Q#1. Must I have a lawyer to get a divorce?
A. No, at least that is the short answer, just as you do not have to have a doctor to remove your appendix. Both the South Carolina Judicial Department and the South Carolina Bar provide self-help forms. The Judicial Department web site is www.sccourts.org and under the tab “General Public” it has “Self-Help Resources.” The Bar website is www.scbar.org and under “Public Services” it has a tab for “Self-Help Resources. I provided this information but I do not recommend it. Every divorced lawyer I know, even those who practice in family court, hired a lawyer to represent him or her. These lawyers understand what the self-help advocates do not.

Q#2. What are the grounds for divorce?
A. In South Carolina, the grounds for divorce are adultery, physical cruelty, habitual drunkenness, desertion for one year, and continuous separation without cohabitation for one year. The last ground, the only "no fault" ground, probably accounts for ninety percent of all divorces in South Carolina.

Q#3. Can my spouse and I use the same lawyer?
A. No. The Bible teaches that man cannot serve two masters.1 Likewise, a lawyer cannot represent both the husband and wife in the same case. An ethical lawyer should not represent both parties in a divorce. A lawyer is even ill-advised to prepare a separation agreement for both parties. A frequent problem I encounter is that one spouse thought that a lawyer was representing both parties only to find out later that the lawyer only represented the other spouse.

Q#4. How long will it take?
A. Like most questions in family court, this one is not simple and the answer is only a guess. See Chapter 30, The Final Hearing, page 63, for statutory minimum time periods on the different fault grounds. Sometimes the time periods can be reduced if the opposing party waives notice requirement and the right to answer. Delays in family court are common, and rarely caused by the ground or grounds of divorce. Issues with child custody, visitation, child support, alimony, equitable apportionment of property, and attorney’s fees cause the delays. Scheduling is a major problem of delay, but scheduling time varies depending on the state of the court’s docket. Delays can be lengthy. The Supreme Court of South Carolina requires cases to be dismissed 365 days after filing the summons and complaint, unless the parties have requested a final hearing. This cause all cases to be tried within one year of filing, but it does not work that well or easily. A simple divorce on a oneyear separation with no collateral issues is usually quick, six weeks to two or three months.

My best estimate without knowing more is six to nine months where the parties reach an agreement before settlement but probably nine months to one and a half years for contested issues. Once a settlement is reached, most judges are accommodating to the parties in getting the approval hearing scheduled quickly, often within one or two weeks.

Q#5. Will you will properly represent me?
A. You must have some confidence in me or you would not have come to me. I am qualified. If you hire me and I do not properly represent you, then you may (a) cancel my services under our written Retainer Fee Agreement; (b) fail to recommend me to your friends; (c) sue me for malpractice, or (d) report me to the South Carolina Commission on Lawyer Conduct. Despite these threats that may be used against me, the simple answer is that I am a professional, I get much satisfaction from my work, and I try to avoid taking cases on which I do not want to work.

Q#6. How much is your fee?
A. We have two lawyers and two legal assistants in my office. Fees vary depending upon the case. We sometimes use independent contractors or experts. The client is responsible for all court costs and expenses. We charge a non-refundable minimum retainer fee, usually $3,500, but sometimes more, that is applied toward these charges. Accurate estimates of fees are nearly impossible because of many factors over which we have no control. See Chapter 32, Fee Agreement, page 66, and Appendix A, Retainer Fee Agreement, page 72.

Q#7. Must I tell you everything?
A. Yes. Full disclosure to your lawyer is essential to avoid possible problems and to obtain the best results. Everything you say to your lawyer is confidential and may not be revealed without your permission. It would be a serious breach of ethics to reveal confidential information without your consent.

Q#8. Who decides who gets custody of the children?
A. Either the parents agree on child custody or the judge decides. See Chapter 8, Child Custody, page 21.

Q#9. Must I have a separation agreement?
A. No. In the past, I rarely recommended separation agreements. Recent changes in the law have made separation agreements more effective for some purposes. Other good lawyers use separation agreements frequently. See Chapter 12, Separation Agreements, page 33.

Q#10. May I date before the divorce is final?
A. No. See Chapter 13, Dating, page 35.

Q#11. What if my spouse will not sign for a divorce?
A. "Signing for a divorce" is a myth. The only signature needed on a decree of divorce is the signature of the trial judge. Your spouse cannot prevent you from obtaining a divorce to which you are entitled. You may sign various documents, such as a Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act affidavit or a financial declaration, but you will not “sign for a divorce.”

Q#12. How is alimony and child support decided?
A. Either by agreement or by the judge. See Chapter 14, Divorce—The Money Problems, page 36.

Q#13. Must I to go to court?
A. Most probably. A divorce requires proof in open court. Other issues can be settled out of court but even a settlement must be approved by the court before it is binding. The best way to avoid court is thorough preparation for court and letting the other side know that you are ready and willing to go to court. Read Joel Chandler Harris (Uncle Remus), The Wonderful Tarbaby.

Q#14. What happens in court?
A. Each side presents its case and the judge decides. See Chapter 18, Trial Procedures, page 42; Chapter 17, The Temporary Hearing, page 40, and Chapter 30, The Final Hearing, page 63.

Q#15. I'm scared. What should I do in court?
A. We will spend enough time on this before court. See Chapter 19, Trial Tips, page 43.

Q#16. Who can appeal?
A. Any party who believes that he or she has lost the case in the trial court may appeal by filing written notice of appeal within thirty days of the court's order. You should not yet be concerned with an appeal.