The payment of alimony, particularly permanent alimony, is almost always an unpleasant task for the supporting spouse, so it is no surprise that the reduction of alimony is a hot-button topic.This article examines those circumstances under which a supporting spouse is entitled either to termination of alimony payments or a reduction of alimony payments.
Some alimony can never be terminated or reduced.
If your Divorce Decree requires the payment of “non-modifiable” alimony, usually payable over a specified period of time, the Family Court will not permit a reduction of alimony, even with a showing of substantially changed circumstances. Non-modifiable alimony is viewed by the courts more as a debt than a monthly payment obligation, and the supported spouse will even be able to make a claim against the supporting spouse’s estate if that spouse dies before all of the alimony payments have been made.
There are seven circumstances under which a supporting spouse may be entitled to an elimination or reduction of alimony payments in South Carolina:
1) The death of either spouse.
2) The remarriage of the supported spouse. The remarriage of the supporting spouse may qualify that spouse for a reduction in alimony, but such a request would be highly dependent upon the individual circumstances of that case.
3) Retirement. The retirement of the supporting spouse, particularly if such retirement takes place at a “normal” retirement age and is accompanied by a substantial reduction in income, is likely to lead to a reduction of alimony payments for the retiring, supporting spouse.
4) Continued Cohabitation of the Supported Spouse. This circumstance is defined by SC Code 20-3-130(B)(6), which states “continued cohabitation” means “the supported spouse resides with another person in a romantic relationship for a period of ninety or more consecutive days. The court may determine that a continued cohabitation exists if there is evidence that the supported spouse resides with another person in a romantic relationship for periods of less than ninety days and the two periodically separate in order to circumvent the ninety-day requirement.” The courts will be looking for a romantic and economic relationship between the parties, one that is essentially “tantamount to marriage.” These cases require substantially pre-filing evidence gathering, and will require the intervention of a Charleston divorce attorney and a private investigator early in the process.
5) Substantial Change in Circumstances. This is something of a catch-all category, but applies most commonly to unforeseen changes in the finances of either spouse. Common examples of changed circumstances that may lead to a reduction in alimony include: involuntary (and significant) reduction in the supporting spouse’s income (or the corollary, significant increase in the supported spouse’s income), medical or health problems that lead to a loss of income, or reduced need for alimony by the supported spouse. Whether or not something amounts to change in circumstances will always be driven by the individual facts of the matter, and questions in this regard should always be addressed to an experienced Charleston divorce lawyer.
6) Reduction in Alimony by Agreement. As with most (but not all) Family Court issues, the supporting and supported spouse can mutually agree to a reduction in alimony at any time, and ask that the court approve that agreement and make it the order of the court.
If you are wish to seek a reduction of alimony obligations, or you wish to prevent in reduction of alimony paid to you, please consider consulting with a Charleston divorce attorney immediately.