In Order to receive a divorce in South Carolina you must have one of the five available legal grounds.
Physical Cruelty – This is the ground based upon one spouse’s physical mistreatment of the other. It can be established by either a series of abuse, or by a single incident of exceptional violence. There is no requirement that one spouse ever be arrested or prosecuted for domestic violence or any other crime.
Adultery – This is established by proving that the spouse had both motive and opportunity to have a physical relationship outside of the marriage. It can be established by purely circumstantial evidence. Adultery can be based on homosexual acts. Courts do not consider a purely online or telephone relationship to be adultery.
Habitual Drunkenness – This is proven by showing that one spouse abuses alcohol or drugs to the point that it has resulted in a breakdown of the marriage. The drug or alcohol use must exist close to the time the divorce case is filed.
Abandonment or Desertion – This is the ground based upon one spouse’s leaving the other without their consent for one full year. This is a fault ground, and was established before the advent of the “no fault” option described below. Although this ground still exists, it has fallen out of favor and is no longer actively pursued by most Family Law attorneys.
One Year Separation – This is based upon showing that the spouses are “living separate and apart without cohabitation for a period of one year.” A divorce on this ground can be granted as quickly as the same day the pleadings are filed, there is no set waiting period. Unless special arrangements are made however it ordinarily takes 6-8 weeks to receive a Court hearing.
All of the grounds will likely require additional evidence beyond the parties’ testimony. This is usually accomplished through the testimony of a third party who can verify the authentic of the ground. This rule was created to prevent people from making up a fault ground in an effort to defraud the Court into granting a divorce they were otherwise ineligible for.
Divorces based on Physical Cruelty, Adultery and Habitual Drunkenness may be granted by the Court after as little as 90 days. However in order to obtain an expedited divorce it is necessary to have a complete and full agreement with your spouse as to all ancillary issues (such as child custody, alimony, property division, or debt allocation). If you do not have an agreement, and a trial is necessary, it will ordinarily take much longer than 90 days to have your case come to Court. By that point you may be eligible for a divorce on the One Year Separation ground.
Legal Separation does not exist in South Carolina. Our closest equivalent is called Separate Support and Maintenance. In the event that a ground does not exist, or a spouse does not want to pursue a divorce, they can request relief resolving ancillary divorce issues through a petition for Separate Support and Maintenance. In the event that a ground for divorce cannot be fully proven Court the judge is allowed to consider the case as one for Separate Support and Maintenance.