In my previous blog post, An Overview of Divorce Law in South Carolina, I discussed the grounds for divorce, jurisdiction and venue. This week I will give you an overview of the procedure for filing for divorce and a general timeline of when things occur. The timeline below is a general timeline. Each case is different. Some cases conclude quickly, while some last for over a year or more.
Day 1. Filing the Pleadings.
To begin a divorce in S.C., you file a Summons and Complaint in the Clerk of Family Court’s Office in the appropriate county. The filing fee is currently $150.00.
Depending on the facts and circumstances of your case, you may want to file a motion for temporary relief at the same time you file the summons and complaint. The motion filing fee is currently $25.00. I’ll discuss motions for temporary relief in a later post.
Day 2. Serving the Pleadings.
The next step is to have the pleadings served on your spouse. There are several ways to have someone served but the most common is the have him/her served personally by a process server. A process server is a company or individual who will physically deliver the pleadings to your spouse. Your spouse will have thirty (30) days from the date of service to file an answer or other responsive pleading.
Day 7 – Day 30. Temporary Hearing.
If a temporary hearing is requested, a hearing will be held as quickly as possible but no later than 4 weeks from the date you filed the Summons and Complaint. The party opposing the motion is entitled to five days’ notice of the hearing.
Day 31 – Day 90. Discovery and Investigation.
The next couple of months in a divorce action are usually when the parties engage in written discovery, conduct depositions and retain expert witnesses. If a Guardian ad Litem has been appointed, the Guardian will conduct an initial investigation. Depending on the complexity of the case, the time for discovery could take a significantly longer amount of time.
Day 90– Day 270. Mediation.
Within 9 months of the filing of the action, the parties have typically engaged in mediation. Mediation is mandatory in divorce actions in S.C. Mediation is a process in which a third-party (typically another attorney) meets with the parties and attempts to facilitate a settlement of the case. The parties must attend mediation before a Final Hearing can be requested.
Day 270 – Day 365. Final Hearing.
After mediation, a final hearing can be requested. Written requests for a final hearing in this case must be delivered by a party or attorney to the Clerk’s Office within 365 days of this filing date.
If the parties reach an agreement before or at mediation, the final hearing will last about 15 minutes in which the Judge will be asked to approve the agreement and grant the divorce.
If the issues are contested, a trial before a family court judge will take place. This is where you can call witnesses and present your evidence to the Court. At the conclusion of the trial, the family court judge will issue a ruling and the case will be concluded.