Alimony Reform

Whats the best way to figure alimony in a South Carolina Divorce case?

Alimony in South Carolina is one of the most contested issues in the family court system. The legal process and methodology for determining the amount and duration of alimony are critical to finding resolutions fair to all involved.

The South Carolina alimony statute lists 13 factors that must be considered by a court when making an alimony award. Since the overwhelming number of family law cases are resolved by agreement, the way the award is determined is critical to ensure that both parties are treated fairly. Using the adversarial litigation process will generally do little to help the family reach a resolution of support issues in a way that works for the family.

In South Carolina, alimony ordered by the court will almost always be permanent if the marriage is 7 years or longer in duration. The thought of having to pay alimony forever to a soon-to-be ex can cause a serious amount of emotional distress!  Add the pressures inherent to the adversarial litigation process and you have a recipe for disaster.

Collaborative Practice is often a better method for family law attorneys to employ in reaching resolutions for support and other family law issues in a calm, reasoned and productive way. Collaborative Practice cases often include the services of a financial professional who is neutral (either a CPA or financial planner) and works with both parties to reach the best resolution of all property and support issues.

At the beginning of a separation, attorneys commonly approach a support obligation by looking at the needs of the supported spouse.  A request of $1,000 per month after considering income and expenses, is probably a reasonable request. Looking long term, the alimony statute provides pretty good guidance as to what else we should consider:

  • How long were the parties married?
  • Did the supported spouse stay home and forgo a career in order to raise children?
  • How old is the supported spouse?
  • Is the supported spouse in his or her mid 50’s and entering or returning to the job market after many years?
  • What is his or her mental or physical health and education?

Addressing these issues in a rational, empathetic and straightforward manner increases the likelihood that a permanent support obligation can be reached by agreement. The financial professional will help establish an appropriate amount of support, the supporting spouse will understand his or her legal obligation,  and the lawyers will work out the minutia of the agreement, including how to handle alimony when the supporting spouse retires, offsetting alimony against a retirement or pension award, or arriving at a lump sum, discounted payout.

A divorce almost always means a family will have less money and other “stuff,” but resolving contentious issues through reason and collaboration means the family has achieved a agreement that permits them to move forward knowing what to expect, which usually lessens the fear and resentment of the other party.

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