Monday, August 15, 2016

Hopes for Alimony Reform

It has been a gratifying experience to be the head of the 2nd Wives and Partners Club of South Carolina. Our membership has grown exponentially, and we have demonstrated that permanent alimony unjustly burdens and sometimes even ruins the lives of women and children, not just men. Not only are there women in this state who pay permanent alimony, but permanent alimony can be as much as 1/3 or more of a person's income (even if the marriage was less than 10 years). This makes it impossible to save for retirement, to pay for your children's college education, to pay off your own student loans, or to retire. We even have at least one female member who has been court-ordered to contribute to the alimony payment of her husband's first wife (even though the husband was not found to be underemployed by the court). It is important to educate the public that permanent alimony is a gender neutral issue.

We are part of a larger movement all across the nation. Several states have already been able to reform their alimony laws, while others never had permanent alimony in the first place. I have spoken with many twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings who are shocked by the very existence of permanent alimony. The laws are just so antiquated that younger members of the workforce have a hard time grasping its place in the current economy. Their confusion is well founded. Permanent alimony has no place in today's economy in which both partners work. That said, the alimony reform bills proposed by SC Alimony Reform in 2016 would allow a judge to award alimony for an extended period of time, perhaps in extreme cases even permanently, if one spouse had stayed home with children for decades, while the other spouse worked outside the home. But in most cases, transitional alimony designed to support the lesser earning spouse while he or she re-enters the workforce (perhaps furthering his or her education) will provide a fair solution for all parties. In this way, individuals can get on with their lives, emotionally and economically. And this way, both parties are expected to plan for a reduced income in retirement.

Those who don't want to see permanent alimony change are those who benefit, for example groups of attorneys who make a living off of squeezing exorbitant fees out of vulnerable clients going through a divorce. They know that clearer guidelines through reformed laws will make cutthroat lawsuits less likely and mediation more common. However, there are many family court attorneys who recognize how skewed and outdated permanent alimony is, and they support reform. It is my hope that SC Alimony Reform will be able to work with them, as well as other groups, professionals, journalists, and lawmakers to bring our alimony laws into the 21st century. It simply cannot be that in this day and age permanent alimony is the most commonly awarded form of alimony in the state of South Carolina. But it is.

Don't be fooled by the misinformation opponents of reform proliferate. It is simply unconscionable to say that people can go back to court at any time and seek a reduction, when attorneys know that 1) it will cost you $5,000 at a minimum, and 2) your chances of success under the current laws are slim to none.

As for me, I will continue to support alimony reform, as I encourage others to step into some of the roles I've played. In the process, I have met individuals from all walks of life saddled with this burden, some of whom have suffered the loss of their homes and been unable to pay for adequate health care as a result. I learned how the political system works, including how easy it is for senators in our state to block legislation without having to provide justification. We cannot thank those who sponsored and supported our bills enough, especially Representative Jerry Govan, Senator Greg Gregory, and Senator Katrina Shealy.

Permanent alimony will end sooner or later. It just doesn't make sense, and eventually the twenty- and thirty-somethings will be the legislators. In the meantime, some of the old guard will continue to hold on to a status quo from which they benefit, regardless of how much it is hurting the citizens of South Carolina. Let's not wait for the retirement of those who have turned a buck in a broken system with decades-old laws. If you would like to see change, I encourage you to get more involved with alimony reform. If you want to see fairer laws, write editorials, write to your legislators, come to hearings at the State House, and consider other contributions you might make to help alimony reform succeed in this state. Alimony reform is a national movement whose time has come in South Carolina. 

SC Alimony Reform proposed a set of clear, fair bills in the Senate this year. Help make 2017 the year they become law.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

What Happened to Alimony Reform in SC in 2016

Click on the link below to see the opinion piece, published in The State newspaper, for details on how alimony reform was blocked in SC this year. . .
SC Alimony Reform and the 2nd Wives and Partners of South Carolina worked exceptionally hard this year. What follows is a recap of the 2016 accomplishments and challenges.

