A Practical Ruling on Alimony and Attorney Fees
The right to Alimony and Attorney Fees are hotly debated by Family Law Attorneys. A ruling several years ago by a SC Family Court Judge provides a “real life” example of how these issues are considered and ruled upon given the facts of a particular case.
Husband and Wife were only married for 2 years and had a child who was 2 1/2 at the time of the trial (the case had been in litigation for 1 year!). The testimony established that at the time of marriage, the parties agreed that Mom would give up her job (which required a professional license) to stay home and raise their son. Dad was employed in a private business earning a salary of about $70,000 per year. Mom was the beneficiary of a (nonmarital) trust valued at about $500,000, but only received interest on the principle had no access to the trust corpus (absent consent of the trustee) for another 8 years.
Mom had requested short term alimony because her professional license had expired and she needed to go back to school to be re-certified. She also desired to continue to attend school to further improve her qualifications and employability. Dad adamantly opposed paying alimony noting that Mom was a college graduate, had been gainfully employed before the marriage, and was the beneficiary of a trust.
After the close of evidence, the court issued its ruling. Mom received custody of the child, which was not in dispute, marital assets were divided 50-50, and the court denied Mom’s request for short term alimony.
The right to receive Alimony in South Carolina is established by section 20-3-130 of the South Carolina Code of Laws. When ruling on request for alimony, a Family Court judge is required to consider ALL factors established by the statute, then give whatever weight the individual factors it deems appropriate.
In Mom’s case, the court gave special weight to the “marital and nonmarital properties of the parties” (emphasis added) noting that Mom had access to a $500,000 trust. While the terms of the trust only granted Mom interest on the principle (about $18,000 per year), it gave the trustee discretion to distribute to Mom funds from the trust corpus in the trustee’s discretion. The court felt that given the short length of the marriage, Mom’s pending employability and her beneficiary status to a large trust, alimony was not appropriate.
The court then went on to rule on Mom’s request for reimbursement of her legal fees of $20,000. The rules for payment of legal fees in South Carolina were established in 1991 in the matter of Glasscock v Glasscock:
(1) the nature, extent, and difficulty of the case; (2) the time necessarily devoted to the case; (3) professional standing of counsel; (4) contingency of compensation; (5) beneficial results obtained; (6) customary legal fees for similar services. Glasscock v. Glasscock, 304 S.C. 158, 161, 403 S.E.2d 313, 315 (1991)
In applying these factors to Mom’s case, the court then ordered Dad to reimburse Mom for 1/2 of her legal fees, or $10,000, payable at the rate of $500.00 per month. Hmmm… did the court just deny Mom alimony only to give it back to her in some other way?
Practically speaking, I could not argue with the Court’s ruling denying Mom alimony. Dad had no such trust from which he would benefit in the near future, it was a very short term marriage and no fault was alleged by either party; however Mom did need some extra cash in the short term to help her get through school and find employment.
Receipt of attorney fees are not taxable income as is alimony. Mom received her payment of $500 per month for 20 months as she transitioned from school to the workplace. While Mom did not get everything she wanted, I wonder if she got what she needed?