Politics & Government

Divorced South Carolinians want end to lifelong alimony payments

Wyman Oxner of SC Alimony Reform explains why his group is against permanent alimony

Wyman Oxner of SC Alimony Reform explains why his group is against permanent alimony.
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Wyman Oxner of SC Alimony Reform explains why his group is against permanent alimony.

Divorced South Carolinians want a break from a lifetime of alimony payments.

Well, at least the ones writing the checks do.

About two dozen members of S.C. Alimony Reform flocked to an S.C. Senate hearing Thursday to show support for four bills that could lighten their loads.

“The laws are archaic,” said Wyman Oxner, the group’s president, who has paid alimony since 1999. “One side wins the lottery. The other side is in prison the rest of their life.”

The bills, sponsored by state Sen. Greg Gregory, R-Lancaster, take aim at permanent alimony.

Under current law, permanent alimony ends only if a former spouse dies, or if the person receiving alimony remarries or lives with a mate for more than 90 straight days. Meant to help an economically disadvantaged spouse recover from divorce, alimony can be modified in court.

But the current system is overly punitive, members of the alimony reform group testified Thursday.

They say permanent alimony ensures they never can retire. In some cases, Oxner said, 80 year olds are “locked up because they can’t pay and they’re too feeble to work.”

One member of Oxner’s group testified he has paid $180,000 in alimony after a two-year marriage.

On the other hand, the alimony-payers testified, their exes enjoy the high life, with no desire to work or remarry.

“Alimony laws should be set up to encourage people to go to work and become self-sufficient and take care of themselves,” said Oxner, whose group has more than quadrupled to 900 members in two years.

Attorneys’ associations, including the S.C. Bar, said Thursday they would support the proposals if a few tweaks are made.

Judges should keep discretion to rule on a case-by-case basis, the groups said, cautioning against requiring judges to take a formulaic approach. They also challenged a proposal that says judges should consider ending or modifying payments if a spouse has paid alimony for longer than the marriage lasted.

“There are so many different factors involved in these cases that to set a cap or an arbitrary number of years is very inequitable in numerous circumstances,” said Alex Cash, a Charleston attorney and president of the S.C. Association of Justice.

Already late for a meeting of the full Senate, the panel adjourned the hourlong hearing without taking a vote. Senators could revisit the issue again this week.

The four bills would:

▪  Discourage family court judges from awarding permanent alimony by default

▪  Block judges from considering the income of the paying spouse’s next wife or husband when awarding alimony. (“It doesn’t make for a very happy second marriage when the second spouse is helping to pay off the first spouse,” Gregory said.)

▪  Create two new forms of alimony as alternatives to permanent alimony

▪  Change the law’s definition of “cohabitation” to include when couples live together in a fashion tantamount to marriage

▪  Modify the factors – including a substantial change in a divorced person’s income, expenses or net worth – that judges must consider when deciding whether to modify alimony.

Buzz bites

Beer bonanza at the State House? A Senate panel on Wednesday approved a proposal that would let S.C. breweries donate their beer to nonprofits that are throwing fundraisers, such as beer festivals.

Moments after the vote, state Sen. Brad Hutto jokingly asked how lawmakers might benefit.

“What kind of 72-hour drinking bonanza are we going to get for this?” the Orangeburg Democrat quipped.

“On the State House grounds, no less,” state Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington added.

Wilkins back in town. Former S.C. House speaker and U.S. ambassador to Canada David Wilkins will speak next Thursday at the University of South Carolina’s annual Donald S. Russell Lecture.

The free, public event starts at 5:30 p.m. at the Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library.

Avery G. Wilks: 803-771-8362, @averygwilks