Alimony is a court-ordered payment from one spouse to the other during and after the divorce. Although many spouses believe their obligation to financially support a spouse ends with the divorce, it’s not always the case.
In South Carolina, when a spouse requests alimony, the court has the discretion to make an appropriate alimony order, considering the couple’s circumstances. South Carolina law provides for the following types of alimony:
Alimony pendente lite. “Pendente lite” is a fancy way of saying temporary alimony during the divorce process. It’s not uncommon for one spouse to need financial support while the divorce is pending in the legal system. (S.C. Code Ann. § 20-3-120).
Periodic alimony. The court may order a spouse to pay periodic support (usually monthly payments), which is meant to be short-term and lasts only as long as the supported spouse needs help to become financially independent. (S.C. Code Ann. § 20-3-130 (B)(1).)
Lump-sum alimony. Once the court determines the set amount of support, the judge may order the paying spouse to make one full payment or installments over a short period. (S.C. Code Ann. § 20-3-130 (B)(2).)
Rehabilitative alimony. The most common type of alimony. The purpose of rehabilitative support is for the supported spouse to have financial help while attending school or acquiring job skills to reenter the workforce. The court will determine the duration of support and it will require the recipient to demonstrate a good faith effort in gaining the skills or education necessary to find employment and become financially independent. (S.C. Code Ann. § 20-3-130 (B)(3).)
Reimbursement alimony. The purpose of reimbursement alimony is to allow a spouse to recoup the money spent on the other spouse’s career, education, or earning abilities. For example, if one spouse worked full-time to help pay for the other’s law school education, the court may order reimbursement alimony as a method of repayment to the supporting spouse. The court may order one payment or payments in a few installments over time. (S.C. Code Ann. § 20-3-130 (B)(4).)
Separate maintenance. The court may order separate maintenance and support when the couple doesn’t want to divorce but is no longer living together in a marriage-like relationship. (S.C. Code Ann. § 20-3-130 (B)(5).)
South Carolina law defines cohabitation as the supported spouse residing with another person in a romantic relationship for at least 90 consecutive days. The paying spouse can request a review of periodic, rehabilitative, or reimbursement alimony if cohabitation is an issue. (S.C. Code Ann. § 20-3-130 (B)(6).)
When deciding the type, amount, and duration of alimony, judges in South Carolina must consider each of the following factors:
A note about marital misconduct. When deciding an alimony award, the judge will consider marital fault, especially adultery. South Carolina law prohibits alimony to spouses who committed adultery before the formal signing of a written property or marital settlement agreement or before a permanent order of separate maintenance and support. (S.C. Code Ann. §20-3-130 (A).)
The duration of your alimony award depends on the type of support the court orders.
Alimony pendente lite. Temporary alimony ends when the judge finalizes the divorce. Alimony pendente lite doesn’t guarantee a post-divorce award.
Periodic alimony. Payments terminate when the supported spouse remarries, continuously cohabitates with a new partner, or upon the death of either spouse. The court may modify this award later if either spouse demonstrates a change in circumstances.
Lump-sum alimony. Lump-sum alimony terminates once the paying spouse pays the full amount. Lump-sum support also terminates if the supported spouse dies. The court can’t modify the order later, regardless of a change of circumstances.
Rehabilitative alimony. Rehabilitative alimony terminates if the supported spouse remarries or cohabitates, if either spouse dies, or upon the occurrence of a specific event in the future. For example, the court may terminate support once the supported spouse finishes a degree program and finds employment. Either spouse can request a modification of support if there’s a change in circumstances in the future, such as the recipient not attending school, involuntary loss of a job, or sudden disability
Reimbursement alimony. Reimbursement alimony ends if the supported spouse remarries or cohabitates with a new romantic partner or if either spouse dies. The court will not modify reimbursement alimony in the future, regardless of the circumstances.
Separate maintenance. Separate maintenance is usually a periodic payment that terminates if the couple divorces, either spouse dies or if the supported spouse cohabitates with a new partner. Either spouse can request a modification of the separate maintenance award in the future if there’s a change in circumstances.
If your spouse isn’t paying alimony as required by the court order, you can ask a judge for help. Failure to pay court-ordered alimony is serious, and if your ex is found guilty of violating a court order to pay, a judge has a variety of ways to force compliance, including an income withholding order (automatic deduction from your paycheck), fines, attorney fees, or a jail sentence.
If you finalized your divorce before December 31, 2018, alimony payments are tax-deductible to the paying spouse and reportable income to the recipient. However, for any alimony agreements/and or orders finalized or issues on or after January 1, 2019, the benefit of a tax deduction is no longer available to paying spouses, and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) no longer requires the recipient to report the payments as income.
As you can imagine, these new tax changes can affect your bottom line when it comes to alimony. If you’re unsure how this affects you, contact an experienced family law attorney in your area.