In South Carolina we do not have legal separations. We have orders of separate maintenance and support. This is an order which sets forth a formal arrangement made in a judgment issued by a judge. The judgment rules under which a husband and wife legally live apart and details the responsibilities of each. A husband and wife may choose to live apart without such a formal arrangement, but they are not legally living apart.
An order of separate maintenance and support is not a divorce because it does not end the marriage.
One of the marriage partners may choose to seek an order of separate maintenance and support for several reasons. The judge hearing the case can determine the amount of support to be paid by one partner to the other, if any; the judge can decide which of the marriage partners will get to live in the family home; the judge can determine questions of child custody and visitation rights and divide property. Both parties may agree on these and other matters, but the judge will review their agreement to be sure that it is fair to both parties, and to the children.
An order of separate maintenance and support does not allow either partner to marry or have sex with anyone else until a divorce has taken place. If one marriage partner dies while this order is in effect, the other may be entitled to inherit from the deceased spouse as should be the case in any other marriage.
A brief outline of the procedures necessary to obtain an order of separate maintenance and support follows. The partner seeking the order, known as the Plaintiff or their attorney, files a summons and a complaint with the clerk of Family Court, stating that the parties live separate and apart and that he or she wants an order of separate maintenance and support. The summons is countersigned by the Clerk and served on the opposing spouse, known as the defendant. The defendant must file an answer to the complaint stating any defense to the legal separation within 30 days. The answer must be served on the Plaintiff or the plaintiff's lawyer, if the plaintiff has a lawyer. The case will then be heard by a judge who will decide the issues or who will review the parties' agreement if they are able to reach one.
This information was prepared to give you some general information on the law. It is not intended as legal advice about any particular problem. If you have questions about the law you should consult a lawyer. If you do not know a lawyer, you can call the South Carolina Bar Lawyer Referral Service weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. The number is 799-7100 in Richland or Lexington Counties, and 1-800-868-2284 from other parts of the state.