A Guide to Alimony in South Carolina

Learn about South Carolina alimony laws and what a judge considers when determining support awards.

South Carolina Alimony

Alimony is one of the most highly contested areas in divorce. Whether you are the high earner or low earner, it’s completely normal to have serious concerns about how alimony will impact your financial situation.

In this guide, we’ll cover:

Who is Entitled to Alimony in South Carolina?

Alimony and spousal support are used interchangeably in South Carolina.  The goal of maintenance is to help the receiving spouse maintain the same or similar standard of living as they did in the marriage.  Alimony is not punitive and isn’t awarded to punish a spouse after a marriage ends.

To start the process, a judge will determine if a spouse needs alimony and if the other spouse can afford to pay without undue hardship.  The judge will want to know if the divorce is fault-based as well.  If these conditions are met, a judge will move forward to determine the amount and duration of alimony that should be awarded.

Types of Support in South Carolina

Several types of alimony can be agreed upon by the parties or ordered by the court in South Carolina.

While a divorce is pending, a judge can order temporary alimony until the divorce is finalized.  This is often referred to as pendente lite alimony.  After a divorce is final, temporary alimony ends and can be replaced if a judge orders alimony as part of the final decree.

A court can also order separate maintenance and support, awarded during the one-year waiting period for a no-fault divorce to be finalized. Judges understand that waiting one year to get a no-fault divorce can impose severe financial hardship, particularly if one party earns significantly more than the other.

After the divorce is final, South Carolina courts can issue the following types of alimony.

Permanent (Periodic) Alimony.  As the name implies, permanent alimony continues indefinitely. It only terminates when the payor or the recipient dies, the recipient remarries, or the recipient enters a cohabitation relationship.

Rehabilitative Alimony.  This type of alimony is awarded so the spouse may “rehabilitate” themselves by getting more education or training that will lead them to become self-sufficient.

Rehabilitative alimony is often awarded to a parent staying home with young children until it is appropriate for the parent to work outside the home. There is no standardized time when parents are expected to work outside the home, but when the youngest child is in school, full-time is a common time for the parent to resume work. Rehabilitative alimony is usually for a fixed period, but a judge may include a provision that the alimony is subject to review at the end of that period.

Reimbursement Alimony. This type of alimony reimburses one spouse for expenses incurred by the other.  For example, it might be awarded if one spouse helped put the other spouse through college or a training program, and the couple divorced soon after the training program was complete.  Instead of periodic payments, the court could give the supporting spouse a majority of marital property in compensation.

Lump-Sum Alimony.  Also known as alimony in gross, lump-sum alimony is a fixed amount. The amount may be paid in a lump sum upfront or consist of a series of payments over time. The payments are nonmodifiable – meaning that a change of circumstances is not a basis to modify or terminate the payments. The only factor that that terminates lump-sum alimony is the death of the supported spouse.

Read More: Divorce Laws in South Carolina

What Factors Are Used to Determine Alimony?

There is no formula for calculating how much alimony should be paid in South Carolina. Instead, the court will consider the following factors:

  • Length of the marriage
  • Age of both parties
  • Physical and emotional conditions
  • Educational background
  • Employment history and earning potential
  • Standard of living during the marriage
  • Current and reasonably anticipated earnings. If both spouses are already equally capable of supporting themselves, there is no need for alimony.
  • Current and reasonably anticipated expenses and needs.  When subtracted from earnings, the court can better understand the parties’ actual financial situations.
  • Marital and separate property of each spouse
  • Custody of the children.  The court may consider circumstances where the custodial parent should stay home with the children or work on a limited basis outside of the home.
  • Marital misconduct or fault
  • Tax consequences
  • Support obligation from a prior marriage, including whether the spouse is paying or receiving support.
  • Any other relevant factors the court deems relevant

Read More:  Child Support in South Carolina

Modifying or Terminating Spousal Support in South Carolina

Depending on the type of alimony, it can be modified or terminated when any of the following takes place:

  • Remarriage or continued cohabitation of the supported spouse,
  • Death of the supported spouse
  • A change in circumstances such as a job loss, change in the family’s make-up, a reduction in pay, or other significant life events.

