Forgoing divorce grounds corroboration based upon an “admission against interest”

To prevent spouses from making up grounds for a divorce that they are not entitled to, South Carolina requires “corroboration” of divorce grounds to prevent “collusive” divorce requests. However, one shouldn’t assume that an independent witness or documentary evidence is necessary to corroborate a fault divorce.  Often an admission against interest will be sufficient to obtain the divorce.

In Brown v. Brown, 215 S.C. 502, 512-13, 56 S.E.2d 330, 335 (1949), the South Carolina Supreme Court set forth the rule which requires corroboration of “all the material allegations of the complaint necessary to sustain a decree of divorce….”  The Court went on to say: “There is no definite rule as to the degree of corroboration required, but each case must be decided according to its own facts and circumstances.”  Id.  The Court then explained: “Since the main reason for the rule is to prevent collusion between the parties, the rule is not generally deemed inflexible;  and may be relaxed when it is evident that collusion does not exist.”  Id.

When trying to prove fault divorce grounds (adultery, habitual intoxication, physical cruelty) the requesting party will have concerns regarding providing corroboration.   However, where the at-fault spouse has admitted that fault in a pleading or interrogatory answer such corroboration may not be needed.

In Harvley v. Harvley, 279 S.C. 572, 310 S.E.2d 161, 162 (Ct.App. 1983), the Court of Appeals affirmed an uncorroborated adultery divorce because the husband had previously admitted his adultery, holding: “[t]here is no need to corroborate the uncontradicted admission of appellant against his own interests.”

Where a spouse has admitted fault at a time when there remained unresolved issues in which fault could be relevant (child custody; property division; alimony) such an admission is a statement against interest.  This admission is sufficient to dispel concerns over collusion and obviates the need for independent corroboration.

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