For high income earners facing marital conflict, the prospect of divorce can be a difficult pill to swallow. The idea that your assets and finances are divided can create a level of anxiety that many have not previously faced during the course of their lives. Many find themselves struggling with the idea of alimony and the idea that they will be forced to make payments for the rest of their lives.
Many states, including South Carolina, have been discussing changes to the alimony system.
The state has been in talks to make changes for years and prevent permanent alimony from existing. In 2016, a battle over alimony erupted as advocates for reform and their opponents clashed over possible legislation in the state House and Senate, according to The Post and Courier.
For and against
Representatives from the nonprofit, South Carolina Alimony Reform, and family law attorneys from the Nexsen Pruet firm have spoken over proposed legislation and who it targets.
South Carolina Alimony Reform president Wyman Oxner compared permanent alimony to “involuntary servitude,” due to the idea that you are giving somebody else your wages without any of your own control. It also was described as preventative of retirement. One member of the organization testified under oath that he has paid $180,000 after a two year marriage.
Vickie Eslinger, of the Nexsen Pruet firm, thought of it as an attack on women, due to the fact that so often, the higher income earner is the man. Others, including family law attorney and past president of the South Carolina Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers Robert N. Rosen, saw the idea of alimony reform as a part of a “men’s rights agenda” and saw alimony laws as they presently stand as “gender neutral.”
History of legislation
In 2016, the bill was blocked in the state Senate. Tweaks were sought after by several concerned parties who were looking to add clauses to make sure that the circumstances involved in the law would be considered on a case-by case basis.
One of the parties was the South Carolina Bar Association, according to The State. According to the organization, judges should keep discretion to rule on a case-by-case basis. They also felt that it was not in best interests for judges to consider ending or modifying payments if a spouse had paid alimony for longer than the marriage lasted.
In order to achieve all of these goals, four new bills were created with the goals of discouraging family court judges from awarding permanent alimony by default, blocking judges from considering the income of the paying spouse’s next wife or husband when awarding alimony, creating two new forms of alimony as alternatives to permanent alimony, changing the law’s definition of cohabitation to include when couples live together in a fashion tantamount to marriage, and modifying the factors that judges must consider when deciding whether to modify alimony, such as a substantial change in a divorced person’s income.
There also is a state House bill that combines the goals of the smaller bills listed above.
The current law states that permanent alimony ends only when a former spouse dies, or if the person receiving alimony remarries or lives with a mate for more than 90 straight days, according to the Spartanburg Herald-Journal.
The new versions of the bills had been approved by a Senate subcommittee in April, according to Legal Scoops and were headed to the state Senate floor. With the changes made, many including state Senator Scott Talley see it as a compromise that addresses both the concerns of those seeking alimony reform and family court judges who need to keep a level of discretion in the decision.
As of the publication of this article, the bill has yet to be voted on by the state Senate.