Family Court Awards Permanent Alimony to Husband where Misconduct and Lower Standard of Living after Separation were Present
Did you know alimony wasn’t exclusive to wives? How about that marital fault and length of marriage are factors a court considers in determining alimony awards? Although not the first time, a recent South Carolina Court of Appeal decision recently utilized the above and found that a husband was entitled to permanent, not rehabilitative, alimony, reversing a family court decision to the contrary.
In Ricigliano v. Ricigliano, a couple had married in 1996 in New York, and moved to South Carolina after wife got a job there with U.S. Customs and Border Protection in 2005. While the husband had had a successful business in New York, the business failed to take off in South Carolina. In 2008, husband discovered his wife was having an affair. The couple then separated. The husband did much of the home maintenance, cleaning, and cooking, and provided more care of the couple’s daughter. The family court hearing the couple’s divorce hearing had awarded the husband a $500 monthly rehabilitative alimony payment, to be paid only if the husband moved to Washington, DC within six months of the divorce decree (where wife had been permitted to move with the parties’ child).
The appeals court reversed the family court’s award of rehabilitative alimony, awarding permanent periodic alimony instead. The court stated that permanent alimony is actually the preferred award in divorces. Rehabilitative alimony, the court explained, was intended only in special circumstances where a spouse needed support only for a brief amount of time and expected not to need support at the conclusion of the support period, such as if he were in a degree program that was likely to result in career growth. These conditions did not apply to this case, the court held, since the husband’s career was unlikely to flourish in the near future, and would be especially unlikely to do so were he to move to Washington D.C. and have to reestablish his business in yet another location.
Instead, the court on appeal found that permanent alimony was appropriate. The court considered the factors under South Carolina case law that should be considered when making a determination about whether to award permanent periodic alimony, and which the family court had not properly considered when awarding the husband conditional rehabilitative alimony.
The court ultimately found, based on those factors, that the parties had, at the time of divorce, been married 15 years. The husband had only a high school diploma while the wife held a college degree, and she had found fairly steady professional success and could expect to be promoted again in the near future. While the husband’s business had been successful prior to moving to South Carolina, the business had never taken off after moving in support of his wife’s career. Husband’s standard of living had declined sharply since the separation, with husband living in a small apartment and testifying to having maxed out his credit cards in order to meet his expenses. Finally, the court on appeal determined that the wife was responsible for the ending of the marriage, having committed misconduct in the form of multiple extramarital affairs, and initiating the divorce.
So what does this all mean? It means husbands are not any less likely as candidates to receive alimony as wives where the appropriate factors are met. It means our courts are taking a position that rehabilitative (or short term) alimony should only be awarded in specific circumstances, where the short term is tied to a particular purpose (like job training or obtaining a degree). It also confirms our courts’ long-held preference of imposing permanent, periodic alimony awards. “Permanent,” however, is a bit misleading, as these types of awards may terminate upon death of either spouse, the payee’s remarriage or cohabitation with a romantic partner for 90 days, or a substantial change in circumstances in either parties’ income, the payor’s ability to pay, or the payee’s need.
There are twelve (12) specific factors a court may weigh in determining alimony, many of which the court considered here. If you believe you may be a candidate to receive alimony in a separation or divorce, or if you want to make sure you don’t have to overpay, you should consider speaking with an experienced family law attorney who understands these factors and can guide you through the process and help you determine how much, if any, alimony may be at play in your case.
Here at The Cate Law Firm, we have secured alimony awards for clients that have reached up to $32,000 per month. We have also obtained results for clients that imposed no obligation on them to pay alimony, even where the other party was seeking it. Contact the experienced attorneys at The Cate Law Firm for a consultation on your alimony or other family law matter, at (864) 585-4226.