A recent alimony award from a Temporary Hearing in the Charleston County Family Court gives some insight into what courts are awarding by way of Temporary Alimony for long term marriages.
Summary of the facts:
Jack and Jill (obviously aliases to protect the identity of the parties) were married 17 years and had no kids. Jack and Jill are both in their mid 40′s. Jill played the part of a traditional stay at home mom during the marriage and helped raised Jack’s 2 children by a prior marriage. Jill has a Masters degree in counseling and is a certified Yoga and Nia instructor. Jack and Jill have been separated for about 2 years, during which time Jack had been voluntarily paying Jill between $1,500 and $2,000 per month. Jack earns about 8,450 per month working for a defense contractor.
Evidence Presented at the Temporary Hearing:
Jill’s attorney filed a lawsuit and requested a Temporary Hearing which was held last week. No fault was alleged by either party against the other. Jill was requesting $3,000 in Temporary Alimony and $10,000 in legal fees (or suit money, as an advance for litigation costs). Jack was offering to pay $1,200 in Alimony, and argued that Jill was well educated and capable of being employed and did not need more than about $1,200 per month. Jack also offered to continue to pay Jill’s health insurance and car insurance.
A local judge ruled that Jill was entitled to $2,000 per month in temporary alimony, required that Jack continue to pay Jill’s health insurance and car insurance, and denied her request for any attorney fees.
Although there is case law in South Carolina which specifically states there is no set formula to be used by a family court judge in setting an amount of alimony, interestingly (at least in the Upstate), there is a case (Dickert v. Dickert) which, I have learned, has been increasingly relied upon by Upstate attorneys in their belief that the Supreme Court has “adopted” the following formula: alimony is to be 23.3% of the supporting spouse’s monthly gross income. In Jacks case, if you divide $2,000 by $8,450 you get 23.6%!
Certainly our client has the means to pay the alimony awarded and intends to do so. The award is not out of line with what is reasonable, but I felt it was at the high end. I am curious to know if this 23% figure is more than mere rumor as these numbers fall right in line with what some of my colleagues are saying is a new alimony standard.
The best part of the ruling from our perspective is the denial of litigation fees. We had braced our client to be prepared to pay an advance on litigation fees. However, Jill’s attorney is one of the “troublemakers” in family court and enjoys litigating private family matters in our public Family Law Courts. I am also guessing here, but perhaps the judge knew that any money awarded to this attorney would only be spent on pointless litigation?
At this point Jill and Jack need to go to mediation and resolve their case. Jill has no means to litigate, and Jack simply wants to end the marriage in a way that is fair to both.