SC Court Of Appeals Rules On Modification Of Alimony
A person requesting to modify an alimony award will often face an uphill battle. This issue was recently addressed by the Court of Appeals in Woods v Woods where the Trial Court’s ruling that significantly reduced Wife’s periodic alimony award was overturned.
Periodic alimony is alimony paid every month until there has been a substantial change in circumstances. It is the preferred form of alimony in South Carolina (as opposed to Rehabilitative alimony, Lump Sum alimony, etc). “If a claim for alimony is well founded, the law favors the award of permanent, periodic alimony”.
The Watson’s had agreed many years earlier when they got divorced that Husband would pay $8,000 per month in periodic alimony, and that it would be non modifiable for 3 years. Also, at any time Husband chose to sell his shares in a business he owned, that event would also qualify to permit him to seek a modification of alimony.
The Court of Appeals had no problem finding that Husband had presented a credible change in circumstance since the Divorce Agreement contemplated a future modification “event”. The Court’s job was then to consider the appropriateness of the Trial Court’s ruling that had reduced Wife’s alimony by 50%. Once a request for modification of alimony is deemed to be properly before the Court, the Court then performs the same analysis that was done when alimony was initially established: a consideration of all of the 13 required statutory alimony factors (20-3-130 SC Code of Laws ).
In the Woods matter the Court seemed most concerned with the fact that Wife would not be able to meet her current and reasonable expenses with a 50% reduction in her Alimony due to a financial need of approximately $5,000 per month. The Court of Appeals then increased the Trial Court Order from $4,000 per month to $6,000, which met the Wife’s current monthly expenses.
This case illustrates that an award of periodic alimony, absent a written agreement, will never “automatically” end (unless, of course, Wife re-marries, either party dies, or by agreement). Should a modification event arise, either by agreement as in the Woods matter, or due to an unforeseen change of circumstances, the very same analysis that was done to establish alimony in the first place will be done again to determine the new amount, and sometimes the results will not be that much different.