Can the Family Court Require a Parent to Purchase or Maintain Life Insurance to Secure a Child Support Obligation?
The family court can require a parent to purchase or maintain life insurance to secure an child support obligation if the court finds “special circumstances.” S.C. Code Ann. § 20-3-130(D) lists the considerations the family court may use in making this determination:
In making an award of alimony or separate maintenance and support, the court may make provision for security for the payment of the support including, but not limited to, requiring the posting of money, property, and bonds and may require a spouse, with due consideration of the cost of premiums, insurance plans carried by the parties during marriage, insurability of the payor spouse, the probable economic condition of the supported spouse upon the death of the payor spouse, and any other factors the court may deem relevant, to carry and maintain life insurance so as to assure support of a spouse beyond the death of the payor spouse.
While the code section applies to alimony, the South Carolina appellate courts have interpreted this provision to apply to child support obligations too. See e.g., Smith v. Smith, 386 S.C. 251, 687 S.E.2d 720 (Ct.App. 2009). Smith further clarifies what is required before the court can require such life insurance:
The family court may order the payor spouse to obtain life insurance as security for an alimony or child support obligation if the supported spouse can demonstrate the existence of special circumstances with reference to her need for the security and the payor spouse’s ability to provide it. In considering whether the supported spouse has demonstrated a need for such security, the family court should consider the supported spouse’s age, health, income earning ability, and accumulated assets. If a need for security is found, the family court should then consider the payor spouse’s ability to secure the award with life insurance by considering “the payor spouse’s age, health, income earning ability, accumulated assets, insurability, cost of premiums, and insurance plans carried by the parties during the marriage.
Id., 386 S.C. at 264 (citations omitted).
However, one is not required to show a “compelling reason” before life insurance may be ordered to secure an child support award. The lower burden of proving a “special circumstance” is all that is required. Wooten v. Wooten, 364 S.C. 532, 615 S.E.2d 98, 108 (2005).