Couples who are looking to divorce in South Carolina must first live apart before spousal support can be sought. While this law has been on the books for many years, a recent ruling by the state’s Supreme Court proves that there is no exception for spouses without incomes, The Associated Press reports.
The ruling came after a judge in family court dismissed Eileen Theisen’s request for alimony because, while divorced, she still lived under the same roof with her ex-husband. The South Carolina Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s ruling.
According to the South Carolina Legislature, the state’s law prohibits divorce except in cases of adultery, desertion for a period of one year, physical cruelty, habitual drunkenness or after the husband and wife have lived apart without cohabitation for a period of one year.
The court’s decision offers some clarity to an increasingly hazy issue, as many people have kept living together after a divorce due to the difficult economy. However, the ruling may not help stay-at-home caregivers like Theisen, according to a family law attorney, because they have no income stream to allow them to set up a separate household.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a South Carolina man who was sent to jail after he was unable to pay his child support was deprived of his 14th amendment right to due process, according to published reports.
South Carolina law allows law enforcement to jail individuals who do not pay child support without providing them legal counsel. The defendant, Michael Turner, was sentenced to up to 12 months in prison for being unable to meet his child support payment and state courts denied that Turner had a right to a court-appointed attorney even though his liberty was on the line.
However, Turner claims he was never told that his ability to pay child support was the reason for his legal woes and said authorities never provided him with financial disclosures forms or any other means to determine whether he could feasibly meet his child support payments. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that state officials must ensure that hearings are “fundamentally fair” to the person facing possible incarceration.
“Under these circumstances, Turner’s incarceration violated the Due Process Clause,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote.
In addition to South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Maine and Ohio also do not provide counsel for those too poor to afford legal assistance in child support cases.