Wives can pay alimony too

Posted Friday, September 13th, 2019 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Alimony/Spousal Support, Litigation Strategy, Of Interest to Family Court Litigants, Of Interest to Family Law Attorneys, Of Interest to General Public, South Carolina Specific

When I first began practicing family law twenty-five years ago it was almost unheard of for South Carolina wives to be ordered to pay alimony. Even when circumstances suggested alimony might be appropriate (high income wife; low income husband staying home with the parties’ children) few took these husbands’ alimony requests seriously. Often these husbands wouldn’t even seriously pursue alimony–considering it “unmanly” to do so. The few times I represented such husbands in their pursuit of alimony, opposing counsels rarely took the claims seriously and I almost never could get the family courts to award alimony–and even then the alimony was limited in amount and rehabilitative.

I’ve noticed a change in attitude since Ricigliano v. Ricigliano, 413 S.C. 319 775 S.E.2d 701 (Ct. App. 2015). In that case the family court granted a husband limited rehabilitative alimony in what was clearly a permanent periodic alimony case. He appealed and the Court of Appeals remanded the matter for an award of permanent periodic alimony. It was the first published South Carolina opinion awarding a husband alimony. That the Court of Appeals made the alimony permanent was particularly noteworthy.

Family court judges took notice of Ricigliano. In the right fact pattern (high income wife; lower income husband; long marriage; no fault by husband) the family court seems much more inclined to make wives pay permanent periodic alimony. Sometimes they are doing this in cases in which the husband wasn’t even the primary homemaker.

But if family court judges are more open to making wives pay alimony, I don’t see the culture catching up quite as quickly. I’ve seen a few cases recently in which wives unwisely pursued trial over settlement on financial issues because they discounted their risk of paying alimony. I’ve seen other cases in which wives were frustrated their cases were not settling because they inaccurately treated their husband’s alimony claim as having no value.

It’s a new decade in South Carolina. For a specific but growing subset of wives reducing their potential alimony exposure should be as standard a part of an attorney’s representation (as it has traditionally been for husbands).

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