South Carolina is an “equitable distribution” state that divides marital assets and debts in a way that is fair to both parties. Marital property includes all assets or debts acquired during the marriage (with exceptions such as inherited property or gifts from outside the marriage). It is important during the divorce process to document your assets and debts, when/how they were acquired, their value, and make note of any separate assets/debts that each party may have. The Court will consider many factors, including the financial contributions of each party, age, health, education and earning ability of both parties, as well as the length and cause of dissolution of the marriage.
South Carolina courts use the date of the filing of the marital litigation when evaluating the value of marital assets and debts, and typically presume that a 50/50 split is equitable. However, there are factors that may justify an unequal distribution of assets and debt. The Court is not required to divide assets evenly between spouses; this will depend on the circumstances of each case. Unless the parties can otherwise agree, the Court will take responsibility of determining the property to be divided, the worth of the marital property, the portion of the property each spouse is entitled to, and exactly how the property shall be divided.
The process used by family courts when considering property division includes the following:
- Identify the parties’ property as of the date of the lawsuit – Courts may also add back into the marital estate any property that was transferred or disposed of by one party, with the intent of hiding that property from the other party;
- Distinguish what is marital vs. non-marital property – Typically property received by one party during the marriage via gift or bequest from a third party, or property brought into the marriage by one party, is not marital property;
- Value the property – While valuation is as of the date of the lawsuit filing, the Court may consider passive increases and decreases in property value between the date of filing and the date of property distribution;
- Equitably divide the property – The Court uses a number of factors when considering dividing the marital estate, and the division may include the transfer of money or retirement accounts to accomplish the equitable division.