Temporary spousal support orders set no precedent

Posted Wednesday, May 26th, 2021 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Alimony/Spousal Support, Of Interest to Family Court Litigants, Of Interest to Family Law Attorneys, South Carolina Specific

One of the more common fallacies I hear family court litigants spout is the belief that a family court temporary order setting a spousal support obligation sets some precedent on what spousal support will be at trial. Folks seem to think that if the court ordered a particular support level at temporary hearing, or, especially, if they agree to a temporary support level on a temporary basis, it will be hard to move much from that figure at trial. Often I heard that another attorney told them this.

Wherever such litigants are getting this information, they are wrong: explicit-case-on-point wrong. That case is Rimer v. Rimer, 361 S.C. 521, 527 n.6, 605 S.E.2d 572, 575 n.6 (Ct. App. 2004). In Rimer, Husband voluntarily paid $2,700 per month in temporary alimony and Wife was awarded $2,600 per month in permanent periodic alimony at trial. Husband appealed the alimony award. In defending the award Wife argued that the $2,600 should be affirmed because Husband had voluntarily paid $2,700 per month in temporary support, The Court of Appeals rejected this argument:

Husband had been voluntarily paying pendente lite support of $2,700 monthly to Wife. Wife urges this court to rely on this fact in affirming the award of permanent alimony of $2,600 per month. To do so, however, would be ill-advised. Family court litigants may well confront challenges at the onset of litigation which are not present if the case proceeds to trial. For example, an offer of temporary support may be motivated by a desire to reconcile the marriage. Moreover, the obligation to pay pendente lite support only continues during the pendency of the litigation prior to a final determination of the matter on its merits. To assign weight to the amount of support awarded pendente lite or view the award as having any precedential value at the merits hearing or on appeal would discourage parties from amicably agreeing upon temporary support for fear the slightest concession would prejudice their position at the final hearing. Temporary hearings are not de facto final hearings, and we adhere to the principle that temporary orders must be without prejudice to the rights of the parties at the final hearing.

Emphasis in original.

Temporary hearings are not de facto final hearings. No precedent on alimony is established by such temporary obligations.

One thought on Temporary spousal support orders set no precedent

  1. Worse than getting too little child support or alimony at a temporary hearing is getting too much. Once a party receives excessive support at the temporary hearing, that party and his or her lawyer are highly likely to settle for a reasonable amount at mediation. Still, the payor and his or her lawyer must worry about the temporary support affecting the trial judge. These issues make family law difficult, treacherous, and fun.

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