  1. We created and introduced a set of bills in the Senate and in the House this year.  Each bill addresses a different aspect of alimony reform. In summary, the bills call for permanent alimony to no longer be the preferred form of alimony in South Carolina. 
  2. We sought support for these bills in every way possible. Senator Gregory in particular sponsored and eloquently presented the Senate bills in committees. We spoke with countless legislators, wrote opinion pieces, wrote to and called legislators, did television and radio interviews, put a flyer explaining the bills in the mailbox or hand of every senator and house member, and testified at committee hearings. Our billboards have garnered new membership, and we continue to grow. Many of you--the members of South Carolina Alimony Reform and the Second Wives and Partners--were involved in these efforts, and we thank you!!! 
  3. Ultimately, despite all the support we had from many senators and representatives, the antics of Senator Gerald Malloy blocked reform. It is shocking how broken the system is--see the link above for further details in The State newspaper. 
  4. Lawyers in general are not our adversaries, but there is a group of attorneys, called the Matrimonial Lawyers, who have been very vocal in blocking reform and who like the system just the way it is. In our current system, scared clients going through divorce will pay family court lawyers large sums, because divorce proceedings are like making your way through a murky swamp. These lawyers don't want clear guidelines that would make fair negotiations possible and their inflated fees obsolete. However, many family court lawyers have expressed frustration with the status quo, as they see the unfair settlements day in and day out. They support reform.
  5. Bill S-1170, which bars the second spouse from being court-ordered to pay the alimony of a previous spouse, made it though the Senate and into the House, but was inexplicably blocked by Representative Chris Murphy. This is the least controversial of all the bills. Surely no one honestly thinks this is right. And yet, it met with resistance. This is a clear indicator that opponents of reform don't want to discuss the merits of reform; they just want to continue to benefit from a broken system. 
We did not get here overnight. Several years of work led to a task force bill and study, which led to the creation and introduction of this year's bills. These are good bills, and we will reintroduce them next year. We will need to change our approach and focus on the following: 
  • Legislators who say they are for alimony reform but block reform will need to be addressed. You can't have it both ways. 
  • Since the Matrimonial Lawyers are a loud but small segment of family court lawyers, we need to continue to find support among attorneys and the will for reform that seems present within the SC Bar Association. 
  • Our grassroots organization will continue to grow, but with that growth comes new ways of operating. 
How you can help!:
  • Allow the progress we have made to encourage you. Reform takes longer than any of us would like, yet we have made great strides. We have well-written, effective bills to introduce at the onset of the next legislative session. We are further than we have ever been, and experiencing push-back from our opposition only means we have made real progress!
  • Encourage one new friend, acquaintance, or family member to join SC Alimony Reform. If every member added one new member, we would double in size overnight!
  • Enjoy your summer and be ready for new ideas come fall. Taking our movement to the next level will require active members! 
If you have any questions, please ask. Only together can we accomplish alimony reform in South Carolina. 

Thank you for your support!
The Second Wives and Partners of South Carolina

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Time to Call Representatives is Now for S-1170!

We are so close! Call the representatives on the House Judiciary Committee today, so we can get S-1170 through! Leave a message with his or her administrative assistant, giving your name and the bill you would like the representative to support.

S-1170 must make its way out of the House Judiciary Committee and onto the floor of the House in the next week or so in order to be signed into law by Governor Haley! Bill S-1170 bars consideration of the earnings of a subsequent spouse, when alimony is set or modified. This is an uncontroversial bill. No one honestly thinks it is fair for the income of a second spouse to be considered by the court when setting alimony for an ex-spouse. In other words, a second wife can end up contributing to the alimony of the first, as ordered by the court. This happens in SC!

Below is the list of the members of the judiciary committee with telephone numbers. Please be sure to call your representative (whether he or she is listed or not). [A complete list of representatives can be found here:].

Please call as many of the members of the list below as you can. Be sure to call the chairman, Greg Delleney, and politely ask for his support. If you are a constituent of any of the representatives below, say this early in the message.

Remember, even if this isn't your specific issue, alimony reform is a step-by-step process. We won't stop until alimony reform is comprehensive, but this will be accomplished piece-by-piece. We need your help to get this done. Thank you for your support!

Members of the House Judiciary Committee

Friday, May 13, 2016

Bill 1170 is in the House Judiciary Committee! Ask for Their Support!

Bill 1170 has crossed over from the Senate to the House. This means there are only two more steps to go. 1) The bill has to receive support (a yes vote) from the judiciary committee, and then 2) it goes to the floor of the House for a vote.

We need to help hurry the process along by contacting the Chair of the Judiciary Committee, Greg Delleney, and the members of the committee. This can be done in one email by clicking on the link below, filling in your information, and sending a short message.

I addressed my email "Dear Chairman Delleney and Members of the House Judiciary Committee:". Ask them to support the bill, explaining briefly that a second spouse should never have to pay or contribute to the alimony of the first, but that this happens in South Carolina, per court order. It happened to one of our members just a few months ago, even though the court ruled that her husband was not underemployed. In other words, the court did not think the husband was intentionally earning less money to reduce his alimony, but the judge ordered the second wife's income to be included anyway.

No one thinks this is right. This is an uncontroversial bill. Please send the judiciary committee an email asking for their support on Bill 1170. Let's get this passed this year!

Thank you for all of your support!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Support Bill 1170 as it moves to the House!

We are almost there! Take a few moments today to support Bill 1170 by letting your SC Representative know that you would appreciate his or her support on 1170. The vote in the House is the last step before 1170 becomes law. Your call and email can make all the difference! Tell your representative it is simply wrong for the income of a new spouse to be included when setting or modifying alimony for the ex-spouse. Bill 1170 fixes this.

