Divorce in South Carolina is a civil matter. Neither spouse is required by law to have an attorney, nor is either spouse entitled to a court-appointed attorney. That said, divorce is a legal process that will involve at least one appearance before a judge in the Family Court. When appearing in court, it is generally advisable to have a divorce lawyer who is familiar with the processes and requirements to present your case. This can include knowledge of specific documents that must be filed, witness requirements, and service rules. Even in relatively simple divorce cases, spouses should seek the advice of an experienced attorney to ensure they are compliant with the court rules and procedures and to ensure they understand their rights under the law.
In every case for divorce in South Carolina, in addition to dissolution of the marriage, the Family Court has the authority to determine:
Before filing for divorce, it is important that individuals understand these issues and how the Family Court reaches decisions in resolving each. Every marriage is different, and these are very fact driven questions for judges to resolve. While the Family Court is a court of equity, meaning judges seek to render a decision that is fair and reasonable under the circumstances, understanding the factors considered by the court on these issues and the different potential outcomes is invaluable knowledge that every individual considering or involved in divorce in South Carolina should have.
In cases where any of the above issues are contested, an experienced family court attorney should be consulted and likely retained to ensure that you understand your rights under the law and that those rights are protected. Once a final order is entered by the court, decisions regarding the division of assets and debts are permanent and can only be modified under extreme and very difficult to prove circumstances. Final orders regarding child custody, visitation, and child support are modifiable, but first require a showing of a material and substantial change in circumstances. Accordingly, it is imperative that family court litigants get it right the first time. Too often, spouses believe they cannot afford a lawyer and attempt to go through this process alone, only to realize later that what they feel is an unjust decision by the court cannot be changed.
In addition to understanding your rights under the law, an experienced divorce lawyer is a capable advisor. Divorce can be one of the most emotionally difficult times in your life and, often, that emotion can affect your judgment and decision making. While compromise is generally a good thing, it is important to have an attorney who is not emotionally attached to the situation, so that they may help inform and guide your decisions. It is not uncommon for spouses to concede too much in the process just because they want to be done with the process. Likewise, I often speak with individuals who want to take unreasonable positions simply because they are still dealing with the emotional hurt caused by their spouse. An experienced divorce attorney can help you maintain perspective throughout the process to ensure that you are making the best decisions possible for you and your family’s future.
In summary, divorces present many distinct and important issues that must be resolved. The complication of these legal issues is further compounded by the emotion that litigants necessarily have invested in the outcome. While there is no requirement to have an attorney, when faced with a legal problem where the outcome can substantially affect your finances, and contact with your children for years into the future, it is advisable to seek consultation with an experienced attorney before signing anything or appearing in court. Even in cases where there may not be much dispute, an attorney is able to streamline the process and ensure your rights are protected.
If you are considering separation or divorce, or you have received court papers from your spouse, I invite you to call me so that we can discuss the particulars of your case, and what I can do to help you through the process.