M. Brooks Moss, PA
In South Carolina there are five grounds for divorce: separation of the spouses for at least one year (the “no-fault divorce”), adultery, physical cruelty, habitual drunkenness (alcohol or narcotic drugs) and desertion. The proof needed to allow the court to grant a divorce on one of these five reasons depends on your circumstances. Testimony from a third party will probably be required. State law requires that a family court judge make a specific finding that reconciliation is not possible before the judge can grant a divorce.
When you and your spouse have separated but do not have grounds for divorce, you can apply to the court for the right to live separate and apart. This is done through an action for “separate maintenance and support,” which is a claim for spousal support. If the court considers issues of alimony, child support or child custody at this time, it can also deal with equitable division of marital property. Separation officially begins on the day that the spouses no longer live together.
Both parents have legal responsibility to provide economically for their children. A noncustodial parent usually will be required to pay a specified amount of child support to the custodial parent. In determining the appropriate amount, the court must use the Child Support Guidelines that provide a calculation of support based on the gross income of the parents. The court can order that child support payments be made through the clerk of court along with a collection fee. Many employers offer an automatic payroll deduction for child support payments.
Child Custody / Visitation:
When parents cannot agree on who should have custody of their minor children, then the court must decide. Custody litigation is an expensive procedure and often very emotional. Both parents should look honestly at their new living conditions, available time and other resources and consider carefully which parent can provide a better home life for their children. Because neither parent automatically has a legal right to custody, the court will consider the best interests of the children. The court may order joint or shared custody. Children who have reached an appropriate level of maturity may express their preference to the judge. However, a child’s preference is not controlling. Minor children may be appointed Guardians ad Litem to r represent them in court. Noncustodial parents can be awarded periods of specified visitation with their children. If circumstances surrounding custody and the child’s best interests change substantially, the family court can then order a change of custody or visitation.
Spousal support is called alimony. Either spouse may be entitled to monetary support from the other spouse. Alimony can be paid in a lump sum or in installments. Where appropriate, the family court can award short term alimony to help a spouse upgrade or acquire job skills that could make him or her self supportive.
Division of Assets/Debts:
If the spouses cannot agree on how to divide their marital property, the family court will make the decision for them. Marital property usually includes all assets or debts acquired during the marriage, with certain exceptions such as inherited property or gifts from outside the marriage. Your lawyer will advise you on what is considered marital property. It is helpful for each spouse to provide the lawyer with a list of all assets, when and how these assets were acquired, the approximate value of each asset and any debts either spouse may have. Copies of recent tax returns and insurance policies and estimated monthly living expenses are helpful information to take when first meeting with the lawyer. Which spouse has legal title to an item of marital property does not necessarily determine to which spouse the family court will award that property. The court will consider the financial contributions and conditions of the parties, their ages, health, education, fault and the length of the marriage.
Termination of Parental Rights:
If a family court judge terminates someone’s parental rights, it removes all rights and obligations between the parent and the child. The parent will have no right to see the child, but the parent also will have no responsibility to pay child support.
Losing custody of a child is not the same as having parental rights terminated. In a loss of custody case, the parent may still have visitation and pay child support.
If one or both parents have their parental rights terminated, then the child may be adopted. In some cases, a grandparent, other family member, or non-relative might adopt the child. If one parent rights are terminated and the other parent is married, then the step-parent can apply to adopt the child. There are instances when an adoption may not be granted by a particular individual.
Mediation Services* Guardian ad Litem Services*
Divorce Separate Maintenance
Child Support Child Custody
Asset Division Debt Division
Name Changes Grandparent Rights
Adoption Termination of Parental Rights
Restraining Orders Orders of Protection
Department of Social Services Defense
Simple Wills Powers of Attorney
Living Wills Guardianship & Conservatorship