What’s the Difference Between Divorce Action and Separate Maintenance?

In South Carolina there’s only four legal grounds for divorce. In other words, our statutes only give a judge four possible reasons to grant a divorce to anybody that comes through our family court system.


The first three are “fault grounds,” where you consider someone’s done something wrong and the last one is what we call the “no-fault ground” of having been separated for a year.

The first three fault grounds are: adultery, physical cruelty, habitual drunkenness and drug abuse. What happens if your spouse isn’t doing any of those things, but you just don’t want to live with him anymore? You don’t want to be married to him anymore, the marriage is over.


The only other way that you can give the judge the legal right to divorce you is if you don’t live with your spouse for at least one year. There aren’t many people that have their children together, their finances together, and other issues together, they’re not getting along well enough to live together, then it’s not likely that they’re going to live apart for a year without some either complications or even some major disputes. So in that situation, what happens is when you separate you can file an action, what we call in South Carolina an action for separate support and maintenance, the common term is legal separation- even though we don’t really have that in South Carolina, that’s what a lot of people call it.


So, you file that action for separate support and maintenance, and you get to address all of the same issues that you might address in a contested divorce case, or in a divorce case such as custody, visitation, child support, alimony, who gets the house, what are the rules for conduct during the period of time that you’re separated, and you get to go to a temporary hearing in those cases, just like you would in a fault ground divorce action. So, to some degree it’s like a no fault divorce, but they aren’t always uncontested. You can have a case where the parties agree on very little, but it’s a separate support and maintenance action because they’ve chosen to live apart, because they couldn’t get along for whatever reason.