If you are considering divorcing your spouse in South Carolina, you may be wondering if legal separation is an option, and what that would entail.

In South Carolina, “legal separation” is not an official status, so you will still be legally married until a judge signs the divorce decree. You cannot marry another person during this time since that would be considered bigamy.

A Decree of Separate Maintenance and Support is a temporary solution that may be beneficial to you while you wait to finalize the divorce.

Understanding the legal specifics of divorce can be complicated, but the divorce attorneys at McKinney, Tucker & Lemel are ready to support you throughout the entire divorce process. Contact us today to schedule an initial consultation.

What Is the Difference Between Divorce and Legal Separation?

When a couple is separated, they are still legally married. Although a temporary maintenance order can be granted to handle issues such as child custody and financial arrangements, those decisions are not finalized until after the judge signs the divorce decree.

During this period of separation, neither spouse can remarry. Both spouses may be limited from making major decisions, such as long-distance moves or buying property. Once a divorce is final, all of your marital assets are divided, and each spouse is free to carry on with their life independent of each other.

What Is the Definition of Legal Separation in South Carolina?

South Carolina does not recognize an official “legal separation,” but many people use this terminology to refer to the one-year separation period that is required before you can obtain a no-fault divorce, as spelled out in the South Carolina Code of Laws Section 20-3-10.

Frustrated couple decided to be legally separated.During this separation period, the spouses must live in separate homes for a full year. Staying in separate bedrooms in the same house does not count, and if the spouses break the separation period, the judge could deny your divorce.

While a couple is living in separate residences, they can file for a Decree of Separate Maintenance and Support. While this is not a “legal separation,” it does spell out some temporary rulings for the time period when the couple is separated but before the divorce is finalized.

What Is a Temporary Maintenance Order?

During the period before your divorce is finalized, you may choose to obtain a Decree of Separate Maintenance and Support as a temporary solution for important issues such as child and spousal support, child custody, division of marital assets, health insurance, and other applicable issues.

Since the divorce process can be lengthy, and a one-year waiting period is often required, it can be very beneficial to have a legally binding decision regarding these issues, especially when children are involved.

In some cases, the couple is able to come to an agreement on these issues for the temporary maintenance order. If you cannot agree, a judge will look at the evidence in your case and issue a maintenance order after a court hearing. The decisions reached during a maintenance order are temporary, but they can often affect how the court handles these issues for your divorce, as well, unless your circumstances change significantly during the separation period.

What Is the Process for Legal Separation in South Carolina?

The separation begins when you stop living together either by a mutual decision, one spouse leaving, or when a restraining order is issued.

Evidence that you have lived apart for one year is sufficient to be eligible for divorce. You may also choose to file for a Decree of Separate Maintenance and Support in family court. The couple will decide on the terms of the decree, and if they can’t agree, a judge will make the decision after a hearing.

Why Should You Get a Legal Separation in South Carolina?

Couple filing for legal separation.If you are hoping to get a “no-fault” divorce in South Carolina, you will need to prove that you have lived separately for at least one year. Although the law does not require a Decree of Separate Maintenance and Support, it is often beneficial to make legal decisions early on regarding child custody issues and child support, spousal support, and other financial issues.

Can You Date If You Are Legally Separated?

Even when you are physically separated, you are still legally married until the judge signs a divorce decree. This means that you should not date or engage in a romantic relationship during that separation period.

If you commit adultery, which is defined as intercourse with someone else while you are still married, it may be grounds for a fault-based divorce, and it will jeopardize your eligibility for alimony.  Even circumstantial evidence of adultery can be problematic, so it is best to avoid dating altogether until the divorce is finalized.

How Much Does It Cost to Get a Legal Separation?

In order to obtain a Decree of Separate Maintenance and Support, you will need to pay a filing fee set by the court, and an additional fee for a hearing if needed.

The attorney’s fee will be separate, and it is based on an hourly rate. The total cost of hiring an attorney can vary depending on the complexity of your case and other factors.

Contact a Rock Hill Legal Separation Attorney

Regardless of why you have decided to separate from your spouse, it is usually an emotionally taxing time. The decisions you make now will affect you and your family far into the future. Our attorneys understand how difficult this time is for you, and we are dedicated to helping you achieve the best possible outcome for you and your family.

The divorce attorneys at McKinney, Tucker & Lemel have been serving the people of Rock Hill and surrounding areas since the firm’s founding in the 1970s. Our priority throughout the decades has been to provide compassionate, experienced legal assistance at an affordable cost.

Contact us today to schedule a consultation by starting an online chat or by calling us.

Ed Anderson is a Tennessee native who came to South Carolina to attend Furman University – and liked the state so much that he decided to stay here to pursue his legal career. After he earned his law degree from the University of South Carolina School of Law, Ed joined McKinney, Tucker & Lemel, LLC, in 2017, where he focuses on family law and personal injury law. In addition to his law practice, Ed is an active member of the South Carolina Bar’s Young Lawyers Division.