Trusted Gaffney Family Law Attorneys
The ending of a marriage is a monumental life change, regardless of the circumstances, and it’s important to have good legal representation that will address all facets of this change–from the divorce itself, to the financial settlement and to how children will be raised and supported.
There are other life circumstances where real legal challenges meet head-on with deep personal connections. A mother seeking child support, or a father looking to spend time with his child, may need legal assistance in establishing paternity. Even those who have been through the legal system and have a custody agreement, may need to seek modifications based on changing life circumstances.
A family law attorney from our office can help in all these areas.
Filing For Divorce In South Carolina
South Carolina allows for no-fault divorce under specific circumstances. A no-fault divorce means you and your spouse don’t have to give a specific reason beyond “irreconcilable differences.” By contrast, in an at-fault divorce, one of the spouses must prove any of the following – adultery, desertion, addiction (alcohol or illegal drugs) or physical abuse.
The no-fault divorce has the potential to be done with less rancor and certainly a lot less airing of any dirty laundry in public. But, unlike other states, South Carolina does have stricter requirements for a no-fault filing. More specifically, you and your spouse must have been physically separated for one year.
That means proving that you’ve been living apart. Utility bills and bank statements, along with personal testimony, are common means of doing this.
What all of this means is the basic act of filing for divorce in South Carolina will come, at least to some small degree, with requirements for evidence.
Child Custody And Visitation
Child custody is split into two different categories–the physical residence where the children will live, and which parent has the right to make important decisions in their lives (i.e., medical, education, religious, etc.). These two types of custody are referred to as physical custody and legal custody.
A South Carolina family court is under no obligation to ensure that both forms of custody be split the same way. The court might well determine that the kids will live most of the time with one parent, but that the parents will share custody of important decisions. In other words, there will be sole custody in one area, but joint custody in another area.
The circumstances under which a court might make this kind of split decision are as varied as there are couples. One rationale might be that one spouse is going to stay in the house the kids grew up in. Family courts place primary value on the best interests of the children, and it may be determined that staying in their home full-time is the best way to get them through a tumultuous time in their lives.
Yet, under this scenario, there is no reason to think that the other (non-residential) parent is not capable of helping make important decisions. Perhaps the non-residential parent is a doctor and even more qualified than the residential parent to make health care decisions. The court will consider every variable in crafting the custody plan that meets the best interests of the child. It’s the job of our child custody attorneys to make certain the judge knows about the variables you consider important.
It’s also important that your final custody and visitation plan be extremely specific with the details. Perhaps the non-residential parent is going to get the kids on every other weekend. The agreement might say that the non-residential parent will pick them up at school (or extracurriculars) on Friday and then have them back to the residential parent by 7 PM on Sunday evening.
This doesn’t mean that you and your spouse have to be that picky in enforcing those details on a day-to-day basis. Maybe one weekend it will work best for the kids to stay over at the non-residential parent’s home on Sunday night and be dropped off at school on Monday morning. Courts give you and your spouse considerable freedom in implementing the final agreement. But there must be a legal baseline that can be referenced in the event of a dispute.
Finally, child custody is another area where the grounds for divorce can matter a great deal. Your spouse filed on the grounds that they believe you have a problem with alcohol. You strongly disagree. That disagreement needs to be expressed crystal-clear in court, because judges are quite unlikely to deem it to be in the best interest of the child to spend time with a parent who drinks too much. Our family lawyers will fight with all the resources at our disposal to make sure you are treated fairly in this process.
Child Support Payments
The state of South Carolina has laid out child support guidelines that courts must follow when establishing the amount that will be due in payments. The purpose is to cover the cost of housing and raising the kids, including their healthcare and education costs.
Each parent must contribute an equitable share, although, once again, equitable does not mean equal. The court will give due consideration to any financial disparity that exists between the spouses. If a non-residential spouse has to travel a long distance to exercise visitation rights, that can be taken into consideration here. Perhaps there is a need for child-care costs after the divorce that did not exist prior. Child support payments are a means of addressing that.
The final support payments will also be impacted by how issues of alimony and property division were settled. These different facets of the divorce process are all unique to themselves, but they invariably overlap. Your lawyer must maintain a clear vision of how all the parts fit together on behalf of you and your children.
The Division Of Property
South Carolina is an equitable distribution state when it comes to dividing property in a divorce. The phrase equitable distribution might just seem like common sense to a casual observer, but it is a legal term with profound financial implications for your settlement.
It means the family court in Gaffney, South Carolina is obligated to divide the property of you and your spouse equitably, but not equally. This means South Carolina is not required to distribute property 50/50 between the spouses in a divorce. The court is instead obligated to figure what portions meet the more intangible definition of equitable.
Establishing an equitable settlement means the courts first start by identifying what is marital property and what is non-marital property.
- Non-marital property is what you and your spouse owned when you got married. It’s the house you own that your spouse moved into or the business your spouse founded ten years earlier that has allowed for most of your living expenses. It can also be individual property obtained during the marriage, such as an inheritance that either one of you received.
- Marital property, on the other hand, is what you and your spouse acquired and built together. It’s the stock portfolio you began early on in your marriage. It’s the value on the life insurance you bought, and it’s the oceanfront condo in Myrtle Beach where you spend time every summer.
So that settles it then? Your spouse gets the business, while you get the house and the money your Aunt Sarah left you? Then just split everything else? Plain and simple, nice and easy?
Well, not so fast.
