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The Difference Between a Divorce and an Annulment in South Carolina

The legal term for divorce in South Carolina is 'divorce from the bonds of matrimony’.. As the name suggests, divorce is a legal process in South Carolina that ends an existing marriage. The existence of the marriage must have been under the state definition of a valid marriage. Annulment, on the other hand, is a legal declaration that nullifies a marriage. The Court of Common Pleas has original jurisdiction of divorce and annulment cases in South Carolina.

What is a South Carolina Divorce Decree?

A divorce decree in South Carolina is the final order of a court that ends an existing marriage. Divorce decrees also contain information about the court judgement on adjoining issues in a divorce case such as who has custody rights, the ratio of division of debts and assets, spousal support or alimony, and court restraining orders. A divorce decree in South Carolina is a legally binding document on the divorcing parties. To put it differently, both parties must comply with the orders in the document.

The records contained in documents related to family court include both marriage and divorce records. Both types of records contain information that is considered very personal to the parties involved, and it is recommended that those parties maintain these records with care in order to make changes in the future. The personal nature of these records results in both being considerably more difficult to find and obtain when compared to other types of public records. In many cases, these records are not available through either government sources or third party public record websites.

What is an Annulment in South Carolina?

According to Title 20 chapter 1 of the South Carolina Code, an annulment refers to a court declaration of the nullity of a marriage. Another way to put it is that an annulment process corrects marriages that do not meet the validity requirements of the state by declaring them void. After an annulment process is complete, both parties can declare that the marriage never existed. In South Carolina, the court has powers to decide issues on custody, visitation, child support and property division. Annulment cases usually require legal grounds, some of which include:

  • Underage marriages: here, one or both spouses are below the age of marriage (below 16 years)
  • No cohabitation: meaning both parties never lived together since they married
  • Marriage under duress or force: that is, a party gets married under threats of violence. A caveat to this is that the threat of violence must be recent in order to be eligible for annulment. South Carolina courts insist that a person under threat could escape the wedding ceremony if they have the chance rather than go through with it.
  • Incest: if the parties are more closely related than first cousins then it is an incestuous marriage
  • The involvement of a spouse with more than one living partner
  • Fraudulent relationships: this refers to withholding certain information that represents the core of the marriage relationship, such as concealing serious medical health problems, like impotence. Another instance is proceeding with the marriage with pregnancy from another partner without informing the current spouse. It is also important to know that it is easier to annul a young marriage than one that has lasted for several years.

Annulment records are basically vital records, therefore the rules of privacy that apply to other vital records in the state such as marriage, death, birth, and divorce records will apply to them. Exceptions to the rule are records placed under a seal by court order. Note that the information available to the public depends on what the law recognises as public or private in an annulment record.

South Carolina courts have the power to issue orders on extended issues in annulments cases such as children and property division.

Annulment vs Divorce in South Carolina

A common ground for annulment and divorce in South Carolina is that both judicial processes end a marital union. Both processes also require a proof of one-year residency within the state before filing for legal action. The key differences lie in the grounds for each action. As per divorce, South Carolina is a fault grounds state, that is to say, the basis for filing for a divorce must be because of a wrong from the spouse. Some of these legal grounds include:

  • Adultery
  • Domestic violence
  • Alcohol or drug addiction
  • Abandonment for at least one year
  • Non cohabitation for at least one year

The grounds for annulment in South Carolina make up all that the law considers as prohibited marriages.

The applicable forms for each process also differ from one another.

Is an Annulment Cheaper Than Divorce In South Carolina?

Yes. By principle, the longer a judicial process takes, the more likely expensive it gets. An annulment is cheaper than a divorce in South Carolina in terms of financial costs, ease, and time. An assessment from legal experts across the state shows that the financial cost of getting a divorce in South Carolina is at least three times higher than that of an annulment. A probable reason for this is that an annulment process is relatively more straightforward. Besides, the judicial process aims to correct the falsity of the union. A divorce process involves more nuances that may mean more court fees, attorney charges, etc. An exception is if there is an uncontested divorce where there are no issues like children or property between them.

What is an Uncontested Divorce in South Carolina?

Another name for uncontested divorce in South Carolina is simple divorce. It is simple because there are very few or no adjoining issues with the case. The following are criteria to get a simple divorce in South Carolina:

  • If the spouse has lived in the state for at least one year, or both have lived for at least three months.
  • The plaintiff is filing for a no-fault divorce
  • There is no marital property or debt to share, or both parties have arrived at an agreement on how to share it
  • There are no involved children in the marriage or both parties have agreed on the terms of child custody, visitation and child support

Where To Get an Uncontested Divorce Form in South Carolina

The South Carolina Judicial Department website provides all needed forms for a simple divorce process. Should there be questions, visit the self-help resources page of the same website.

Briefly, the paperwork (Self-Represented Litigant Simple Divorce Packet) required for a simple divorce includes:

  • The Family Court cover sheet
  • Certificate of exemption
  • Complaint and summons for divorce
  • Financial declaration form (signed only in the presence of a notary public)
  • Notice of acceptance of service by defendant
  • Request for hearing
  • Final order of divorce

The South Carolina code annotated subsection 20–3–60 provides a step-by-step procedure for an uncontested divorce. Submit completed forms with the Clerk of Court while retaining a photocopy for the records. Expect to pay a filing fee, otherwise file a motion and affidavit to proceed informa pauperis. The court must wait at least 90 days from filing to issue a final decree. From the time the filing party served papers to the defendant, he or she must wait for 35 days for a response.

Divorce hearings in South Carolina are public proceedings. So are their records. Any interested parties can request for a divorce record within the state.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching simpler, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for a specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that person resides in or was accused in.

Third-party sites are independent from government sources, and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

How Do I Get a Copy of my Divorce Decree in South Carolina?

When the court grants the divorce, the decree becomes available to both parties. The Clerk of Court maintains the original copy of a divorce decree and is available upon request by either of the parties. Although divorce records are free to access by the public in South Carolina, there are restrictions as to who can receive certified copies. Besides, the information required by the Clerk of Courts to process a request may not be available to every member of the public. Third-party requests for a divorce decree are not straightforward.

Divorce and marriage records may be available through government sources and organizations, though their availability cannot be guaranteed. This is also true of their availability through third-party websites and companies, as these organizations are not government-sponsored and record availability may vary further. Finally, marriage and divorce records are considered extremely private due to the information they contain, and are often sealed. Bearing these factors in mind, record availability for these types of records cannot be guaranteed.

How Do I Get a South Carolina Divorce Decree Online?

The administrative process of obtaining a divorce decree varies by county in terms of the costs and route of delivery. Consult the relevant county Clerk of Courts for information. Certified copies and apostilles of divorce decrees are obtainable at the State Department of Health and Environmental Control. Third party services approved by the authorities may mediate online delivery of certified copies.

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