Alimony is a common issue during a divorce.

Do you have to pay alimony? If so, how much do you have to pay? For how long?

This article will explain some of the ins and outs of alimony, and how it works.

When do spouses get alimony?

The main idea behind alimony is to prevent one spouse from facing financial disaster because of a divorce. Alimony payments keep a stable standard of living for both spouses. Courts award spousal support when a spouse can’t support himself or herself. If one spouse earns all the money for the family, then the court will order alimony if the other spouse asks for it. When a wife spends years out of the workforce to raise children, she should seek alimony.

When a couple calls it quits, the non-working spouse suddenly finds herself up a creek. The court knows this. Alimony is a tool to keep things as fair as possible after a divorce.

Courts award alimony, or spousal support, when a spouse earns significantly less money than the other spouse.

Courts award alimony out of the principle of fairness. There are some situations where spouses can’t get alimony. For example, South Carolina recognizes fault-based divorces. You can get a fault-based divorce if your spouse committed adultery. South Carolina courts consider adultery an awful offense against a marriage. If your spouse commits adultery, then he or she can never get alimony.

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How courts determine alimony:

The Court looks at the disadvantaged spouse when coming up with a support payment amount. Certain factors determine how long a spouse should support the other after a divorce. These factors include:

  1. Marriage Length. Support obligations for a 10-year marriage will be longer than a 3-year marriage.
  2. Physical/Emotional condition of the disadvantaged spouse. A court may order support if one spouse is very sick.
  3. Education. Can a spouse get back into the workforce?
  4. Employment History. Someone with a long, continuous employment history shows a spouse can pay support. If a disadvantaged spouse has a good work history, then she may not need support.
  5. Standard of Living. Divorces change your financial situation. Courts don’t want spouses defaulting on car loans or mortgages after filing.
  6. Anticipated Earnings and Expenses. These may increase or decrease support payments.
  7. Child Custody. Raising children costs money. The court usually considers alimony and child support payments together.
  8. Marital Misconduct. If a spouse commits adultery, they can’t get alimony in South Carolina.
  9. Tax Consequences. You must pay tax on spousal support you receive. If you pay spousal support, you can deduct it when paying taxes. This is different from child support, which is neither taxable or deductible. The IRS posted this helpful page on alimony.

How long do I have to pay?

Like most things in the law, it depends. If you settle your divorce, you get to choose. Most divorces settle and never go to trial. This is good because it takes out the risk of you getting something you don’t want at trial.

You can ask the court to modify alimony if you are paying “rehabilitative” or “periodic sum” support. The thinking behind this is simple. Your ex-spouse shouldn’t enjoy a windfall if they remarry or are rehabilitated. You can ask the court to lower your support payment to an ex-spouse if their circumstances change. You can also ask to reduce support if your circumstances change beyond your control, too.

But, you can’t modify lump-sum or reimbursement support. Those are two types of “contractual spousal support.” Your best bet at modifying that would be to negotiate with your ex-spouse. They may, or may not, agree to a new support contract.

The goal of spousal support is to get the disadvantaged in a position where they can support themselves. In South Carolina, there are 4 different types of alimony:

Lump Sum

This type of support is a lump sum payment. One spouse takes care of the support obligation with a single check. For example, Husband pays Wife $20,000 the day the judge signs the divorce decree.


This type of support is best illustrated by and example. Imagine that a wife worked for several years as the sole breadwinner while her husband was in college. The wife paid for education expenses, too. She gave up her chance to go to college so her husband could go. The court may order the husband to reimburse the wife for the “opportunity cost” she had while he was in school.

Periodic Sum

This is what most people think when they think of alimony. A periodic sum alimony award means one spouse pays a set amount each month until the court terminates alimony. Periodic sum alimony is for a limited time. This means that the paying spouse must pay until the other spouse dies or remarries. Spouses can also agree when spousal support can end.


This type of alimony continues for a limited time. Courts order rehabilitation alimony so a disadvantaged spouse can increase her earning power. “Rehabilitation” usually means school or other vocational training. For example, Wife gave up her career to raise the children. Technology and the workplace changed over the years. Wife is having a hard time finding a job. The court can order Husband to pay Wife rehabilitative alimony so she can learn the skills she needs to support herself.

Other things to know about alimony:

You can get spousal support if you are separated

South Carolina does not have “legal separation.” But when we file your divorce case for you, we ask for a “temporary orders” hearing. A temporary orders hearing asks the court for child support and temporary spousal support while the divorce case is pending. That way, we ensure our clients can support themselves.

You might have to pay after you die

Death is unexpected. It usually comes when we’re not ready for it. If you agree to pay a type of contractual spousal support, you may have to pay after you die. After you die, everything you own is “transferred” to your estate. Your ex-spouse may have a claim against your estate for the rest of the spousal support. You should be aware of this when you plan your estate. It’s always a good idea to have a will. Dying without a will may be the last mistake you make.

Both spouses can win in a settlement

Trials are always risky. The judge might make a decision that leaves both spouses disappointed. That’s why all couples divorcing in South Carolina have to go to mediation.

A divorcing couple can come to an agreement on the big questions: who gets the house? who gets primary child custody?

This also includes spousal support. Choosing to settle means you can agree to a monthly spousal support payment. You can also agree to end it in only a few years.

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Are you considering a divorce? Or do you want to see if you can lower your alimony payments? We are here to help! Contact us today for a free consultation!

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