COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - "Til death do us part" is a vow most couples make when they get married, but not all marriages last.
When a couple decides to divorce, in some cases, one spouse must pay alimony. There are several types of alimony in South Carolina, including rehabilitative alimony, which is paid for a certain number of years. There's also lump sum alimony, which can be paid all at once, or through a series of payments. Permanent periodic alimony, which experts say is the most common type of alimony awarded in South Carolina, has to be paid until either person died, or the person getting paid remarries or lives with someone for at least three months.
One couple in the Upstate said because of permanent alimony, they might be forced to lose their home.
"This is my whole world right here," Joe, 81, said about his wife, Rachel.
Joe and Rachel have been married for 30 years. Both asked us not to use their last name for this story.
"He's a strong man because he's had malignant lung cancer, he's had colon surgery, he's had knee surgery, he's had back surgery," Rachel said.
Joe has made it through the health issues, but there is something he hasn't be able to get away from in decades.
"I've paid close to a half-million dollars in alimony," Joe said.
Joe has been paying alimony to his first wife for 35 years -- longer than their marriage.
"It's bringing me down. All the investments I made, investments and the property I bought and all that, it's all gone because I've got my mortgage here and I've got to pay alimony. It's just taking me down little by little," Joe said.
Members of the group South Carolina Alimony Reform want to make changes to alimony in the state.
"We just want permanent alimony not to be the award du jour, so to speak," Melissa Cash, Upstate advocate for South Carolina Alimony Reform, said.
Permanent alimony can be changed by a judge. In 2010, Joe said a judge reduced his payments from $1,600 a month to $1,100. He has not been able to try and reduce his payments again because he cannot afford a lawyer.
"I've been trying my best to not get behind and it's getting harder and harder and harder," Joe said.
Joe and Rachel know they might have to sell their home in order to keep paying the alimony. They say they don't know where they'll go if that happens.
"It will kill me, but they're material things. The true love is each other," Rachel said.
South Carolina Alimony Reform is not trying to get rid of alimony, they just want to change the way it works.
"Alimony for a reasonable amount of time to allow for a transition from being married to single is certainly, certainly appropriate and reasonable," Cash said.
Joe and Rachel are working with the group, hoping to make a difference. They say even though things might not change for them, they hope they can help other people.
There are bills under consideration that could make changes to South Carolina's alimony laws. Some divorce attorneys say there's no need for the change, saying the system is fine the way it is and we should trust the judges who make the decisions.