Waiving alimony by committing adultery affects more than just alimony

South Carolina’s alimony bar to spouses who have committed uncondoned adultery (S.C. Code Ann. § 20-3-130(A)) is unique in United States alimony law. It reflects an archaic and patriarchal view of marriage and should be abolished. Of course South Carolina’s overwhelming preference for permanent periodic alimony is similarly archaic and patriarchal. However so long as South Carolina combines a preference for permanent periodic alimony for supported spouses with an adultery bar to alimony, a supported spouse who has not committed adultery has substantial leverage in marital dissolution negotiations.

That leverage can be used for purposes other than seeking alimony. Foregoing or limiting a viable alimony claim can be traded for a better deal on property division, child custody/visitation, child support, or attorney’s fees. A supported spouse who doesn’t really want alimony should initially seek it anyway.

A failure to understand that this claim confers leverage often leads supported spouses to engage in post-separation adultery before their case is resolved. Since they don’t really want alimony, they assume there is no harm if they lose their right to it when they pursue romantic/sexual interests. It can be a shock when they realize they have just, unnecessarily, complicated the remainder of their case and made their other goals harder to achieve. The other spouse, who may have been accommodating on other issues in the hope of avoiding alimony–especially permanent alimony–has less reason to remain so accommodating. Issues that might have easily resolved by foregoing or limiting alimony, may now require extensive litigation. Horse trading is harder when there’s no longer a horse.

South Carolina family law attorneys counsel supported spouses to defer romantic/sexual relationships until a separation agreement is executed or a final order of marital dissolution is entered. The ramifications for dismissing such counsel affects more than just alimony.

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