What constitutes “income” when determining an appropriate award of alimony?

Alimony is not an exact science in South Carolina. 13 separate factors must be separately analyzed and each one specifically addressed when making an alimony order. 

It is usually a simple matter to accurately determine income by examining tax returns, W-2’s, 1099’s, etc. But when income is derived from property, such as investment accounts, it may be difficult to get an accurate number. The SC Supreme Court recently ruled in Sweeney v Sweeney that the current and anticipated income of both parties must be carefully and precisely set forth in an alimony order, but sometimes certain income, such as income producing property, may not be so easily computed with precision.

In Sweeney, the court granted wife alimony in the amount of $5,000 per month. It found husband earned about 34,000 per month and imputed to wife, who had no earning history, minimum wage. The court also found that wife would recieve income from property (an investment account with a balance of over one million dollars granted to her in the divorce) but could not and did not find a specific monthly amount due to the nature of the account. Husband appealed and argued that wife should have been attributed specific monthly income from this investment account, thus reducing the alimony award.

On review, the SC Supreme Court stated that the alimony statute requires an analysis of the current and reasonably anticipated earnings of both spouses.  The Supreme Court recognized that determination of income from certain financial accounts could only be “speculative at best”. In fact, the court noted the alimony statute specifically uses the words “reasonably anticipated” rather than requiring an exact accounting of income from the investment account. 

The Sweeney court found that “[w]hile Husband is correct in arguing that family courts should consider investment income as to both parties in assessing a party’s anticipated earnings, given the uncertainty of market fluctuations, we decline to require courts to assign a specific number to future investment income”. As a result, as courts must be clear and precise in their alimony awards, certain findings, such as income from income producing properties, will nonetheless be permitted to be “reasonably anticipated”.  

Now… what is reasonable to be anticipated?

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