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Why the delay between the Sanfords’ divorce hearing and the divorce?

Under S.C. Code Ann. § 20-3-80, titled Required delays before reference and final decree;  exceptions, South Carolina law sets specific waiting periods before the court can grant a divorce.  That section reads:

No reference shall be had before two months after the filing of the complaint in the office of the Clerk of Court, nor shall a final decree be granted before three months after such filing.

Provided, however, that when the plaintiff seeks a divorce on the grounds of desertion or separation for one year, the hearing may be held and the decree issued after the responsive pleadings have been filed or after the respondent has been adjudged to be in default whichever occurs sooner.

For divorces on the grounds of adultery, habitual drunkenness, and physical cruelty, South Carolina spouses must wait two months from filing for their divorce hearing and three months to actually obtain a divorce decree.  Obviously this is intended to provide a cooling off period.  The law reflects an understanding that emotions run high when a marriage has been riven by adultery, substance abuse, or domestic violence, and that decisions to end such marriages should not be ratified in the heat of the moment.  If spouses have already been separated a year, the law allows them to proceed with their divorce immediately upon the responsive pleadings being filed because they have already had a year to consider their decision and no further cooling off period is needed.

However the statute’s requirement of a delay between filing and obtaining certain fault divorces creates an occasional odd situation, such as yesterday’s divorce hearing involving the Sanfords, in which the court can hold the divorce hearing but has to wait before actually filing the divorce decree.  Which leads to the question of the purpose behind this gap.  If a two month delay is sufficient cooling off period for the spouses to proceed to the divorce hearing, why make them wait another month to obtain the divorce?  If a three month delay is really necessary to insure the decision to divorce isn’t rash, why allow spouses to have the hearing after only two months?  Finally, what happens if a spouse seeking a divorce obtains court approval of the divorce request after two months but changes his or her mind before three months?

South Carolina’s family law code is filled with oddities such as the gap between divorce hearings and divorce orders.  If anyone has an explanation of the rationale behind this gap, I’d love to hear it.  Meanwhile while the judge has granted the Sanfords a divorce, Mark will have to wait until mid-March before marrying his soul mate.

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