One of the questions that is most searched on the internet is whether someone will have to pay, or is entitled to receive, alimony. 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.
What is alimony or spousal support?
Alimony (sometimes called spousal support or separate support and maintenance) is intended to provide a spouse with the same financial support he or she had during the marital relationship. Alimony is awarded to keep the spouse in the same financial position during or after a divorce.
What is the difference between Alimony and Separate Support and Maintenance?
Alimony is paid after the parties are divorced. Separate support and maintenance is paid while the parties are still married, but during the process of divorce. Other than when they are each paid, alimony and separate support and maintenance are the same thing.
Justifications for Alimony: Historical and Modern
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 works, 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 now 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/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 education 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.
Types of Alimony
Permanent alimony is the kind most people think of -- one spouse receives payments from the other until one of them dies or the supporting spouse remarries or begins living with a new romantic partner.
Rehabilitative alimony is ordered less frequently and is intended to be short-term, to allow the supported spouse the opportunity to gain more education or better employment.
Reimbursement alimony is intended to compensate the supported spouse for contributions made to the supporting spouse's education or career during the marriage. A good example of when this kind of alimony may be appropriate is when one spouse supports the other financially while he or she gets a professional degree.
Factors Affecting Whether Alimony is Awarded
As you can see from the examples above, the length of the marriage usually weighs heavily on whether an award of alimony is appropriate. Other factors, adapted from SC Code of Laws 1976 Section 20-3-130(C), include:
- the earning capacity of each spouse
- ages of the parties
- 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
Can a Man/Husband Get Alimony?
Yes. South Carolina bases alimony awards on the factors outlined above, without regard to the gender of the person requesting it.
Effect of Marital Misconduct
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, see SC Code of Laws 1976 Section 20-3-130(A). Further, other misconduct -- habitual drunkenness, physical cruelty, or desertion -- may prohibit a spouse from receiving alimony if it contributed to the breakdown of the marriage.
How Long Does Alimony Last?
Awards of alimony may be permanent; if so, they terminate either when either spouse dies or when the supported spouse remarries or begins living with a romantic partner.
Alimony awards may also be temporary; if so, they only last for a limited period of time.
How Much Alimony Will Have to Be Paid?
There is no formula for determining the amount of alimony. If there is a trial on the issue of alimony, the judge has the sole discretion to determine the amount of alimony, based on the particular facts of the case. This is one significant reason why settling (rather than going to trial) an alimony case may be beneficial.
How is Alimony Paid?
Alimony can be paid in several different ways. In some cases, a lump sum, where one spouse pays the other a single, large payment, is most appropriate.
More commonly, alimony is paid periodically, with one spouse making payments monthly, or weekly, or on some other regular schedule.
What Does Your Lawyer Need 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?
Can You Ask for Alimony After You're Divorced?
No, once your divorce is final, you cannot request alimony. It must be agreed upon or ordered before the divorce is granted.
What if the alimony is not paid?
If there is a court order that alimony must be paid, the person who is not paying can be held in contempt of court. The sanctions for being held in contempt can include: up to one year in jail, up to $1,500 in fines, up to 300 hours of community service, or any combination of those things.