Way decision reverses lump sum equitable distribution award

The May 9, 2012 Court of Appeals opinion in Way v. Way, 398 S.C. 1, 726 S.E.2d 215 (Ct. App. 2012), reversed the family court’s $20,000 lump sum equitable distribution award to Wife.  The Ways had few assets but a whole lot ‘o debt.  The marital home had two mortgages and was upside down.  For reasons that are not clear from this opinion, the family court judge tried to apportion how proceeds from a 2001 second mortgage were utilized.  Of that $57,400 mortgage, the family court found $42,770 of the proceeds paid Husband’s debts and $9,182 paid Wife’s debts.  Reasoning Husband had benefitted more from this mortgage than Wife had, the family court awarded Wife the $20,000 lump sum as equitable distribution.

The Court of Appeals noted a few problems with this approach.  First none of the debts that were paid off in 2001 were debts at the time of filing and thus weren’t subject to equitable distribution.  Further, there were no funds from which Husband could pay this $20,000 award.   Thus, the Court of Appeals reversed this lump sum award.

Husband also challenged the award of $500 per month in permanent periodic alimony. Given the parties’ 27-year marriage, Husband’s income of $3,201.68 per month and Wife’s income of $1,339 per month, the Court of Appeals affirmed that award, holding:

The alimony award leaves Husband with a greater gross monthly income than Wife. However, after paying the monthly bills reflected in the parties’ financial declarations, both parties experience similar deficits. Neither experiences a windfall. Accordingly, the award is equitable, and the preponderance of the evidence supports the family court’s decision.

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