There's so much to worry about when you're getting a divorce. Who gets custody of the kids? How much will the process cost? What will it be like dating again after so long?
For a lot of people facing a divorce - especially those who relied on their partner's income or who earn less than their partner - the most stressful question may be:
How will I pay my bills without my spouse's income?
If you're asking this question, your SC divorce attorney at Axelrod and Associates can help you determine if you are entitled to receive alimony, and, if so, how much your soon-to-be ex-spouse should pay you.
What Is Alimony?
Basically, alimony is a legal obligation for one partner to provide financial support to their spouse during or after a divorce.
It's a legal concept that goes back thousands of years, and it has lasted in modified form through today in South Carolina courtrooms.
Why Do We Have Alimony?
In those early forms, alimony was meant to ensure that a man provided financial support for a woman who bore his children.
Alimony as we know it evolved from religious courts in England, which, during the Middle Ages, awarded alimony to women who were separated or divorced from their husbands. These courts believed that marriage was a sacred bond that did not, spiritually, end with divorce; therefore, husbands had a moral duty to continue supporting their wives even after the marriage was legally ended.
By the 1800s, church doctrine had significantly less influence on divorce laws, but it was still difficult to end a marriage. Courts only granted divorces in cases of marital misconduct, so the idea of alimony became closely tied to the concept of fault in a divorce - a man who cheated on his wife should not be allowed to profit from his indiscretion. On the other hand, if a woman cheated on her husband, she forfeited her right to financial support.
In 1979, the US Supreme Court ruled that states cannot impose alimony obligations on men but not on women, a move that made alimony - at least in theory - gender neutral.
When Can I Get Alimony In SC?
If you have been dependent on your spouse's income and losing that money will negatively affect your quality of life, there's a good chance the court will award alimony.
But, just like in the old days, fault still plays an important role - if the court determines that your infidelity or other marital misconduct is the cause of the divorce, your chances of getting alimony go down significantly.
Factors the court considers when determining whether to award alimony include:
- How long you've been married - the shorter the marriage, the less likely you are to get alimony;
- The standard of living of both spouses;
- Earning potential of each spouse;
- Expected expenses for each spouse;
- Any financial obligations from a previous marriage;
- Child custody arrangements;
- Each spouse's educational background; and
- The health - physical and emotional - of each spouse.
Are There Different Types of Alimony?
Your SC divorce attorney can help you determine which type of payment structure would work best for you. But, the court will most likely consider your spouse's preference as well, and, if there is no agreement between the spouses, a judge will decide if and how alimony payments will be made.
Here are the different ways alimony payments can be structured in SC:
Permanent Periodic Alimony
Permanent periodic alimony is usually paid monthly until one spouse dies or the supported spouse remarries. This is the most common type of alimony awarded in SC. Though it is called "permanent," periodic alimony can be modified or even ended if one party can show that a substantial change in circumstances warrants a change.
Rehabilitative, or temporary periodic alimony, is paid periodically for a set number of years. It is awarded when the court determines that the supported spouse is likely to become self-supporting at some point.
The court is more likely to award temporary alimony when the marriage was short, or the supported spouse has plans or the potential to become independent through education or job training. As with permanent alimony, the payments stop if the supporting spouse remarries or begins cohabitating with someone.
Lump Sum Alimony
Lump sum alimony is paid in one, fixed amount. Because it is paid all at once, it is not affected if the supported spouse remarries. Many couples prefer lump sum alimony because the paying spouse can get it over with, and the supported spouse gets a large payment now.
Reimbursement alimony can be paid in one installment or periodically, and it is terminated when the supported spouse remarries.
These payments are meant to provide a return on investments made by the supported spouse during the marriage - for example, if you took care of the house and the children while your spouse started a business, reimbursement alimony may compensate you for your contributions at home that allowed your spouse to start the business.
What Can I Do If My Ex Refuses to Pay Alimony?
Just because the court orders your ex to pay alimony doesn't mean the check will arrive on time - or at all.
Once the judge issues orders in your divorce case, they move on to the next. They do not follow up to make sure your ex is making payments.
But, we can help you bring the problem to the court's attention by filing a "rule to show cause." This forces your ex to show the court why they should not be held in contempt of court for not complying with the court's order.
Your divorce attorney will gather witness testimony and other evidence to prove your ex's non-compliance. We will prepare an affidavit or verified petition letting the court know about the non-compliance and spelling out what you want the court to do about it, and we will prepare you to give testimony during the court hearing.
We will need to gather and present evidence to the court that your ex has willfully failed to comply with the court order. If the court determines the payments weren't made because of circumstances beyond your ex's control, they are not likely to be held in contempt - but, the court will still take steps to ensure future compliance with the orders.
Whether you are facing a divorce and will need alimony from your ex-spouse or you are attempting to enforce court-ordered alimony that your ex-spouse is not paying, your divorce lawyer at Axelrod and Associates can help.