When a marriage ends, the court commonly orders one spouse to provide financial support to the other for a period of time — sometimes even indefinitely. This mandatory payment to a former spouse is called “spousal support,” although the average person will probably recognize it by the more familiar term “alimony.”
In North Carolina, two different types of spousal support exist:
- Post-separation support is designed to provide for a dependent spouse throughout the divorce process. It only lasts until a judge finalizes the divorce.
- Alimony is support that the court orders for a period of time after the divorce is finalized — usually, although not always, longer than the period of post-separation support. While most people assume alimony is an ongoing obligation, it can also be a one-time “lump sum” payment in some circumstances.
Like many other states, North Carolina has its own distinct set of statutes regarding alimony, and a court in North Carolina may consider a long list of different factors when deciding the amount of alimony and how long it should last.
How the Court Determines Alimony
The judge in your case will look at a wide range of information concerning the marriage and the two spouses when deciding the amount of alimony and how long it should last. Some factors that influence the judge’s decision can include:
- How long the marriage lasted
- Each spouse’s income and earnings capacity
- Each spouse’s age and their current physical, mental, and emotional state
- Whether there has been “marital misconduct” such as abuse or infidelity
- The standard of living for both spouses during the marriage
- The property each spouse brought to the marriage
- Either spouse’s contributions as a homemaker
- Contributions that either spouse made to the other’s education, training, or professional advancement
- The education level of each spouse and their ability to obtain further education or training that they may need to support themselves
(There are just a few of the things that the court may consider; all of the possible factors that could affect a judge’s decision regarding alimony are too numerous to list here.)
As you can see, the range of factors that can influence an alimony decision is quite expansive and includes a great deal of subjective judgment. Therefore, anyone involved in a divorce should hire an experienced family law attorney who can make sure their client receives fair consideration based on all of the relevant facts.
How Long Does Alimony Last?
The court may order alimony to end on a certain date, but in some circumstances the obligation to pay alimony can continue indefinitely. As long as alimony payments are ongoing, either spouse can make a motion at any time to increase or decrease alimony based on a change in circumstances.
The right of a dependent spouse to pursue and receive alimony ends if they marry again or enter into a “marriage-like relationship” — usually defined as two people living together “continually and habitually” in a relationship similar to married people — with another person. The right to alimony also ends in the event of either spouse’s death.
Marital Misconduct and Alimony
One factor that can play an extremely important role in alimony proceedings is “marital misconduct,” a term which is carefully defined by law. The presence of marital misconduct can provide powerful evidence in favor of supporting or denying alimony, depending on which spouse committed the act in question.
North Carolina statutes define “marital misconduct” as any of the following acts, committed by either spouse during the marriage and before or on the date of separation:
- Illicit sexual behavior, including infidelity
- Committing a criminal act that results in involuntary separation of the spouses
- Abandonment of the other spouse
- Wrongfully evicting the other spouse from the home
- Cruel treatment endangering the life of the other spouse
- Reckless spending of the income of either party
- Hiding, wasting, or destroying assets
- Excessive use of alcohol or drugs
- Willful failure to provide necessary subsistence
- “Indignities rendering the condition of the other spouse intolerable”
An experienced family law attorney will be familiar with the relevant statutes and can evaluate your situation to find out whether marital misconduct might play a role in your alimony proceedings.
Myers Law Firm Can Help with Alimony
At Myers Law Firm, we understand that the end of a marriage is never an easy time for either spouse, so we approach every case with compassion and understanding to search for solutions. While we excel at respectful negotiation and will work to find common ground with the other side, we are ready to stand up in court and fight for your rights with an aggressive approach if that’s what it takes.
The attorneys at Myers Law Firm have experience handling all of the major family law issues that surround the end of a marriage, including alimony, child custody, child support, property division, and divorce. We’re here if you need help. To get in touch with us, call our offices at 888-376-2889 or fill out our online contact form.
Definitions, Article 1, Chapter 50, N.C. General Statutes. § 50-16.1A. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.ncleg.net/EnactedLegislation/Statutes/PDF/BySection/Chapter_50/GS_50-16.1A.pdf