When is alimony ordered in South Carolina?
Written by: Megan Dell
One of the questions that is most searched on the internet is whether someone will have to pay, or is entitled to receive, alimony in South Carolina. So, will you have to pay alimony? In a nutshell, it depends. An award of alimony is highly discretionary, meaning that — unlike child support — it is not generally based on any one factor or particular calculation, causing it to vary from case to case.
Justifications for Alimony in South Carolina: Historical and Modern
First, let’s review the historical context alimony arose from. Long ago, by getting married, a husband undertook a duty to financially provide for his wife. This duty did not disappear when their marriage ended (which seems fair because, at that time, only men could seek divorce). To some degree this reasoning has carried over to current times. The modern example is the case that everyone thinks of: the husband work, and the wife stays home with the kids (or a sick relative). When they divorce after a long marriage, the husband pays the wife alimony.
But some modifications to this reasoning have been made. The primary one is that it is now less gender-specific: women are required to support their husbands in some cases. There are also more modern justifications for awarding alimony.
Following a long marriage, a situation may arise in which one spouse cannot maintain the standard of living the couple or family enjoyed during the marriage. Therefore, the other spouse provides some support. This can occur when the couple shares an expensive lifestyle for a long time that is largely paid for by one spouse’s large salary.
Another situation where alimony may be appropriate is one in which one spouse makes substantial sacrifices (either financially or in earning capacity) to allow the other to pursue educational or professional opportunities. Then they divorce before the sacrificing spouse receives a return on his or her investment in their goals. This situation can occur in relationships where one spouse works (and pays for) the other to attend school, or where one cannot work (and therefore loses valuable work experience) due to having a spouse in the military.
Factors Affecting Whether Alimony is Awarded in South Carolina
As you can see from these examples, the length of the marriage usually weighs heavily on whether an award of alimony is appropriate. Other factors, adapted from the S.C. Code of Laws 1976 Section 20-3-130(C), include:
- the earning capacity of each spouse
- ages of the spouses
- each spouse’s education (and whether he/she needs more)
- the standard of living during the marriage
- each spouse’s health (both physical and mental)
- each spouse’s employment history
- marital misconduct
- any support obligation from another former marriage
- custody of the children (and its effect on one spouse’s ability to work)
- each spouse’s expenses
Effect of Marital Misconduct on Alimony in South Carolina
With regard to marital misconduct, South Carolina is one of the few states in which it can affect the financial circumstances of a couple’s divorce. For starters, a spouse who commits adultery is barred from receiving alimony in South Carolina pursuant to S.C. Code of Law 1976 Section 20-3-130(A). Further, other misconduct — like financial mismanagement, habitual drunkenness, physical cruelty, or desertion — may prevent a spouse from receiving alimony if it contributed to the breakdown of the marriage.
What Does Your Lawyer Want to Know
To consider whether alimony is appropriate for your situation, be prepared to provide your lawyer answers to questions like these:
- How long have you been married?
- How old were each of you when you got married?
- What circumstances have led to your divorce? Have you or your spouse committed adultery?
- Have you and your spouse both worked during your marriage? What do you each do?
- How much money do you earn? How much does your spouse earn?
- What kind of lifestyle have you and your spouse shared during your marriage? Have you lived in a “fancy” house or taken expensive vacations?
- Do you or your spouse have ongoing health issues? If so, what are they? How have they impacted your ability to work?
If you are concerned about whether alimony is at issue in your case, you should schedule a consultation with an experienced South Carolina Family Court lawyer right away.