As a divorce lawyer in Charleston, South Carolina, clients frequently ask me how long it takes to get a divorce. Some divorces in South Carolina take months while other divorces can take over a year. Whether your divorce drags on or not depends on several things including: (1) the procedure for filing for a divorce; (2) the grounds for divorce; (3) whether the divorce is contested or uncontested; (4) the family court’s docket; and (5) how the parties and their lawyers handle the divorce.
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 as 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.
The Grounds for Divorce in South Carolina
Fault Grounds – 90 Days – If you are seeking a divorce on fault based grounds, 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 separate and apart from your spouse for one year.
Uncontested vs. Contested Divorce in South Carolina
Whether your divorce happens quickly or drags on mostly depends on whether your divorce is contested or uncontested.
Uncontested Divorce – 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). Click here to learn more about uncontested divorces in South Carolina.
Contested Divorce – In South Carolina, a contested divorce usually involves disputes about custody or visitation, alimony, child support, and property. These divorces can easily last a year and sometimes more. For example, if custody is disputed, then the family court appoints a guardian ad litem (GAL) to investigate and report back to the court (for a detailed discussion of custody disputes in South Carolina, click here.) 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 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 discover 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 Family Court’s Docket
Whether the family court docket moves slowly depends on where you file for divorce. Some counties in South Carolina have more resident family court judges to hear cases than other counties do. Some counties do a better job than others and keeping 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 to each other, 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. To learn why aggressive lawyers aren’t always effective lawyers, click here. 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 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” now matter how badly you want out “right now.” As an example, click here to read about six important steps you should take to plan financially for your divorce.