assets then the family court may order that assets be liquidated (sold) and the proceeds divided between the parties.

How Are Marital Debts Divided in South Carolina?

In addition to dividing marital property, the family court also divides marital debts considering the same factors as listed earlier in this section. However, just because the family court divides assets in a particular percentage, such as 50/50, doesn’t mean the family court will divide debts in the same percentage. Typically, the spouse who has greater income will be responsible for a larger portion of the marital debts than the other spouse.

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