Chappell Smith & Arden, P.A. is excited to introduce its first guest blogger, Attorney Shawn L. Reeves. Shawn will be blogging on topics involving family law, which is an area that those of us at CSA do not handle. But we are dedicated, through this blog, to advancing the conversation in all areas of the law and are thus proud to bring you Shawn’s commentary. Enjoy!
More often than not, when a potential client contacts me about a divorce, the thing he or she focuses on is the reason for seeking the divorce, the ground for the divorce. However, the basis of petitioning for the divorce is generally the thing the lawyer spends the least amount of time dealing with. The other issues of a divorce case usually require far more work. So I thought I would use this blog post to explain the primary issues of a divorce case.
No doubt, the ground for divorce is important. Without it, the parties would not be in the courtroom in the first place. In South Carolina, we have five grounds for divorce: (1) adultery, (2) habitual drunkenness or drug use, (3) physical cruelty, (4) desertion for more than a year, and (5) separation without cohabitation for more than a year. When separated spouses cannot establish one of those five grounds, they can file their case as a separate support and maintenance action, in which they can also deal with the primary issues of the marital litigation.
The divorce is not something that the parties can agree upon. It is rather granted only upon proving the ground for divorce to the judge. So there is no real working out the divorce issue itself between the parties. What then do the lawyers and parties primarily fight and negotiate over? What takes up most of the lawyers’ time? What issues are covered in mediation? I usually describe those issues in three parts: (1) the children, (2) the property, and (3) the support.
As to the children, the primary issues are custody, visitation, parental restrictions and guidelines, and child support. How will the children’s time with each parent be divided? Where will they spend summers and holidays? Who will make decisions as to the children? Who will pay child support and how much? Who will provide health insurance? How will out-of-pocket medical expenses be paid? How will future romantic partners be introduced to the children?
As to property, the primary issues are defining what is and is not marital property, deciding what percentages the marital property is to be split, and deciding who is to receive specific pieces of property and accounts. What property did either party own prior to the marriage? Was property acquired by either party by gift or inheritance? How will retirement accounts be divided?
As to support, the primary issues are the type and amount of support or alimony, any limitations or rules for modification or termination of support, and security for the future such as life insurance. With alimony, the primary factors to consider are the duration of the marriage and the relative incomes of the parties. If alimony is warranted, how much is the need for alimony and how much can the paying spouse pay?
There are, of course, any number of other issues to be dealt with in a divorce case, depending on the specific circumstances of the case. For example, in some cases, a big issue can become who will pay the attorney’s fees and costs of the divorce. However, the big three categories remain the children, the property, and the support.