Also, some types of alimony can be terminated or modified, whereas others cannot.

Periodic alimony terminates when the supported spouse remarries or becomes involved in a  continued cohabitation or upon the death of either spouse.

Lump-sum alimony cannot be terminated or modified based on changed circumstances or remarriage.  It ends only when the supported spouse dies.

Rehabilitative alimony can be terminated when a supported spouse remarries or enters into continued cohabitation, the supported spouse dies, or with a specific future event such as completing a college degree.  It can be modified “based upon unforeseen events frustrating the good faith efforts of the supported spouse to become self-supporting or the ability of the supporting spouse to pay the rehabilitative alimony.”

Reimbursement alimony can terminate when a supported spouse remarries, enters into continued cohabitation, or either spouse dies.  However, it cannot be terminated or modified based on a change in circumstances.

Separate support and maintenance terminate when the supported spouse remarries, enters into continued cohabitation, or when either spouse dies.  It can be modified based on a change in circumstances.

If there is a drop in income through no fault of the payor, the court is more likely to approve an alimony reduction. If the decline in income appears to have been engineered by the payor to create a basis for reducing alimony, the court is more likely to disapprove of a reduction in maintenance.

An ex-spouse’s alimony can be terminated when that person resides with another person in a romantic relationship for 90 or more consecutive days. This circumstance is known as “continued cohabitation.” Continued cohabitation also exists if there is evidence that the supported spouse resides with another person in a romantic relationship for less than 90 days and the two periodically separate to circumvent the ninety-day requirement.

How does retirement impact alimony?

Supporting spouses who want to retire from employment run the risk of still paying alimony they can no longer afford after retirement.  Although it is not guaranteed, South Carolina statutes provide that retirement by a supporting spouse is sufficient grounds to warrant a hearing to evaluate whether there has been a change of circumstances for alimony.  The family court must consider the following factors:

  • Whether retirement was contemplated when alimony was awarded
  • The supporting spouse’s age
  • The supporting spouse’s health
  • Whether retirement is mandatory or voluntary
  • Whether retirement would result in a decrease in the supporting spouse’s income
  • And any other factors the court sees fit

Read More:  Everything You Need to Know About Alimony

Enforcing South Carolina Alimony Awards

When a supporting parent falls behind on alimony payments, the court will issue a “Rule to Show Cause.”

This results in a hearing, and the spouse must appear before the Family Court to “show cause” as to why payments are being missed.  A Rule to Show Cause is also a Contempt of Court hearing. By not paying, the supporting parent is in contempt of court for violating a Family Court order requiring the payments.

If the judge finds the spouse guilty, the court can force compliance by ordering an income withholding order, community service, fines, or a jail sentence.

In some cases, a judge may also require a supporting parent to maintain a life insurance policy or provide some other type of security as collateral to guarantee that support payments will be made in the future.

Spousal Support and Taxes

Due to recent changes in Federal laws, the payer cannot deduct alimony or separate maintenance payments under a divorce or separation instrument executed after 2018. These payments are also not included as taxable income for recipients.

The same is true of alimony paid under a divorce or separation instrument executed before 2019 and modified after 2018 if the modification expressly states that the alimony isn’t deductible to the payor spouse or included in the income of the recipient spouse.

Taxpayers paying alimony under a divorce agreement executed before 2019 can deduct those payments from taxes when the following criteria are met:

  • The recipient must be a spouse or former spouse
  • There must be a written divorce or separation instrument
  • Alimony must be made with cash payments (such as checks and money orders)
  • Maintenance does not continue after the recipient dies
  • The parties must live apart, residing in different households
  • The parties must file separate tax returns (they cannot file a joint return and claim the alimony deduction)
  • The court-ordered payment of alimony cannot state that payments are not deductible

South Carolina Alimony FAQs

How does adultery impact an alimony award?

Alimony may not be awarded to a spouse who commits adultery before the earliest of these two events:

  • The formal signing of a written property or marital settlement agreement
  • Entry of a permanent order of separate maintenance and support or a permanent order approving a property or marital settlement agreement between the parties.

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