South Carolina legislator proposes shortening time for divorce

COLUMBIA — A proposed amendment to the South Carolina constitution would allow couples to divorce after 150 days of separation, rather than one year.

Rep. Walt McLeod said Thursday he proposed the change for couples seeking a no-fault divorce after a constituent told him the yearlong wait extended his parents’ bickering and the pain that causes children.

The 74-year-old attorney and father of one said he has no personal experience with divorce, but he hopes that shortening the time would likewise shorten the mudslinging and start the healing process sooner.

“There’s a negative impact on children,” said McLeod, D-Little Mountain.

But Joe Carter of the S.C. Coalition 4 Parents & Children said shortening the separation won’t heal children’s pain.

“The hurt from divorce is already there. Shortening it won’t help or make it go away,” said the father of three, who started the group after going through a divorce.

Neighboring North Carolina also requires a year of separation for a no-fault divorce. But McLeod told a House subcommittee that South Carolina is out of sync with other states, including Georgia, which sets no time requirement for divorce resulting from irreconcilable differences, as long as one spouse has lived in Georgia for at least six months.

Divorce was illegal in South Carolina until 1949, when it became one of the last states nationwide to allow it, though only on the grounds of adultery, desertion, physical abuse, or habitual drunkenness. The law didn’t allow a no-fault divorce until 1969, when it set the required separation at three years. That was shortened to one year a decade later.

The idea of making it easier to get a divorce probably has little chance in the Republican-controlled South Carolina Legislature.

The House Judiciary panel postponed debate at the request of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, to give pastors the chance to give their views.

“Marriage is an institution ordained by God and it should not be entered into lightly or dissolved easily,” said Mark Hendrick, a public policy director with the convention.

Oran Smith of Palmetto Family Council said such a significant change to divorce law should be discussed thoroughly.

“We want to do what’s best for the children. Usually that is keeping mom and dad together,” he said. While sometimes the opposite is true, he added, “we certainly don’t want in a blanket way to make it easier for couples who have a chance to reconcile.”

Divorce attorney Bill Gorski said that of the 2,000 divorces he’s handled over 16 years, he can “count on one hand the amount of people who have gotten back together” during that yearlong separation.

“By the time they’re walking through the divorce lawyer’s office, there’s no turning back,” Gorski, a Bob Jones University graduate, said in a phone interview, stressing that he had no opinion on the measure. “There’s no fight over getting divorced. The fight’s over the kids and the property.”

He contends those disputes could still take a year or so to wrap up in court, even if the required separation is shortened. As for lessening the impact on children, he said, what’s bothering the kids is the fighting, and parents could get divorced and still fight for decades.

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