When one spouse can’t support themselves after a divorce, that spouse can seek alimony (also called spousal support) from the other spouse to help them stay financially secure as they transition out of the marriage. The idea behind alimony is that both spouses have become accustomed to a certain lifestyle in marriage, and neither spouse should have to immediately face a drastic change in their financial means because of a divorce.
The idea of alimony might seem straightforward, but alimony is often a complicated and contentious issue during a divorce. Many people also come into a divorce case with mistaken or outdated ideas about what alimony is and how it works.
In this blog article, we’ll explain what you need to know about who gets alimony in North Carolina and why.
Why Do Courts Award Alimony?
Often, one spouse chooses to pass up income and career development opportunities for the good of the household. When the couple separates unexpectedly, the spouse who made these sacrifices suddenly has no way to support themselves and maintain the same lifestyle they’re used to.
Meanwhile, the spouse who has more income benefited from the sacrifices the other spouse made throughout the marriage. The higher-earning spouse probably wouldn’t have been able to earn as much money and advance their career if the other spouse hadn’t devoted time to taking care of children or otherwise supporting the household.
So, the idea behind alimony is to let both spouses walk away from the marriage on equal footing while they figure out a path forward. How long alimony lasts usually depends on the length of the marriage.
For example, let’s say a couple was married for 20 years and had three children. One spouse gave up their career at the start of the marriage to provide childcare and daily household duties, and that spouse never resumed their career.
In that case, the spouse who made the sacrifice gave up a huge amount of potential earnings and career advancement for the good of the family. It will take a long time to compensate that spouse for those sacrifices, so alimony payments in a case like this could go on for many years or might even last indefinitely.
Which Spouse Is Eligible for Alimony in North Carolina?
Many people believe that alimony always involves a husband making payments to a wife, but that’s an outdated stereotype. North Carolina’s alimony laws do not favor one gender over another, and alimony is a factor in same-sex divorces. Either spouse can receive alimony if they meet one of two criteria:
- The spouse can’t meet their own reasonable financial needs without the other spouse’s income or assets.
- The spouse can’t maintain the standard of living they enjoyed during the marriage without the other spouse’s income or assets.
The judge in your case will decide which spouse, if either, meets the criteria and is eligible for alimony. In alimony cases, the spouse who receives alimony is called the dependent spouse and the spouse who pays alimony is called the supporting spouse.
North Carolina Has Two Types of Financial Support for Spouses
Spousal support comes in two different forms in North Carolina:
- Post-separation support is a type of temporary support that’s intended to support a spouse while the court evaluates their alimony claim. Post-separation support stops if a judge grants alimony, and it can also end when any of the following things happen:
- The date specified in the post-separation support order passes
- The judges dismisses the alimony claim
- The court enters a judgment of absolute divorce when no alimony claim is pending
- The dependent spouse gets remarried or moves in with a new significant other
- Either spouse dies
- Alimony is more permanent than post-separation support. Usually, the supporting spouse pays alimony regularly for a specified amount of time, but sometimes alimony payments go on indefinitely.
What Factors Affect the Amount of Alimony?
When a judge in North Carolina considers how much alimony a spouse might be eligible for and how long alimony should last, they will examine:
- Earning capabilities of both spouses
- Length of the marriage
- The standard of living or lifestyle during the marriage
- Assets and property acquired during the marriage
- Each spouse’s disabilities or other unique needs
- Each spouse’s age and physical and mental health
- Marital misconduct, such as:
- Abandonment (physical or emotional)
- Committing a crime that causes separation between the spouses
- Reckless spending or the destruction, waste, or hiding of assets
- Dangerous behavior that puts the other spouse in harm’s way
- Abusing alcohol or drugs in a way that makes the other spouse’s life unbearable
- Kicking the other spouse out of the house and not allowing them to return
- Refusing to provide material support for the other spouse (food, shelter, money) even though they need the support and it’s feasible to provide it
- Any other economic factor that would influence a person’s ability to support themselves
Once awarded, alimony payments can take the form of installments or a single lump-sum payment. In many cases, alimony payments have a set end date, but the judge doesn’t have to set an end date if they don’t feel it’s appropriate.
Alimony ends when either spouse dies, when the date set in the alimony order passes, or if the dependent spouse remarries or moves in with a new partner. The court can also change the amount of alimony or stop it completely if either spouse experiences a change in life circumstances.
In general, since each relationship and each divorce is unique, it’s hard to generalize about how alimony looks in practice. If you’re facing a divorce and need to make a claim for alimony or defend yourself against an unreasonable alimony claim, it’s in your best interest to speak with an experienced lawyer who can give you personalized advice.
Have Questions About Alimony in Your North Carolina Divorce? Call Myers Law Firm Today
If you have questions about alimony, reach out to our experienced divorce lawyers at Myers Law Firm. We’ll meet with you to learn about your situation and offer straightforward advice about what to do next.
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.