The Five Grounds for Divorce in South Carolina

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Most people are familiar with no-fault divorces, but fault-based divorces still exist. Individuals have the right to assert several different grounds for divorcing their spouses, most of which are rooted in some form of marital fault. If divorce is in your future, one of the first steps you need to take is to understand the reasons for which you may request one. A knowledgeable Greenville, SC divorce lawyer can help you make the best choice for your situation. Count on attorney Angela Frazier.

What Are the Grounds for Divorce in South Carolina?

State law recognizes five distinct grounds for getting a divorce:


Although adultery is the act of cheating on one’s spouse, it is not necessary to catch the unfaithful spouse in the act. Adultery can be proven by demonstrating inclination and opportunity. “Inclination” means the spouse has shown romantic interest in someone outside of the marriage; for instance, joining a dating site. “Opportunity” is shown by evidence the spouse had a chance to act on the inclination, perhaps by spending the night in a hotel room with someone other than the spouse.

Desertion for at least one year

If one spouse deserts the other for at least one year, the abandoned spouse can seek a divorce.

However, this is not a commonly used reason for divorce anymore. The ground of living separate and apart for one year is available. Since both desertion and living separate and apart require a minimum of one year, it is often easier to simply assert the latter.

Physical cruelty

Raising this basis for divorce requires proof that a spouse’s conduct created a substantial risk of death or serious bodily harm. A single incident can be enough to prove physical cruelty. While a physical injury is often present in such cases, it is not necessarily required. A spouse may claim the other spouse’s conduct created a belief that physical harm was imminent. That means a violent threat or something that indicates an intent or risk of causing harm may be sufficient for this ground.

Habitual drunkenness or drug use

“Habitual” drunkenness or use of narcotics means there must be a pattern of such behavior.

Rare or isolated events typically will not suffice to prove this claim. The evidence must show that the other spouse frequently abuses alcohol or drugs and this abuse has caused the marriage to deteriorate. For instance, if the spouse at fault has lost his or her job due to drug or alcohol use, the other spouse might successfully argue this as a reason.

Living separate and apart for one year

Living separate and apart means the spouses reside in two separate dwellings; merely staying in separate rooms in the same house isn’t enough. The separation must be continuous for at least one year. Evidence of reconciliation could undermine this ground.

What Does No-Fault Divorce Mean?

The first four grounds listed above are considered fault-based, meaning they assert that one spouse has somehow mistreated the other. Alternatively, the last ground is raised in no-fault divorces and is arguably the most common reason spouses divorce. No-fault divorces have grown in popularity due to the number of individuals who were living in unhappy marriages but were unable to assert any fault-based grounds. There is no need to prove the other spouse did something wrong, simply that the spouse wanting the divorce has met the one-year requirement.

Divorce on Fault Grounds Remains Available

While no-fault divorce is an option, a spouse can still assert fault grounds. For example, if your spouse has had an affair, you can argue adultery. If there has been bodily harm or the other spouse has put you in fear for your health, life, or safety, then physical cruelty may be raised. A husband or wife can also argue that drug or alcohol abuse has ruined the marriage. As discussed further below, there are reasons a spouse may want to argue these issues.

Is Emotional Abuse a Ground for Divorce in South Carolina?

Unfortunately, this is not currently recognized as a ground for divorce in our state. A spouse may be emotionally and psychologically abusive, even to the point that it causes the husband or wife to endure physical complications like the inability to sleep. But without either physical harm or an imminent threat to one’s life or health, emotional abuse won’t suffice. It’s worth noting that emotional abuse often accompanies physical cruelty, the latter of which is a ground for divorce.

Pros and Cons of Fault and No-Fault Divorce

No-fault divorces are generally easier to obtain because they don’t require evidence of the other spouse’s wrongdoing. Rather, an individual can simply decide to end the marriage by living separately and apart for a year. This may even lead to an uncontested divorce and make other aspects like property division easier to resolve.

On the other hand, many fault-based divorces can be granted in under a year. Depending on the issues involved, these divorces may be obtained in as little as 90 days. For a no-fault divorce, one spouse must live separate and apart from the other for one year before the divorce will be granted.

Deciding on the Right Strategy for Your Divorce in SC

Determining the best way to obtain a divorce starts with understanding the entirety of a spouse’s marriage situation. Are adultery, desertion, physical cruelty, or drug or alcohol abuse present? If so, what effect has it had on the other spouse? For example, physical cruelty could expedite the timeline to obtain a divorce and more quickly free a husband or wife from living in fear.

Your lawyer must consider the other issues that have to be resolved, such as property division, alimony, child custody, and child support. These matters can take a while to handle, and they must be dealt with before the divorce is granted. As a practical matter, the divorce may come down to arguing a no-fault, one-year period of separation.

You should also think about the effect that arguing fault may have on your divorce. For instance, if it is proven that a husband or wife committed adultery, the spouse is barred from receiving alimony. Choosing to assert fault may be a financially beneficial strategy in a case like this.

How Our Lawyers Can Help You With a Divorce

Whether a no-fault or fault-based divorce is right for you will depend on several circumstances.

When you retain us, we take the time to understand your legal needs and goals so we can develop an appropriate strategy. Our goal is to advocate for your best interests in related matters like alimony, child custody and support, and property division. We understand the state’s domestic statutes as well as the rules of evidence and civil procedure that will govern your case. If possible, we will settle your case in mediation, potentially saving time, stress, and the uncertainty of trial. But if needed, we will try your case before a Family Court judge.

To learn more about what the grounds for divorce are in South Carolina, connect today with Elliott Frazier — Family, Personal Injury, & Car Accident Attorneys, LLC.

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