Mental Cruelty – emotional distress and divorce

If South Carolina were like the movies, you’d hear this in courtrooms all over the state:

“My husband treats me terribly! He says horrible things about me and calls me names – says I am fat and ugly! It’s just unendurable! I can’t take it anymore!”

But in South Carolina, this fictional wife will have to move out (or get her fictional husband to do so) and wait for one year to pass in order to get her divorce. Because unless she has other grounds (adultery, physical abuse, habitual drunkenness), she can’t be divorced in South Carolina.

Clearly, mental cruelty is no laughing matter.  Emotional abuse, bullying, verbal abuse, these are but a few of the names we now use to describe the destructive forces of mental cruelty.  Why isn’t mental cruelty grounds for a divorce in this state? Well, it’s hard to say. Regardless of the reason, the statutory and case law is clear – South Carolina will not grant a divorce for mental cruelty.

When the cruelty issues arise in a case that included claims of habitual drunkenness or physical cruelty, the court sifts through the evidence, and generally, discounts the incidents that reflect mental cruelty (verbal statements, breaking personal property, etc.) as opposed to physical cruelty (punching, slapping, hitting with fists or other objects, shooting or shooting at.) If there is sufficient evidence remaining that meets the standard of physical cruelty (sufficient in nature of the injury, sufficient in number of incidents, sufficient in seriousness of the threat to the injured spouse), then the divorce will be granted on the ground of physical cruelty.  Although reasonable people know that mental anguish accompanies physical cruelty, mental cruelty does not bolster or increase the severity of the physical cruelty.  If the claims of physical cruelty are not enough, but there are instances of mental cruelty as well, a divorce cannot be granted in South Carolina, absent some other ground such as habitual drunkenness, abandonment or one year’s continuous separation.

If you or someone close to you is locked in an abusive marriage, it’s important to seek advice from an family law attorney who understands these issues. Please give me the opportunity to help.