For South Carolina spouses seeking alimony, adultery is fatal, attempted murder is not

Posted Thursday, October 4th, 2018 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Alimony/Spousal Support, Of Interest to General Public, South Carolina Specific

While driving back from court yesterday I received a telephone call from Buzzfeed asking me about the impact of domestic violence on alimony. The reporter wanted to know whether domestic abusers were more likely to pay alimony. What I informed her about South Carolina alimony had to seem bizarre.

The answer to her question about whether domestic violence affected alimony was a resounding yes. The case of Johnson v. Johnson, 296 SC 289, 372 SE 2d 107 (Ct. App. 1988) authorized permanent alimony on a fourteen-month marriage because husband had physically abused wife. In response to Husband’s argument that a short marriage should not result in permanent alimony, the Court of Appeals stated:

Unlike most cases, fault is a substantial factor in awarding alimony in this case. Dr. Johnson, not Mrs. Johnson, is to blame for the shortness of the marriage. When the duration of the marriage is seen in its proper light, the equities favor Mrs. Johnson, not Dr. Johnson. An at fault spouse cannot destroy a marriage and then claim its short duration entitles him to more favorable consideration when the economic adjustments attendant to divorce are made.

While unsurprised that domestic violence is a factor in South Carolina alimony, the reporter was surprised to learn that South Carolina was unique among the states in barring adulterous spouses from alimony. As S.C. Code § 20-3-130(A) states:

No alimony may be awarded a spouse who commits adultery before the earliest of these two events: (1) the formal signing of a written property or marital settlement agreement or (2) entry of a permanent order of separate maintenance and support or of a permanent order approving a property or marital settlement agreement between the parties.

In the midst of our brief discussion I informed her about a South Carolina case in which a Wife who had attempted to murder her Husband had been awarded alimony. However, given that I was in a vehicle, I wasn’t 100% certain whether I was accurately recalling the facts of the case (and I informed this reporter of this).

Back in my office this morning, curiosity got me researching, and researching located the case: Sharpe v. Sharpe, 307 S.C. 540, 416 S.E.2d 215 (1992). In Sharpe, “The wife admitted that she conspired with others to kill the husband, but the attempt failed because the husband became aware of the conspiracy.” This did not stop the Court of Appeals from affirming the family court’s award requiring Husband to maintain Wife’s medical insurance as a form of alimony.

South Carolina: where a spouse can attempt to kill his or her spouse and still obtain alimony but cannot commit adultery without losing that right.

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