To find your representative, go to and enter your address and zip code. Click "Find legislators." Your legislators will pop up.

Call your Representative's Columbia business phone, and send an email by clicking "Send Message to Representative So-and-So."

Last week, 1170 made it through the Senate. Now it moves to the House. Your efforts can make all the difference. You can help 1170 become law!

As always, thank you so much for your support! Letting the legislators hear female voices is key to our success, because alimony reform is fighting for women, men, and families.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Bill S-1170: 2nd Wives Do Pay Their Husband's Alimony!!

If your income was included when the judge set or modified your husband's alimony payment, please call your state senator and state representative and tell them on Monday (4/18/16)! Bill S-1170 is up for a vote in the Senate on Tuesday of this week. Some don't believe this really happens--help change their minds. S-1170 bars the judge from considering the income of a subsequent spouse when setting alimony.

Despite all our efforts to educate the public and the legislators, people still have a hard time believing that second wives can end up paying the alimony of the first. You can understand why; the reaction is often one of disbelief. After all, it's a bit like cows eating cows. That's how we got mad cow disease. Second wives shouldn't pay alimony to someone they were never married to. It's obscene. But it happens. 

Just a few months ago, in December of 2015, the husband of one of our members went to court, seeking a reduction in alimony, having found a new job that paid less than his previous employment. The court said he was not underemployed. In other words, he hadn't done anything wrong. In fact, he had worked hard to find employment after losing a job. He wasn't intentionally replacing an old job that paid more with one that paid less. And still, the judge ruled that “the court has discretion to consider a party’s new spouse’s income and contribution to expenses in determining the party’s alimony obligation.” That means that the second wife's income was taken into consideration when determining how much he could pay. Yes, second wives contribute to the alimony of the first in such cases! And no, the law does not protect them from this. In fact, case law shows that courts have refused to exclude the second spouse's income. 

It is true that often times second wives end up paying alimony unofficially. Maybe your husband's business drops off, or his alimony is so high he can't make the payment on his own, even when he is receiving his normal income. With alimony payments that make up 1/3 to 1/2 of a payor's income, this is not surprising. You don't want him or her to go to jail (in some cases, the spouse paying alimony is female), so your income goes to the ex-spouse as well. This is bad enough. But it is really outrageous that a court would order a new spouse to contribute to the alimony of the ex-spouse. It is why some of our members will not marry their partners--they want to protect their hard-earned income. 

It is outrageous that some legislators haven't take the testimony of citizens seriously! Thank you to the senators and representatives who do. 

There is nothing controversial about this bill. It is pretty black and white. You shouldn't pay alimony to someone to whom you were never married. Call your senator and your representative and tell them so, especially if you are in that situation yourself! 

Together, we can get this through.

Friday, March 25, 2016

2016 2nd Wives and Partners Survey Results

As of the end of January 2016, we had 94 members in the 2nd Wives Club of South Carolina. (We now have over 100!). 44% of our members answered a recent survey. The statistics are telling:
  • The length of the first marriage ranges from 7-30 years, yet all are paying permanent alimony.
  • The professions of the husbands run the gamut. They are mechanics, physicians, salesmen, construction workers, attorneys, engineers, and business owners.
  • While 88% of the second wives work, only 44% of the first wives do. The second wives who do not work are on disability. One is retired. The second wives work as administrators, ministers, teachers, professors, chefs, physicians, accountants, and in real estate and finance, to name but a few professions.
  • Monthly alimony payments range from $300/month to $8000/month. The average alimony payment is $2,183.41.
  • This amounts, on the average, to 33% of the husband’s income
  • Over half of the second wives have contributed to or paid the alimony of their husband’s ex-spouse, either short or long term (meaning more than a decade). 
  • While half of the first wives do have a college degree, the biggest complaint from the second wives survey participants is that the first wife is intentionally under-employed. Several participants wrote that their husband’s ex-spouse has declared her intent not to re-marry and to make her ex-husband pay until he dies. The survey participants comment that one should not be penalized for the rest of one’s life for a failed marriage, that this divorce without finality and separation is cruel, and that their husbands cannot retire. 
  • Some would-be second wives refuse to marry their partner, fearing they are putting their own finances in jeopardy, for example, if the first wife takes them back to court for more alimony based on their combined income. This happened--per a court order--to one of our members at the end of December 2015; her income was included to justify the alimony her husband had been ordered to pay, even though it was determined by the court that he was not underemployed!
The Second Wives and Partners Club of South Carolina inherited its name from similar organizations in other states. The purpose of the Second Wives is to emphasize that permanent periodic alimony negatively impacts the lives of women, children, and men.

Please support Alimony Reform in South Carolina. We believe alimony has its place, to provide equity for both parties at the end of the marriage. But in this day and age, permanent alimony should no longer be the most common form of alimony awarded in South Carolina.