If your judge ordered you to pay alimony in your South Carolina divorce, his order is likely based on the circumstances of both you and your spouse at the time of your divorce. Depending on the type of alimony your judge awards, the court may change the alimony payments if your circumstances change significantly; however, your judge has discretion in whether or not to change the award.
In South Carolina, family court judges have wide discretion in setting alimony. Whether your judge awards alimony, and the amount of alimony awarded, varies greatly depending on the judge hearing the case. When awarding alimony, judges must consider certain factors, including the length of the marriage, age of spouses at the time of marriage and divorce, earning potential of each spouse and the standard of living the spouses established during the marriage.
Types of Alimony
South Carolina courts award four types of alimony: permanent, rehabilitative, lump sum and reimbursement. Permanent alimony, which is the most common form in South Carolina, is paid periodically and lasts until either spouse dies or the supported spouse remarries or cohabits for at least 90 days. Rehabilitative alimony is paid periodically as well, but it is only paid for a set amount of time since it is intended to help the recipient spouse become self-sufficient with education or training. Lump sum alimony is a fixed total amount, paid at one time or in multiple payments. Reimbursement alimony is also a set amount, intended to reimburse the recipient spouse for contributions she made to the paying spouse’s education or career, such as a wife who worked extra jobs to put her husband through medical school.
South Carolina courts modify permanent alimony if you request a modification based on a substantial change of circumstances since the alimony order was issued. However, the court cannot modify an award if the change was expected when the court entered its previous order, unless the anticipated change could not have been dealt with appropriately at the time of the last order. Thus, if the court did not know about the change or could not properly incorporate the anticipated change into the order, the change can become the basis for a modification. Rehabilitative alimony can also be modified, but only if unforeseen events inhibit the supported spouse's ability to obtain the rehabilitation intended by the alimony payments or supporting spouse's ability to make the required payments.
Changes in Circumstances
Judges have wide discretion when it comes to deciding whether your change in circumstances or unforeseen event is significant enough to justify a modification of alimony. For example, a judge could modify your alimony order if your earning capacity is reduced because of an accident. Once your judge determines he can modify the award, he must consider the same factors used for the original award to decide what the new award should be.