Nov 03

Dividing the Dollars: The Difference Between Equitable Distribution and Alimony

Written by: Megan Dell

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Dividing the DollarsWhen facing the prospect of divorce, most people confuse equitable distribution and alimony because both involve the exchange of money between spouses, but these are very different concepts.

Alimony is income paid from one spouse to another, based on the circumstances of the marriage.  When one spouse has historically supported the other, he might be required to continue providing the same level of financial support following divorce.  Likewise, when one spouse makes substantial sacrifices to allow the other to pursue educational or professional opportunities, then he might be entitled to receive a return on his investment, despite the divorce.

Alimony is not ordered in every South Carolina divorce – there are many cases when it is simply not appropriate.  The factors that are considered by the South Carolina Family Court to determine whether alimony is appropriate include the length of the marriage; the earning capacity of each spouse; the ages of the spouses; each spouse’s education, health, and employment history; the standard of living maintained during the marriage; and any marital misconduct (including adultery).

In contrast, equitable distribution is necessary in every divorce action in South Carolina Family Court.  This process requires the identification of all marital assets and debts, and then results in those assets and debts being divided between the spouses at the time of divorce.

It is presumed that any asset acquired, and all debts incurred, during the marriage are products of the marriage and therefore subject to equitable distribution.  While it seems simple to determine which items are marital and which are non-marital, property and debts can change from non-marital to marital over time.

Once each marital asset and debt is given a value, then the marital estate must be divided between the parties.  This is done based on a number of factors, including the length of the marriage; marital misconduct/fault; each spouse’s contribution to the marital estate; income of each spouse; existence of retirement benefits; any award of alimony; and any tax consequences.

The division of the marital estate is usually shown as a percentage (e.g. one spouse receives 45% of the estate while the other receives 65%).  Once the division is agreed upon, each spouse will receive specific assets to accomplish his percentage – that is when who gets what is decided; the house, vehicles, financial accounts, and other assets are divided until each party has received his or her percentage of the marital estate.

Though equitable distribution and alimony both involve the exchange of money and other assets between the spouses, they are applicable in different circumstances, which is why it is so important to seek advice from a South Carolina Family Court lawyer when deciding to divorce.