As a Charleston SC divorce attorney, I seem to have fielded more questions about alimony in the first part of this year than I would have usually expected. While we have a good deal of information on the topic on other pages of this site (alimony overview, alimony FAQ, blog post regarding alimony, another blog post regarding adultery and alimony), it seems that some basic information on the topic of alimony always bears repeating:
Many people think that there is no such thing as alimony anymore. Others think it is only for old people. Still others think that young people, or people with “short” marriages, will never have to pay alimony. Reality bites: Yes, alimony as a concept and as an ongoing practice is alive and well in South Carolina. Legislation in the past decade has enlarged the choices for various kinds of alimony. Formerly, the only kind of alimony was “good old-fashioned alimony”, the one we grew up hearing about, the one that lasts “til death or her remarriage”. Yes, what the law refers to as permanent periodic alimony still exists and is awarded by judges and/or agreed upon by separating spouses far more often than you might imagine.
However, there are different choices in the alimony category now, allowing customization of the responsibility (or liability, or noose around your neck, whatever your perspective may be on alimony). There is reimbursement alimony – most often, for spouses who may have invested in their ex’s education and/or career, and should fairly be reimbursed for the money or services which permitted their ex to earn that professional degree, etc., before walking away with the pretty new assistant. There is alimony for a fixed period of time and/or amount – most often, allowing a higher payment for a shorter and defined period of time, terminating at a specified date, and non-modifiable (“good old-fashioned alimony” can be modified upon proof of a substantial change in circumstances – that is, it can go up or down). The ability to adjust the tax consequences of alimony is permitted – here again, a change from “old-fashioned alimony” which determined the tax consequences of alimony payments as being taxable to the spouse receiving them, and a tax credit to the spouse paying them.
All of these changes/adjustments in the law reflect changes in society, wherein women are more able than they were 20 or 30 years ago to support themselves and are, consequently, less dependent on alimony. These changes also reflect other changes in the laws: formerly, property passed through divorce directly to the spouse whose name was on the particular asset. You may know some older women now who have always insisted upon having the house in their name; this is a reflection of former statutes (and attitudes) on alimony. But these changes bring big questions: since women as a whole earn approximately 75% of the same dollar paid to a man for the same job, women as a whole do not have the same earning capacity as men. Are we overlooking this fact when we seek to limit or minimize alimony? Can it ever be “fair” to dis-allow alimony or to minimize it without considering this fact? Has the pendulum of women’s liberation, so to speak, swung so far as to now bounce backwards, leveling dependent women with the admonition to “get a job”?
Alimony is a difficult issue. It is almost never clear-cut, as to whether or not it is appropriate in a particular case. People don’t want to admit to anyone that they have to pay it. Recipients are resentful of the tax burden (and of the corresponding tax credit afforded to spouses). Women themselves are horrified by the notion that alimony could also be required of them, and not just of men; we see this happening all the time now.
If you think alimony is an antiquated idea, or if you think that it needs to survive, please pay attention to news reports of the ways that our state legislators approach this and other issues, and let your voice be heard. In the meantime, you should anticipate that your Charleston SC divorce attorney will pay close attention to your needs in this category.