What is Alimony Law?

Alimony (sometimes referred to as spousal support) in South Carolina when spouses do not have the grounds for, or intent to, divorce at the time a marital dissolution case is filed) is the money a supporting spouse provides a supported spouse in order to enable a supported spouse to maintain the marital lifestyle when the spouses no longer live together.  Alimony law can quickly become complicated, and having an experienced alimony attorney involved in your unique case can help.

What Types of Alimony Are There?

For South Carolina alimony law, there are four types: permanent periodic alimony (called spousal support when the parties are not divorced); rehabilitative alimony; reimbursement alimony; and lump-sum alimony.  The family court can require a supporting spouse to obtain life insurance to secure an alimony award. An alimony attorney can help you identify which type of alimony is best for your situation.

Permanent Periodic Alimony

Permanent periodic alimony is alimony that is paid periodically, typically monthly or per pay period.  It is intended to last until either spouse dies, or until the supported spouse remarries or cohabits for a period of ninety days or more [something exceedingly difficult to prove].   It is subject to an alimony modification upon a showing of substantial change of circumstances. To see if your case qualifies for an alimony modification, make sure to consult your alimony attorney.  Permanent periodic alimony is the favored form of alimony in South Carolina.

Rehabilitative Alimony

Rehabilitative alimony is similar to permanent periodic alimony law, except it has a set end date.  It is intended for situations in which the supported spouse needs temporary alimony until he or she can earn sufficient money to maintain the marital lifestyle.  It is typically only awarded when that spouse is undergoing education or training necessary to obtain employment at a much higher earning capacity.  It terminates on the same bases as permanent period alimony.  It too is subject to an alimony modification upon a showing of substantial change of circumstances.

Reimbursement Alimony

Reimbursement alimony is to be paid in a finite sum, to be paid in one installment or periodically, terminable on the remarriage or continued cohabitation of the supported spouse, or upon the death of either spouse. However, it is not subject to an alimony modification or termination based upon changed circumstances in the future. The purpose of this form of support may include, but is not limited to, circumstances where the court finds it necessary and desirable to reimburse the supported spouse from the future earnings of the payor spouse based upon circumstances or events that occurred during the marriage. An expert alimony lawyer can help determine if reimbursement alimony is the best solution for you.

Reimbursement alimony is typically used to reimburse a spouse for contribution to the other spouse’s increased earning capacity when the marriage was not of sufficient duration to establish a higher marital lifestyle.  Examples of when it might be awarded are when one spouse puts another spouse through professional school or helps that spouse establish a business, only to have the educated spouse end the marriage before his or her earnings are actually reflected by this education or business.

Lump-sum Alimony

Lump‑sum alimony is a finite total sum to be paid in one installment, or periodically over a period of time, terminating only upon the death of the supported spouse, but not terminable or subject to an alimony modification based upon remarriage or changed circumstances in the future. The purpose of this form of support may include, but not be limited to, circumstances where the court finds alimony appropriate but determines that such an award be of a finite and non-modifiable nature.

Lump-sum alimony is rarely awarded by the family court, and in turn is pursued by alimony attorneys less than the other forms of alimony.  The typical circumstance in which it is awarded is when the supporting spouse demonstrates an intent and the ability to disobey any permanent periodic alimony award.  The court can award lump-sum alimony from that spouse’s share of the marital estate to insure the supported spouse receives some alimony.

However, lump-sum alimony is often agreed to as a compromise between permanent alimony (which most supported spouses prefer receiving) and rehabilitative alimony (which most supporting spouses prefer paying).  Unlike permanent alimony, lump-sum alimony offers an end date.  However, unlike rehabilitative alimony, lump-sum alimony does not end if the supported spouse remarries or cohabits or if the supporting spouse dies. When you are navigating the different types of alimony, having an alimony attorney on your side can help you pursue the kind of alimony that best fits your unique situation.

How Is Alimony Determined?

There are thirteen statutory factors within alimony laws that the family court looks to in determining an award of alimony.  The most important factors tend to be the duration of the marriage, the lifestyle of the parties during the marriage (especially the last few years of the marriage), the earnings and earning capacity of both parties at the time of the marital dissolution, the reasonable expenses of the parties, the age and health of the parties at the time of the marital dissolution, whether caring for children of the marriage limits one party’s earning capacity, and fault in the breakup of the marriage. Having an alimony lawyer involved early in the process can help you navigate each of the statutory factors that the family court examines.

South Carolina alimony law forbids the awarding of alimony when the supported spouse has committed adultery, unless that adultery was condoned by the other spouse during the marriage.  South Carolina is the only state to have this bar.  Demonstrating that adultery caused the marital breakup or took place after the separation is a major issue in many alimony law cases. Consult with an alimony attorney familiar with South Carolina alimony law when dealing with adultery.

When Can You Make an Alimony Modification?

Only permanent periodic and rehabilitative alimony settlements are subject to alimony modifications.  These forms of alimony can only be changed upon a showing of substantial change of circumstances.  There is a South Carolina statute addressing how a supporting spouse’s alimony can be modified upon retirement.  An alimony modification can be made if either spouse’s income or necessary expenses substantially change. Make sure you consult with an experienced alimony attorney to see what your situation qualifies for.

For an alimony modification case in which alimony was initially established by agreement, the financial declarations the parties had on file at the time of the agreement was approved will provide the basis for establishing what the initial circumstances were. Thus the importance of accurate financial declarations and having an experienced alimony attorney represent you.  For an alimony modification case in which alimony was initially established by the court, the court’s factual findings will provide that basis.

Hiring An Alimony Attorney

Family court judges are granted tremendous discretion on how to weigh the thirteen alimony factors.  There is great variability in how much alimony a family court judge might award in a particular case and even whether to award permanent or rehabilitative alimony.  There is minimal case law on alimony modification, so again a judge’s discretion is a large factor in the success of such claims.  Having an experienced alimony attorney guide you through the alimony process can be invaluable. If you would like to retain Gregory Forman as your alimony attorney, contact him here.

Put Mr. Forman’s experience, knowledge, and dedication to your service for any of your South Carolina family law needs.

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