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Alimony & Spousal Support

When a couple is considering divorce, one of the first things they will have to think about is alimony. This is also known as Spousal Support. For example, if one spouse earns significantly more money than the other for several years, they will find themselves in a situation where the court orders them to provide alimony payments to a dependent spouse. These payments are intended to help one spouse maintain the lifestyle they used to have during their marriage until they are able to become self-sufficient.

Eligibility for Alimony

In most cases of alimony, the dependent spouse is the individual who submits a claim for alimony, while the defendant is typically the supporting spouse. However, North Carolina law expressly defines the definition of a dependent spouse as an individual in the state.

Dependent Spouse

A dependent spouse is a spouse who receives a significant amount of maintenance and support from their spouse. Many spouses who are entitled to spousal support have not earned any wages or have earned low wages compared to their spouse throughout their marriage.

In order to determine the degree of dependency, the court must first consider the facts and the marital circumstances of the parties. In many cases, the court will rely on economic factors to determine whether a spouse is in fact dependent. The following factors are likely to be taken into consideration when a court seeks to assess the dependency of an applicant:

  • A claimant's accustomed standard of living years prior to the divorce

  • Expenses necessary to reasonably support a claimant

  • Each spouse's potential income-earning abilities

  • The financial needs of a claimant

  • Current employment income (if employed) and other recurrent earnings from any source

  • Individual and marital debt service obligations

  • Other respective legal obligations for a defendant to support a claimant

It should be noted that a district court judge may only be able to determine the economic circumstances of each party based on a sworn statement, a written statement or any other evidence presented outside of the courtroom. As a result, a court may find that a trial is not required or appropriate in order to order payments of alimony. However, if the court finds that it has compiled sufficient evidence to reach a reasonable and just decision without a trial, it is not required to hear oral evidence from either party prior to making a determination.

How Alimony is Determined in North Carolina

In North Carolina, the amount of spousal support that a spouse is obligated to pay to a dependant spouse is contingent upon the court's decision. The amount of support and the length of time it is required to be paid is left to the court's discretion. To determine whether such payments are necessary, the court must take into account 16 factors (NCGS 50-16.3A).

1. Marital Misconduct

Due to legislation that went into effect on October 1, 1995, the state of North Carolina does not require that a supporting spouse is proven to be responsible for marital misconduct for an alimony court order. However, under the new law, proving that a spouse did not conduct themselves appropriately within a marriage still remains a factor that could influence the court's decision. When the words “marital misconduct” come to mind, most people assume that

According to North Carolina statutes, marital misconduct is constituted if either spouse exhibits the following behaviors:

  • Illicit sexual behavior (cheating on a spouse)

  • Abandonment

  • Endangering the life of a spouse; cruel or barbarous treatment

  • The excessive consumption of alcohol or drugs

  • Overspending the income of either party or the destruction, exhaustion, diversion or concealment of shared assets

  • Involuntary separation of spouses due to a criminal act committed before an alimony proceeding

2. Contributions to the earning power of the other spouse

Another factor that will be considered in regard to a determination is the contributions made by one spouse to another spouse. This means that all the money and time dedicated to helping a spouse go to the college, train for a job, or find a new career will be accounted for in a judicial decision.

3. The ages and mental, physical, and emotional conditions of spouses

In the event that a claimant's life has drastically affected by old age or has endured a physical or psychological illness, orders to pay alimony may be issued by the court. For example, let's say a party was involved in a car accident a few years and is required to attend physical therapy sessions for years after the divorce. However, they would not be able to afford these classes with solely their income. In this case, the supporting spouse may be required to subsidize the burden of these medical expenses by paying the remainder of them in spousal support, just as they were doing before the divorce.

The remaining factors that will be considered for a determination in North Carolina include:

4. The relative earnings and other earning capacities of the parties

5. Total amount of earned and unearned income of both parties

6. The duration of the marriage

7. The effect that a divorce will have on a parent with full custody of a child under the age of 18

8. The standard of living of parties for the duration of the marriage

9. Assets and liabilities of parties

10. Property brought to the marriage by both parties

11. Contribution of a party as a homemaker

12. Relative needs of each party

13. Individual and marital debt accrued by the parties

14. Previous determination of the distribution of assets

15. Education level of each party

16. Any other factor that relates to the economic circumstances of the parties that the court finds to be just and proper

When do Do Alimony Payments end?

Alimony is only required for the amount of time it takes the dependent spouse to receive the money they need to become independent. However, there are other grounds for ending spousal support.

In North Carolina, spousal support is no longer required if:

  • The parties have decided not to divorce

  • The dependent spouse has remarried

  • The dependent spouse is living with a romantic partner

  • The dependent or supporting spouse passes away.

Experienced Family Law Attorneys

Due to the fact that an alimony decision is made at the sole discretion of the court, it is essential that you are aware of your options. At Webster & Back Law, we understand that divorce is a difficult process in itself. However, the question of alimony will be one of the most stressful aspects of the divorce process that you will have to deal with. Our lawyers are committed to helping you reach an agreement on the amount of alimony for your spouse. Contact us today for a consultation.