S.C. Code Ann. Section 20-3-30 – A Discussion on How Long One Must Live in South Carolina Before Filing for Divorce

The South Carolina Family Court is a court of limited jurisdiction.  In simple terms, this means that the Family Court can only hear certain types of cases. One of the most common questions an attorney practicing in the area of divorce in South Carolina is asked is, “How long do I have to live in South Carolina before I can file for divorce?”

South Carolina has a statute (this posting has the correct statute as of January 1, 2012) “directly on point” located at S.C. Code Ann. Section 20-3-30 that tells the Courts, attorneys, and parties how long one must live in South Carolina to file for a divorce.

Section 20-3-30 is entitled “Residence Requirement” and sets forth:

“In order to institute an action for divorce from the bonds of matrimony the plaintiff must have resided in this State at least one year prior to the commencement of the action or, if the plaintiff is a nonresident, the defendant must have so resided in this State for this period; provided, that when both parties are residents of the State when the action is commenced, the plaintiff must have resided in this State only three months prior to commencement of the action. The terms ‘residents’ or ‘resided’ as used in this section as it applies to a plaintiff or defendant stationed in this State on active duty military service means a continuous presence in this State for the period required regardless of intent to permanently remain in South Carolina.”

The Plaintiff is generally the one who files the lawsuit seeking relief (the Court’s help), with the Defendant being the one served with the lawsuit.  As an example, if you were to hire this firm to file an action for divorce against your spouse in South Carolina, if no action had already been filed for divorce from this spouse we would draft paperwork setting forth that you are the Plaintiff.  The Defendant listed in the paperwork would be your spouse.

Though the statute may seem a bit long and complicated, at heart it sets forth that:

Before a party may file an action for divorce in South Carolina,

1) At least one of the parties (you or your spouse) must have been a resident of South Carolina for at least one (1) year,


2) Both spouses must have resided in South Carolina for at least three (3) months.

The final sentence of S.C. Code Ann. Section 20-3-30 refers to active duty military service members, and directs how the time periods apply to these persons.

It is vitally important to remember that just because the Family Court has jurisdiction over divorce, it may not have jurisdiction over your child custody case and/or other issues (such as certain property).  This is confusing for those who do not practice frequently in this area of law, let alone general members of the public.  Before filing any case, it is important to ensure that the Court will in fact be able to “adjudicate” (hear) all of the issues that you wish for the Family Court to decide. Also, venue, another legal concept, may come into play.  In its simplest terms, venue asks/determines, where should the Court hearing or hearings actually take place, literally (as in Beaufort County Family Court located on Ribaut Road in Beaufort, South Carolina; at the Jasper County Family Court located in Ridgeland, South Carolina on Russell Street; or at some other courthouse)?  Venue is often the subject of complex motions and argument, and therefore is well beyond the scope of this posting.

If you would like to speak with an attorney from our firm concerning your family law matter, please call us at (843) 474-0614 or toll free at (800) 996-0683.  We would be honored to speak with you.

Lee Law Firm, LLC is a South Carolina based law firm that advocates for and counsels clients throughout South Carolina and its Low Country, primarily in Beaufort and Jasper counties (including Hilton Head Island, Bluffton, Daufuskie Island, Ridgeland, Callawassie Island, Okatie, Hardeeville, and Beaufort).