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Are You Stuck Paying Forever: How Long Does Alimony Actually Last in South Carolina?
Written by: Megan Dell
Going through a divorce can be a challenging and confusing time, especially when it comes to financial concepts like alimony. If you’re in South Carolina and wondering how long alimony lasts or have other questions about alimony laws, you’re not alone. Let’s unravel the mystery of alimony and answer whether you’re stuck paying it forever or if there is an end in sight.
S.C. Code Ann. Section 20-3-120 gives the South Carolina Family Court the authority to award alimony, either temporarily or permanently, in a reasonable amount when either party seeks such relief.
How Does Alimony Work?
Alimony is a substitute for the support normally incidental to the marital relationship. Spence v. Spence, 260 S.C. 526, 529, 197 S.E.2d 683, 684 (1973). Alimony or other spousal support or maintenance are amounts paid by one spouse to their former spouse as a means of fulfilling the marital obligations, even after divorces finalized.
What Are the Types of Alimony in South Carolina?
S.C. Code Ann. Section 20-3-130(B) describes five types of alimony that can be awarded. However, the Family Court is not limited to these five kinds of alimony payments. Instead, divorce judges have discretion to decide the best structure of alimony payments and types, based on the circumstances of your case.
1) Permanent, Periodic Alimony
Permanent, periodic alimony is the most common type of alimony award. With this kind of alimony, one ex spouse makes monthly payments to their former spouse. The purpose of this form of alimony is to provide for the ongoing support of ex spouses, which can be reviewed and revised as circumstances may dictate in the future.
This type of alimony is the closest thing to “permanent alimony” or “lifetime alimony” that a judge can order in South Carolina. However, permanent alimony is not actually permanent. Because this kind of alimony is intended to provide financial support for the receiving spouse, if the receiving spouse remarries or begins living with a romantic companion, the spouse ordered to pay alimony can request their obligation be terminated.
Usually, the amount of permanent alimony can be modified by showing a change of circumstances affecting the parties’ financial conditions. Permanent, periodic alimony obligations terminate when either the paying spouse or the recipient spouse dies.
It is important to note that in situations when a marriage lasted at least ten (10) years and other relevant factors support an award of alimony, there may be a presumption that permanent, periodic alimony is the appropriate structure for one spouse to get financial support to the other party after divorce.
2) Lump Sum Alimony
Lump sum alimony is paid either with a single payment or in multiple payments over a period of time. This type of alimony is used when the judge finds alimony is appropriate but determines the alimony award should be finite and not modifiable.
This type of alimony cannot be modified based on changes to the parties’ finances. It still terminates when the receiving spouse dies, but it is not affected by whether the receiving spouse remarries or lives with a romantic companion.
3) Rehabilitative Alimony
Rehabilitative alimony is a finite sum to be paid either in a single payment or multiple payments over a period of time. The purpose of this form of support may include providing rehabilitation alimony to the supported spouse while they work to become self supporting and self sufficient.
This type of alimony can be modified based upon unforeseen changes in circumstances. It is also terminable if the receiving spouse remarries or begins living with a romantic companion, or if either the spouse paying alimony, or the recipient spouse owed alimony, dies.
4) Reimbursement Alimony
Reimbursement alimony can be paid in a finite sum with a single payment or in multiple payments. The purpose of this form of financial support is to reimburse the former spouse from the future earnings of the paying spouse based upon circumstances that occurred during their marriage.
This type of alimony cannot be modified based on changes to the parties’ financial situations. It is terminable if the receiving spouse remarries or begins living with a romantic companion, or upon the death of one of the divorcing spouses.
5) Spousal Support is Temporary Alimony
Temporary alimony payments are usually called “spousal support” or “separate maintenance and support.” The purpose of this kind of alimony is to provide support for the spouse receiving alimony while the parties are still married but are living separately from each other.
By filing a Motion for Temporary Relief, you can get spousal maintenance and support as soon as you separate from your spouse, immediately after you start divorce proceedings and request alimony, even before your divorce case is finalized. Because South Carolina does not have legal separation, you simply need to file an action for separate maintenance and support to get the divorce process started.
How Long Does Alimony Actually Last in South Carolina?
Everyone wants to know: how long does alimony last in South Carolina? Ultimately, how long someone has to pay alimony depends on the type of support payments included in an alimony order.
A good rule of thumb is: the longer you were married, the longer you may be required to pay alimony.
Marriage Duration and Ages: Considers the length of the marriage and the ages of both spouses at the time of marriage and divorce.
Physical and Emotional Condition: Examines the health and emotional well-being of each spouse.
Educational Background: Takes into account each spouse’s education and the need for additional training or education to enhance income potential.
Employment History and Earning Potential: Evaluates the work history and potential income of each spouse, and the prospects for the lower earning spouse.
Standard of Living: Considers the lifestyle established during the marriage.
