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Grounds for Divorce in South Carolina

Posted by J. Benjamin Stevens | Jul 31, 2012 | 0 Comments

There are five grounds for divorce in South Carolina. They appear as a list in S.C. Code § 20-3-10. Four are considered “fault” grounds: adultery, habitual drunkenness (or narcotics abuse), physical cruelty, and one year's desertion. The fifth ground, one year's separation is the “no-fault” ground. Since the length of separation for a no-fault divorce was reduced to the same time period as a desertion divorce, the use of desertion as a ground for divorce has almost completely stopped.

Unlike some other states, South Carolina does not recognize “mental cruelty” or “irreconcilable differences” as grounds for divorce. The first four grounds (adultery, physical cruelty, habitual drunkenness and desertion) are known as fault grounds for divorce. As mentioned above, the last ground (living separate and apart without cohabitation for a period of one year) is the only no-fault ground for divorce.

In order to obtain a divorce on the ground of adultery, no proof of actual adultery needs to be provided. Instead, a party can prove adultery through circumstantial evidence of opportunity and romantic inclination. Parties frequently turn to private investigators to help come up with the necessary evidence.

To get a divorce on grounds of physical cruelty, you must prove either one serious incident of physical abuse or multiple incidents of less serious abuse.  By serious, we typically mean one for which medical attention was required.

one does not need to prove an actual physical injury. You only have to show that the other spouse's behavior created a substantial risk of death or serious harm.

For divorce based on habitual intoxication or narcotics use, you have to demonstrate more than that your spouse drinks or has done drugs in the past. You have to go further, showing that this use is frequent and has caused a breakdown of the marriage. Medical records or treatment for substance abuse as well as criminal records are good ways of finding the evidence of this.

One defense that is often seen when a fault divorce is alleged is that there has been “condonation.” This refers to a kind of forgiveness that means that the complaining spouse was aware of the bad behavior but chose to continue to remain in the marriage anyway. For example, if your spouse had an affair years ago and you forgave him, you cannot then file for divorce based on his adultery. Fault behavior that is condoned cannot be the basis for a divorce.

If you find yourself facing the prospect of a separation, divorce, support, visitation, or child custody issue in Spartanburg, Greenville, Anderson, Rock Hill or the surrounding areas, you need the help of an experienced South Carolina family law attorney to guide you through the difficult process.

Source:South Carolina Code of Laws Unannotated,” published at

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J. Benjamin Stevens

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