The Length of Your Marriage Can Affect Your Divorce

When a marriage ends after only a few years, it’s likely that both the husband and wife can become financially independent, each returning to the careers and lifestyle they had before they were married.

But when a couple has been married a long time and has raised a family together, things become more complicated.  One spouse may have worked part time – or not at all — while caring for children and managing the household, while the other was the primary breadwinner.  By the time the couple divorces, it may be impossible for a lesser-earning spouse to make up for a lifetime of career sacrifices.

For this reason, a couple divorcing after a long marriage may find that South Carolina courts view property division and alimony differently than if the couple had only been married for a short time.

Marriage is, after all, an economic partnership as well as a romantic one, and the longer the parties’ finances and possessions have been intertwined, the more likely a court is to order long-term alimony or to split possessions 50-50, even if one spouse earned most of the money to pay for those possessions.

Alimony

Alimony is designed to allow a lower-earning spouse to maintain the standard of living that he or she had during the marriage.  If a couple wasn’t married very long, the court may order rehabilitative alimony for a set period of time to allow a husband or wife to get training and find work.

But in a long-term marriage, the court will almost always order permanent, periodic alimony payments.  These payments are made regularly, usually monthly, and last indefinitely.

The amount of alimony awarded depends on a variety of factors, including the parties’ ages; the length of the marriage; the education, income and earning potential of each spouse; and the standard of living during the marriage.

If a judge orders permanent periodic alimony, the alimony payments will continue until one of the parties dies, or until the spouse receiving alimony remarries or lives with another person in a romantic relationship for 90 consecutive days.  Alimony payments may also be modified if one spouse goes to court and shows a change in circumstances.  This might include such things as the paying spouse becoming disabled or the receiving spouse getting an inheritance.

When a spouse who pays alimony retires, the retirement can be a change in circumstance, but it doesn’t automatically trigger a change in alimony.  Instead, the judge must consider six things:

  • Whether retirement was already taken into account when alimony was awarded
  • The supporting spouse’s age
  • The supporting spouse’s health
  • Whether retirement is mandatory or voluntary
  • Whether the supporting spouse’s income will decrease because of retirement
  • Any other factors the court sees fit to consider

Property Division

Judges also consider the parties’ ages and the length of the marriage in deciding how to divide marital property.

South Carolina is an “equitable distribution” state, which means that in a divorce, a judge must divide property in a way that is fair.  The judge is not required to divide property equally.

In a long-term marriage, however, judges often use a 50-50 property division as a starting point, and deviate from that only slightly based on other factors.  The theory behind this is that in a long-term marriage, the husband and wife established an economic partnership and division of labor that seemed fair to them, and both should benefit equally from the financial gains of that partnership.

If you have questions about the first steps to take to obtain a divorce, and how the divorce can affect you financially, call the attorneys at LaMantia Law Firm today for a free consultation.