Current and Anticipated Earnings: Examines the present and expected future earnings of both spouses.
Expenses and Needs: Considers the current and anticipated financial needs of each spouse.
Marital Property and Non-marital Properties: Examines the distribution of marital property in the divorce case and each spouse’s non-marital properties.
Child Custody: Considers custody arrangements, especially if conditions justify the custodian not seeking employment.
Marital Misconduct: Takes into account any fault grounds for the parties’ divorce, as well as any misconduct or fault that affects economic circumstances or contributes to the marriage’s breakup.
Tax Consequences: Considers the tax implications of the support awarded based on the tax rules of the Internal Revenue Service, taking into consideration which spouse will be required to report the support as taxable income.
Prior Support Obligations: Examines any existing child support payments or spousal support obligations from previous marriages.
Other Relevant Factors: Allows the court to consider any additional factors deemed relevant to the specific case.
Can A Husband Get Alimony?
Though it remains more common for a wife to be at a financial disadvantage relative to her husband, in some couples, the wife earns a greater income than the husband. Those wives will sometimes ask, “Will I have to pay my husband alimony?”
Though the answer to that question depends on analysis of all the factors, South Carolina alimony laws allow a husband to be the recipient spouse of an alimony award, and in Ricigliano v. Ricigliano, 413 S.C. 319 (Ct. App. 2015), the Court of Appeals remanded the case to the Family Court to determine an appropriate amount of permanent, periodic alimony to be awarded to the husband.
How is the Amount of Alimony Calculated?
The amount of alimony is based upon the same factors the Court looks at when determining whether alimony should be awarded. There are no “alimony guidelines” a judge must use to calculate an appropriate alimony payment. Instead, SC Family Court judges have broad discretion to issue any reasonable court order for alimony based on the statutory factors.
Though we do not have an alimony calculator, there are a few common methods for projecting how much alimony one spouse may have to pay to the other spouse. Each of these can give you an idea of the amount of alimony that could be appropriate for specific divorce cases.
Please note that none of these methods are sanctioned by the South Carolina Legislature or endorsed by any specific Family Court judge. Rather, they are practical methods of determining how alimony payments might be calculated in a particular case.
One method used for determining alimony amounts is to divide the parties’ incomes in a way that both former spouses continue to have the standard of living they enjoyed during the marriage.
Unfortunately, this method is not appropriate for the majority of divorce cases because it is more expensive to pay for two households (one for each spouse) than it is to pay for one household (shared by both spouses). Unless a couple enjoys a particularly high income, then it is impossible to support two households at the same level previously shared in one.
However, if the supporting spouse engages in marital misconduct that is especially egregious, that could result in a court order requiring them to pay the majority of the household income to the supported spouse. In such a situation, the court’s philosophy would be that alimony recipients should not have to suffer a decline in their standard of living due to the bad behavior of the spouse who earns a greater income.
The “York” Alimony Formula
This formula originated in York County, South Carolina, but it has been used so widely, for so long, that it cannot be attributed to a particular judge.
For this method, the monthly gross income of the lower earning spouse is subtracted from the monthly gross income of the higher earning spouse. Then, the difference in the spouses’ incomes is multiplied by a percentage correlated with the numbers of years of their marriage.
For example, if the lower earning spouse has a gross income of $3,000 per month, and the higher earning spouse has a gross income of $10,000 per month, then the difference between their incomes would be $7,000 per month. Then, assuming the couple had been married for 25 years, the $7,000 per month difference in their incomes would be multiplied by 0.25, resulting in alimony payments of $1,750 per month.
In our experience, this formula is most useful when the spouses’ incomes are relatively similar or if the parties have been married for fewer than 10 years.
Equalization of Income Method
This method is used to provide both ex spouses with approximately the same amount of money to live on each month.
To use the same example from above, if one spouse earns $3,000 per month, and the other spouse earns $10,000 per month, then their combined monthly earnings are $13,000 per month. If that amount were divided between them to ‘equalize’ their incomes, then each spouse would have $6,500 per month.
To accomplish each party receiving $6,500 per month, the higher earning spouse would pay $3,500 per month to the lower earning spouse.
It should be noted that this method must be used cautiously because, since 2019, the taxable income of the higher earning spouse is not reduced by the amount of alimony paid to the lower earning spouse. Therefore, any use of this method should account for the related financial disadvantage suffered by the higher earning spouse.
Experienced Divorce Lawyers Can Help with Alimony Awards
If you’re facing the complexities of divorce in Charleston, South Carolina, and grappling with the uncertainties surrounding alimony, don’t go through it alone. Our experienced divorce lawyers can guide you through the process.
We understand the intricacies of alimony determinations, considering factors like the duration of your marriage, financial circumstances, and more. Planning for your life post divorce is important, and we’re here to help you through the divorce process.
Do you feel overwhelmed by the prospect of divorce?