What is the Difference Between Alimony and Spousal Support?


If you are considering divorce, the question of alimony has likely entered your mind. Because so many families bring in two separate incomes, who owes money to whom, and whether or not alimony is even necessary, can become a little confusing.

Beyond that, any research you’ve done on the subject might have used spousal support and alimony interchangeably, but in South Carolina, they are actually two distinct terms, both of which you need to know.

To clarify any confusion on the subject of alimony and spousal support, we are responding to some frequently asked questions on the subject. 

1. How does spousal support differ from alimony?

In the state of South Carolina, spousal support refers to the monetary support given from one party to the other prior to the signing of the divorce decree. 

There is no “legal separation” in this state. Rather, when the divorce is filed, the attorney will request a temporary orders hearing. This is the time when any spousal or child support will be solicited. The intention is that, while the two parties await the final divorce hearing, neither are facing financial hardship.

2. What exactly is alimony?

Alimony is what occurs after the date of the divorce. Because alimony is no longer a taxable event, it is simply a change in title.

Alimony is a routine payment one former spouse makes to the other in order to support them financially. The parties either agree to the payment plan, or a court will order it. If any child support payments are required, these sums will be lumped together.

3. What are the reasons I would pay alimony to my former spouse?

The reasoning behind alimony in general is to sustain the same standard of living following a divorce. Sometimes, due to arrangements made during a marriage, one party may be at a severe disadvantage financially when couples decide to be apart. Alimony attempts to make living situations fair for both parties.

For instance, when one former spouse brings in all of the money to the household, whether due to the other spouse being a stay-at-home parent, disabled mentally or physically, or otherwise unable to work, the court will order alimony payments. 

In addition, when a spouse has spent years as a stay-at-home parent out of the workforce, upon re-entering, they will likely still earn less than the other party. This would also be grounds for alimony payments. 

In South Carolina, the amount of alimony one party receives is determined by numerous factors, including:

  • The length of the marriage
  • The potential earnings of both parties
  • The education and employment history of each party
  • The custody of the children
  • Current incomes of both parties
  • The physical and emotional states of both parties
  • Current standard of living
  • Current expenses overall

4. What are the reasons I would not need to pay alimony to my former spouse?

The state of South Carolina recognizes fault-based divorces. These divorces are results of abuse, adultery, drug addiction or habitual drunkenness, and desertion. 

In these cases, alimony is not awarded to the party at fault. For instance, if a former spouse commits adultery, they are not able to receive alimony.

Is alimony always a monthly payment?

The most common type of alimony is periodic sum alimony. It’s also the one you’ve probably heard the most. However, in South Carolina, there are multiple types of payments that courts might order.

  1. Periodic Sum Payments: This is when payments are made on a regular basis, usually one each month, that can be modified as circumstances change. These payments end upon the death of a spouse, or if the spouse receiving the alimony becomes remarried.
  1. Lump Sum Payments: These are one-time, large payments made at the time the divorce decree is signed. 
  1. Reimbursement: This would be a payment to pay a former spouse back for an opportunity provided or sacrifice made during the marriage. For instance, if only one spouse brought in an income so the other could focus on earning a degree, this is a chance to make the circumstances more fair for both parties at this point in time.
  1. Rehabilitation: These payments are made for a limited time only, until one spouse is able to increase their earning power. This would work well in a situation where one spouse had been staying home with young children prior to the divorce.
  1. Separation and Maintenance Support: For couples that are living apart but not requesting a divorce, this would take the form of month payments and function much like periodic sum alimony for divorced couples.

Payments can be determined by various factors, including the length of the marriage, the age and health of the partners, and their future earning potentials. The terms of alimony payments are not set in stone; they can vary greatly depending on the couple’s unique circumstances. In some cases, alimony may be a temporary measure, assisting the receiving spouse until they can become self-sufficient. In other situations, the payments might be long-term or even permanent, especially in marriages that have lasted many years.

Understanding alimony is crucial for families going through a divorce. It’s not just a matter of transferring funds from one ex-spouse to another; it’s about fairness and the recognition of each partner’s contributions to the marriage. With careful consideration of the terms and conditions, alimony can help ease the financial transition for both parties, fostering a sense of stability and fairness as they move forward into their new, separate lives.

As you consider your divorce and navigate all of the complexities of the process, working with a supportive and experienced attorney can make the process less overwhelming. Reach out to our expert team for advice and counsel on alimony and any other concerns you might have.

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