Nov 03

How Long Will Alimony Last? Answers for South Carolinians Headed for Divorce

Written by: Megan Dell

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the Definition of Alimony

During divorces, many people are afraid of having to pay alimony. They wonder how long these payments will last and worry about whether they will still be able to live comfortably despite their alimony obligation.

S.C. Code Ann. § 20-3-120 allows each party to petition for an award of alimony in their complaint or counterclaim. If the claim is well-founded, then a reasonable sum shall be awarded. The purpose of alimony is to ensure spouses continue to fulfill the financial responsibilities they undertook when entering the marital contract. 

will alimony last

Types of Alimony in South Carolina

How long one is required to pay alimony will depend on the type of alimony that is agreed to or a Judge orders you to pay.  The types of alimony are laid out in S.C. Code Ann. § 20-3-130.

1 Separate Maintenance and Support

Separate Maintenance and Support is temporary spousal support while parties are living separate and apart but not yet divorced. It is generally paid on a monthly or bi-weekly basis.

2 Periodic Alimony

Periodic alimony, also called permanent periodic alimony, continues monthly until the receiving party remarries, cohabitates with a romantic partner for 90 or more consecutive days, or the death of either spouse. It may be modified or terminated if a substantial change in circumstances is proven that was not known at the time alimony was awarded.  

3 Lump-Sum Alimony

Lump-sum alimony is a set amount that is to be paid to the supported spouse, either in one payment or divided over multiple payments. 

4 Rehabilitative Alimony

Rehabilitative alimony is a set amount that is to be paid to the supported spouse for the purpose to help the supported spouse with the opportunity to complete job training or education. Such alimony could be in one payment or set up to pay over a period of time.

5 Reimbursement Alimony

Reimbursement alimony is a set amount that is to be paid to the supported spouse for the purpose to reimburse the supported spouse based on events during the marriage or set future earnings of the spouse who will pay alimony. This could be in one payment or set up to pay over a period of time. It can be terminated if the supported spouse remarries, cohabitates with a romantic partner for 90 or more consecutive days, or either party dies. It cannot be modified based on change in circumstances.

6 Catch All

The Court may also decide to award support to a spouse that does not fall into the above alimony categories.  A judge has the ability to order a party to pay more than one form of support as long as it is appropriate under the circumstances.  Some common categories this may occur is paying the mortgage and/or utilities, paying the car payments, paying more in maintaining the marital debt.

The terms to modify the amount of alimony or terminate an alimony obligation may differ from the statute if the parties agree. Alimony does not change until there is a new court order that reduces the amount to be paid or is terminated.

Factors for Determining an Alimony Award in South Carolina

When determining whether one may receive alimony and the type of alimony that is ordered will depend on different factors.

How long alimony will last depends on the following factors and types of alimony as set by S.C. Code Ann. § 20-3-130(C) and include:

  • the length of the marriage
  • 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

Family Court judges have discretion to give each factor weight as they decide is appropriate. Often, the length of the marriage, the ages of the parties, and each spouse’s earning capacities are given more weight. Parties in a long-term marriage with significant disparities in their respective incomes are most likely to encounter litigation about alimony.

Once the Family Court determines an award of alimony is appropriate, the same factors are also reviewed to determine the type of alimony, its amount, and how long it will be paid.

Effect of Marital Misconduct on Alimony

Alimony is not awarded to a spouse who commits adultery. Pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. § 20-3-130(A), adultery must be proven before the earliest of the signing of a final agreement or a final order is entered. 

Other marital misconduct like habitual drunkenness and physical cruelty may be taken into consideration when determining the alimony award, but they are not an absolute bar to alimony like adultery. 

Payment of Alimony

Alimony may be paid directly to the spouse. If there is a concern about a party refusing to pay alimony or if the other party fails to pay the ordered payments, alimony may be required to pay through the court. S.C. Code Ann. § 20-3-130(E)

Determining the amount one has to pay in support and for how long is fact heavy. Reach out to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced family law attorneys to learn how these factors may affect your divorce case.

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