Provision for Legal Separation in South Carolina
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There is no such thing as legal separation in South Carolina. In South Carolina, you are either married or not. However, there is an option for couples who want to separate but do not want to get a divorce. Instead of legal separation, the statute has a provision for Order of Separate Maintenance and Support.
Order of Separate Maintenance and Support:
An order of separate maintenance and support sets forth the agreement made by both the partners mutually which is issued by the judge. This judgment or the order determines how the couple will stay separate and apart and make provisions to solve the marital issues faced by the couple. This order acts just as the separation agreement in the other states.
Marital Settlement Agreement:
The marital settlement agreement in South Carolina deals with all the marital issues that need to be resolved before the order of separate maintenance and support is granted. The settlement agreement deals with child support, custody and visitation, parenting plan, property settlement, financial issues and other issues, which are important and can cause conflict later. Let us have a detailed look at these issues:3
Signing the Marital Settlement Agreement is an acceptance of the Order of Separate Maintenance and Support, which is the core of legal separation in South Carolina.
- Child Support – Child support in South Carolina is calculated according to the Income Shares Model. According to this model, the parents are supposed to contribute the share of their income, which they would normally contribute when staying in the same house as the family. Thus, the amount or the share is divided between both the parents according to their income, the capacity to spend, and their expenses post separation.
The court encourages the couple to reach a mutual settlement regarding the amount of child support. If the couple is on amicable terms with each other, it happens that they are exactly aware of each others expenses and needs and willing to help each other to make the situation work. In such case, the independent partner may voluntarily opt for some expenses, which are long term and the dependent spouse is unable to pay; for instance, education of the children.
- Child Custody – Each parent has equal rights, duties and responsibilities when it comes to their children. The parents are usually encouraged by the court to reach a parenting plan according to each other's convenience. In case if the parents are unable to reach a settlement, the court has to intervene. The decision of the court remains final and is legally binding on both the parents as well as the children. While awarding the custody, the child's preference is considered if the child is old and mature enough. Both the parents are equally responsible for their children. They have total access to their school functions, activities, educational records as well as the medical records. The non-custodial parent is responsible for the day-to-day activities of the child as much as the custodial parent.
It is better to agree on a parenting plan as the plan given by the court may not suit at all to the parties' or the children's taste which causes further strain in the relationship of the parents and the children.
- Visitation Schedule – The non-custodial parent is entitled to a visitation schedule. The children may visit the parent either on the weekends, midweek or any of the weekdays. Some parents have an arrangement where one of the parent drops the children off to school, the other parent picks them up and takes them to their home from where the first parents picks them up. However, this arrangement may be stressful for the children as well as parents in the long run. Instead of such an arrangement, the parents can make an agreement where the children will visit the non-custodial parent on weekends, school vacations such as New Year, Christmas or Easter or during the school breaks such as summer or spring break.
The birthdays of the children can be celebrated at each parent's house for alternate years, same goes with the parents' birthdays. The days like mother's day or father's day can be celebrated with the respective parent.
- Alimony or Spousal Support – The payment of the alimony or the spousal support could be either temporary or permanent which has to be paid either in lump sum amount or in installments. While determining the spousal support, the court considers duration of the marriage, parties' relations with each other, contribution to the making of the marriage and home by each of the partner, health and age of both the partners, the income and the source of income whether it is reliable or not is also checked by the court.
The couple cannot reach a mutual agreement regarding this amount even if they are on amicable terms with each other. The court directly determines this amount after ensuring all the above mentioned points before giving directions regarding the same.
- Property Settlement – The couple has to decide mutually who will keep the family home and who will move out among other things such as the division of assets and debts, responsibilities, marital property, directions regarding the individual property etc. If the couple fails to reach a settlement, the court intervenes. The court considers duration of the marriage, marital property acquired, debts accumulated such as mortgage or loans, income of each partner, physical and mental health of each partner, need for extra education or training for the dependent spouse to survive etc. before dividing the property and the responsibilities between both the partners.