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My Spouse Won’t Leave…Can I Still File for Divorce?

Recently, this question was posted as a comment on a blog post, “I want a divorce because my husband is a verbal and physical abuser when he drunks. Be won’t leave the house. Can I still file for divorce?”

South Carolina has five grounds for divorce: physical abuse, habitual drunkenness, adultery, desertion, and the no fault ground of living apart continuously for a period in excess of one year.  If you do not qualify for one of the fault-based grounds for divorce you could also file for separate support and maintenance.

The desertion ground and no fault ground for divorce requires that you live separate and apart for more than one year.  You are also required to live in separate residences to file for separate support and maintenance.  So, if your circumstances fall into one of those three categories and you cannot get your spouse to leave the home, your only option will be to leave the home yourself and immediately file for separation or divorce and seek possession of the home as temporary relief at an initial hearing.

If you are filing under physical abuse, habitual drunkenness, or adultery grounds you do not have to live separate and apart before filing for divorce.  Under those circumstances you may file while you are still living together.  But, just because you are able to do something doesn’t mean it is the right course of action for you.  If your spouse is verbally and physically abusive under the best circumstances, how do you think they will respond when they have been served with divorce papers?  It would probably not be safe for you to remain in the home with your spouse during that time.

I would suggest setting up a consultation with a divorce attorney in your area to discuss the circumstances of your case to determine if your case will qualify for one of those fault-based divorces and to come up with a strategy that will help you remain in your home, but under safe circumstances.

How do South Carolina Family Courts divide property and debts in divorce cases

There are two main division methods in divorce law nationwide: community property and equitable apportionment states.  South Carolina is an equitable apportionment state. So, what does that mean?

Equitable Apportionment means that South Carolina Family Courts have jurisdiction in a divorce case to divide up the marital assets and debts acquired during the marriage.  Our Code of Laws state that, during a marriage, spouses acquire a special equity and ownership right in the marital property and those rights are subject to apportionment between the spouses.  (See SC Code §20-3-610).  

To break down that definition a little further it will be helpful to define marital property.  SC Code §20-3-630 defines marital property as all real and personal property acquired by the parties during the marriage which is owned as of the date of filing or commencement of marital litigation regardless of how legal title is held.  So it doesn’t matter that the home is only in the husband’s name or that the Wife is the only spouse who contributed to a 401(k) during the marriage.  

Of course there are exceptions to every rule.  Property obtained by inheritance, devise, bequest, or gift from a party other than the spouse, property owned prior to the marriage, and property acquired after a temporary order is entered, a marital settlement agreement is executed, or a final order of property settlement is entered.  

The first step the Family Court will take is to identify all of the marital property.  Once the marital property has been identified the court will determine how to divide the assets between the spouses.  SC Code §20-3-620 identifies 15 factors that the Family Court must consider in determining how to apportion the marital property among the spouses.  Those factors include things such as the length of the marriage, the ages of the parties at the time of the marriage and at the time of the divorce, the income and income potential of each party, the marital misconduct or fault of either party (meaning someone has committed adultery, physically abused a spouse, or is addicted to narcotic drugs or alcohol), the health of the parties, the non-marital assets of the parties, and several other factors.

It is not uncommon for the Family Court to issue an order of apportioning the marital property in a 50/50 (equal) manner between the spouses.  But, it is not mandatory that the Family Court divide the marital property equally between spouses.  In cases where one spouse contributed significantly greater in the financial area of a marriage, the court may deviate and award a greater portion of the marital estate to that spouse.

What should I expect at the initial consultation with my divorce lawyer?

When you meet with a lawyer to discuss your divorce case you want to know something tangible.  You have hundreds of questions and worries floating around in your head.  How much with this cost?  What is the worst case scenario?  Will I lose my kids?  How long with this take?  And many more. The initial […]

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When should you seek modification of your child support?

A while back, I made a rare visit to the county jail to meet with a client.  Several years ago, he and his former wife reached an agreement in their divorce about custody, visitation and child support.  Things were pretty good – as far as divorces go. Fast forward a few years…his dependable job and […]

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What do I do about custody, visitation, property, and other issues while the divorce is proceeding?

Oftentimes, there are issues that must be addressed early on in a case.  Some of those issues include custody of minor children, child support, visitation, determining who gets to reside in the marital home and spousal support.  This relief comes through a Temporary Order.  Either party may file what is called a Motion for Temporary […]

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