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Alimony and Spousal Support in Divorce

What is alimony?

Alimony in North Carolina is an order for payment for the support and maintenance of a spouse or former spouse, periodically or in a lump sum amount for a specified or indefinite term, ordered in an action for divorce or an action for alimony without divorce. N.C. Gen. Stat. §50-16.1A(1).

Alimony is not automatically awarded in divorce proceedings.  The court must first determine that one spouse is “substantially dependent” on the other for his or her “maintenance and support.” 

A dependent spouse is defined as a spouse, whether husband or wife, who is actually substantially dependent upon the other spouse for his or her maintenance and support or is substantially in need of maintenance and support from the other spouse. N.C. Gen. Stat. §50-16.1A(2).

A supporting spouse is a spouse, whether husband or wife, upon whom the other spouse is actually substantially dependent for maintenance and support or from whom such spouse is substantially in need of maintenance and support. N.C. Gen. Stat. §50-16.1A(5)

Post-Separation Support (or PSS), is the financial support received after the date of separation but before an award of alimony is granted. 

Will I have to pay spousal support to my spouse?

In North Carolina, Alimony (or spousal support) is typically ordered if one spouse is financially dependent on the other spouse to pay the marital expenses and the dependent spouse has a need for financial support after the parties separate. Spousal support is also based on the supporting spouse’s ability to pay financial support to the dependent spouse. 

How much will I have to pay?

The amount of alimony awarded in North Carolina is determined by a variety of factors.

Calculating the amount of alimony awarded in NC requires reviewing the following factors as set out in N.C. Gen. Stat. §50-16.3A(b) and N.C. Gen. Stat. §50-16.3A(a):

  • Marital misconduct during the marriage. Conduct after the date of separation may be used to corroborate evidence relating to misconduct prior to the date of separation.
  • The earnings of each person
  • The earning capacity of each person
  • The age of each person
  • The physical condition of each person
  • The mental conditional of each person
  • The emotional condition of each person
  • The amount and source of earned and unearned income of each spouse from any source
  • The duration of the marriage
  • The contribution by one spouse to the education, training, or increased earning power of the other spouse
  • The impact on the earning power of a custodial parent from childcare responsibilities
  • The standard of living enjoyed by the spouses during the course of their marriage
  • The education of each spouse and the time that would be required to increase the level of education or training to enable the spouse seeking alimony to find employment to satisfy his or her reasonable economic needs
  • The assets and liabilities of the spouses
  • The debt service requirements of each spouse, including legal support obligations
  • The property brought into the marriage by either spouse
  • Contributions the spouse made as a homemaker
  • The needs of each spouse
  • The tax ramifications of the alimony award
  • Other factors relating to the economic circumstances that the court finds to be just and proper
  • If income received by either party was considered by the Court in determining the value of assets in an equitable distribution of assets

This is not an exhaustive list, and the court may consider “any other factor relating to the economic circumstances” of the spouses that it deems relevant. The court may also consider any previous analysis it performed of the parties assets when dividing property.

How long will I have to pay alimony?

A judge, not a jury, decides the terms of any alimony award. The judge must offer specific written reasons for granting or denying alimony and calculating the amount of any award. Either spouse may appeal a judge’s decision. If alimony is awarded, the dependent spouse may also be entitled to recover attorney’s fees.

In the NC alimony order, the Court will state the reason(s) it bases its award or denial of alimony on including the reason, the duration, and the manner of payment. The duration of the alimony award is often determined based on the length of the marriage. 

What if my spouse is cheating?

Marital Fault – The dependent spouse may then be entitled to alimony provided he or she did not have a sexual affair with another person during the marriage and before the spouses legally separated. Similarly, if the court finds the supporting spouse cheated, the court will order alimony paid to the dependent spouse. If both spouses cheated during the marriage, the court may award alimony at its discretion “after consideration of all of the circumstances.” If there’s a dispute as to whether one or both spouses cheated, the issue may be tried before a jury. 

Alimony will not be paid to a spouse that the Court (or a jury) finds participated in illicit sexual behavior during the marriage (before separation) unless both spouses were guilty of illicit sexual behavior in which case the alimony will be awarded or denied at the discretion of the Court. If the supporting spouse had an affair during the marriage, the dependent spouse shall be granted alimony. N.C. Gen. Stat. §50-16.3A(a).

Condoning illicit sexual behavior can eliminate it as the grounds for awarding or not awarding alimony. N.C. Gen. Stat. §50-16.3A(a).

Alimony is not punitive. Marital misconduct is not required for alimony to be awarded as stated above. Financial need and maintaining the standard of living are the basis of alimony awards.

If you would like to pursue a claim for spousal support, alimony or divorce or to know what your legal options are, our attorneys are happy to assist you with these and other matters related to family law and divorce. Please contact us today.

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Stott, Hollowell, Windham & Stancil, PLLC

Stott, Hollowell, Windham & Stancil, PLLC offers legal knowledge and experience spanning over 40 years to provide quality legal services to the greater Gaston and Charlotte regions.

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