What if, during your marriage, you and your spouse invested money into remodeling your kitchen and putting in a new basement? What if, during your marriage, you and your spouse made a substantial investment in the business they started before the marriage, in order to hit a new spot in the market? What if, after Aunt Sarah passed away, you put her money into your common bank accounts or stock portfolio?
The line between marital property and non-marital property is now blurred. The value of non-marital property has increased because of marital property that was invested in. And, as for that inheritance, we hate to tell you that once non-marital funds become co-mingled with marital monies, courts may be inclined to see it as you having made a gift to the marriage.
So, what’s an equitable distribution now? The court could just try and sort it by aiming for a 50/50 split. The court could just return to a “you get the house, they get the business, everything else gets cut down the middle” settlement. But the court does not have to do either of these things.
What the court ultimately will do depends on how well each side presents their case and how well it’s documented with paperwork.
That’s what our Gaffney family law attorneys at Parker & Bain, LLC, do. In fact, our attorneys were on the winning side of a high-profile South Carolina case back in 2010. In Dawkins vs. Dawkins, our client brought 56% of the total assets into the marriage, yet her case under equitable distribution law was strong enough to merit 60% in the final settlement.
While we can’t guarantee that will happen every time, we can say that our lawyers work exceptionally hard to present your case in a strong context that’s backed with solid documentation.
Alimony In South Carolina
Alimony payments are those that the financially advantaged spouse is obligated to make to ensure that the other spouse can maintain a lifestyle comparable to what they enjoyed during the marriage–or, at the very least, a lifestyle comparable to what the materially more abundant spouse will have after the divorce. The term alimony is used interchangeably with spousal support. They are one in the same. However, please note that alimony and spousal support are not the same as child support. Alimony is strictly between the spouses.
There are four types of alimony in South Carolina.
- Permanent periodic alimony–This is when one spouse makes a regular payment to the other and it continues until the spouse receiving the payments either passes away or remarries. This type of alimony might be ordered in a situation where the marriage lasted a long time and one of the spouses made considerable career sacrifices to raise children. A spouse who stayed at home to raise four children and was married for thirty years faces serious obstacles to a career comeback. Permanent periodic alimony is aimed at making them whole.
- Rehabilitative alimony–This is alimony paid out in a shorter time frame. The presumption is that the spouse at a financial disadvantage will be able to work their way back up to an equitable situation if given time. Let’s use our own profession of the law as an example. Two lawyers marry. One of them makes career sacrifices on behalf of raising children. The marriage ends, let’s say after eight years. Both spouses are still reasonably in their prime. The spouse who stayed home with the kids has been out of the workforce long enough to be at a disadvantage, but not so long as for a career recovery to be out of the question. They just need a little time. Rehabilitative alimony is aimed at providing that time.
- Lump sum alimony–Under this type of alimony, the spouses agree on a fixed amount at the time of the settlement. The name of the alimony can be a little misleading–it is not–or at least doesn’t have to be–paid out in a single lump sum. This type of alimony gets its name from the fact that overall money paid out is fixed from the beginning. A scenario where lump sum alimony might make sense is if one spouse’s needs are clearly fixed. Maybe they need to attend school to jump-start an old career or begin a new one. The financially advantaged spouse may simply pay the estimated tuition costs as the alimony.
- Reimbursement alimony–One spouse has made investments into another. Maybe they’ve already paid for the spouse’s education or invested in their business. Reimbursement alimony simply pays them back.
A way this might be used is to return to our example above, with one spouse who had a business and the other who had a house at the time of the marriage. Common funds were used to invest in both. Valuation experts might have determined the gap in value that existed between what they were worth at the time of the marriage and what they are worth now at the time of divorce.
Let’s further say that the investments in the business ended up being more than the value of the house. Lump sum alimony could be a mechanism for allowing a clean split (one spouse gets the house, the other the business), while still allowing the spouse who owned the home with a way of being made whole for their shared investment in the business.
A lot of factors go into determining both the type of alimony that will be paid and the final amount. Some of those factors are alluded to in the examples above, from length of the marriage, to parenting responsibilities to the immediate earning power each spouse will have in the aftermath of the divorce. Courts may also factor in medical conditions that one or both spouses might suffer from.
If the divorce is an at-fault filing, the courts may (but are not legally obligated to) consider which spouse was at fault. The spouse who stayed home with the kids might lose something in the alimony ruling if their infidelity is the reason for the divorce. That’s why, if you are wrongly accused of being at-fault, it’s imperative that you work with your lawyer to fight it. Even if you’re ready to go along with the divorce, the grounds on which it’s filed can have ripple effects throughout the settlement process.
Blended Families And New Beginnings
There are a lot of beautiful, blended families living in South Carolina and across the country. Sometimes that blending takes place with adoption. Our Gaffney family lawyers at Parker & Bain, LLC, are certainly able to help prospective parents through an adoption process that can seem overwhelming.
In a family that was blended after a divorce, a stepparent may wish to adopt the children their spouse brought into the marriage. Couples may seek to adopt from an expectant mother. This requires a proper understanding of the rights both the biological mother and the adoptive parents will have. The foster care system is another means of adoption, as is going abroad.
All adoptions require a home visit by the agency and then follow-ups after placement. A lawyer from Parker & Bain, LLC, will be with the prospective parent(s) every step of the way, helping them to understand the process and how best to navigate it.
There’s a good reason that our attorneys and staff are confident we can help you. We’ve been doing this for a long time, have seen a wide range of family situations and have a track record of success. We know that being in any type of family law process can be a difficult one, and we understand both the finer points of the law and the importance of human compassion during the journey. We recognize that the family court in Gaffney, South Carolina does more than grant divorces, it helps build families.