A lot of work for $2.35 a month

Posted Saturday, July 25th, 2015 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Alimony/Spousal Support, Of Interest to Family Court Litigants, Of Interest to Family Law Attorneys, South Carolina Appellate Decisions, South Carolina Specific

On July 22, 2015, three and a half years after the Court of Appeals remanded the family court’s increase in an Ex-Wife’s alimony to $1,547.65 per month in the case of Roof v. Steele, 396 S.C. 373, 720 S.E.2d 910 (Ct. App. 2011), the Court of Appeals, in the case of Roof v. Steele, 413 S.C. 543 776 S.E.2d 392 (Ct. App. 2015) set the obligation at $1,550 per month. That’s a whole lot of work for what ended up being a $2.35 per month increase.

In the original Roof case, Ex-Wife had sought an alimony increase when her Ex-Husband was no longer able to provide her health insurance through his employer. The family court increased Ex-Wife’s alimony award by the amount health insurance would cost her, and Ex-Husband appealed. The Court of Appeals held that Ex-Wife’s inability to remain on Ex-Husband’s health insurance was an unanticipated substantial change of circumstances but that merely ordering an alimony increase sufficient to cover that expense was not appropriate.

By the time of remand Ex-Husband’s income had increased from $5,000 per month during the marriage to approximately $6,755 per month plus an annual $7,600 incentive bonus. Ex-Wife’s income at a frame shop she ran with a partner was $1,000 per month. An insurance agent testified the current cost to insure Ex-Wife would be $1,612.27 monthly. However, she anticipated once the Affordable Health Insurance Act enrollment began, Ex-Wife could be covered for approximately $640 to $720 per month.

Despite evidence that Ex-Wife’s medical condition limited her employment, and limited her ability to work full time, the family court imputed her minimum wage. The family court further found she failed to mitigate her medical expenses by not applying for Social Security Disability or Medicaid (Ex-Wife indicated a belief that she could not remain self-employed if she received these benefits). Faulting Ex-Wife as being wilfully complacent on these issues, it awarded her $761.51 per month in alimony and ordered her to reimburse Ex-Husband overpayment since the remand. She appealed.

The Court of Appeals found the family court’s factual findings on Ex-Wife’s income and mitigation of expenses were not sustained by the record. Ex-Wife’s numerous medical conditions meant that she could not work set hours and therefore should not be imputed minimum wage. The Court of Appeals further found that Ex-Wife’s failure to apply for these benefits should not affect the alimony award. It increased her alimony award to $1,550 per month. Since there was no longer an overpayment no reimbursement was required.

When Ex-Husband obtained a reversal in 2011, it is doubtful either party thought his obligation would basically be unchanged after remand. The expense–and for Ex-Wife and her attorney, the tenacity–to fight 3 ½ years to reach basically the same result must strike all parties as highly ironic.

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