North Carolina Divorce FAQ’s – Alimony

This is about alimony after divorce in North Carolina, including when courts order alimony, how the amount of alimony is set in North Carolina, and how and when North Carolina courts stop alimony once it’s awarded.

This information is from Lee Rosen, the DivorceInfo Network Lawyer for North Carolina. Click here to visit his web site.

When does alimony get paid?

“Alimony” means payments for the support and maintenance of a spouse, either by lump sum or on a continuing basis. Alimony is paid by the “supporting spouse” to the “dependent spouse”. The general rule is that a spouse is dependent when he or she makes less money than the other spouse. Technically, a dependent spouse is 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.

Generally, attorneys’ fees are available to a dependent spouse when that spouse is eligible to receive alimony. The amount of alimony varies widely. Alimony is to be paid in such amount as the circumstances render necessary, having due regard to the factors set out above. When the dependent spouse has committed acts of illicit sexual behavior, the supporting spouse is not required to pay any alimony at all. If however, the supporting spouse has also committed acts of illicit sexual behavior then the court is permitted to award alimony. If only the supporting spouse has committed such acts then the court must award alimony. You and your spouse may decide that one of you is entitled to receive alimony payments and may do so without going to court. If you are unable to agree on the matter, then you can submit the issue to the court for a decision. It is important to remember that regardless of whether alimony is arranged by agreement or ordered by a court, it is taxable to the recipient spouse and tax deductible to the payor spouse.

How does the court decide how much?

Alimony is paid by a supporting spouse to a dependent spouse when the court deems it necessary after considering the fifteen statutory factors set out below.

The factors that are considered by the court are as follows:

1. The marital misconduct of either of the spouses, 2. The relative earnings and earning capacity of the spouses, 3. The ages and the physical, mental, and emotional conditions of the spouses, 4. The amount and sources of earned and unearned income of both spouses, including, but not limited to, earnings, dividends, and benefits such as medical, retirement, insurance, social security, or others, 5. The duration of the marriage, 6. The contribution by one spouse to the education, training, or increased earning power of the other spouse, 7. The extent to which the earning power, expenses, or financial obligations of a spouse will be affected by reason of serving as the custodian of a minor child, 8. The standard of living of the spouses established during the marriage, 9. The relative education of the spouses and the time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the spouse seeking alimony to find employment to meet his or her reasonable economic needs, 10. The relative assets and liabilities of the spouses and the relative debt service requirements of the spouses, including legal obligations of support, 11. The property brought to the marriage by either spouse, 12. The contribution of a spouse as homemaker, 13. The relative needs of the spouses, 14. The federal, state, and local tax ramifications of the alimony award, and 15. Any other factor relating to the economic circumstances of the parties that the court finds to be just and proper.

Marital Misconduct of the parties is defined as:

a. Illicit sexual behavior. For the purpose of this section, illicit sexual behavior means acts of sexual or deviate sexual intercourse, deviate sexual acts, or sexual acts defined in G.S. 14-27.1(4), voluntarily engaged in by a spouse with someone other than the other spouse, b. Involuntary separation of the spouses in consequence of a criminal act committed prior to the proceeding in which alimony is sought, c. Abandonment of the other spouse, d. Malicious turning out-of-doors of the other spouse, e. Cruel or barbarous treatment endangering the life of the other spouse, f. Indignities rendering the condition of the other spouse intolerable and life burdensome, g. Reckless spending of the income of either party, or the destruction, waste, diversion, or concealment of assets, h. Excessive use of alcohol or drugs so as to render the condition of the other spouse intolerable and life burdensome, and i. Willful failure to provide necessary subsistence according to one”s means and condition so as to render the condition of the other spouse intolerable and life burdensome.

What does it take to change alimony?

Court ordered alimony may be modified, up or down, upon a showing of a substantial change in circumstances. Most commonly alimony is changed as a result of retirement or changes in employment situation. If the parties are unable to agree as to a modification of the alimony amount a court hearing is necessary and it usually takes several months to present the matter to the court. If the alimony was the result of an agreement, documented in a separation agreement, the alimony amount can be changed either (1) pursuant to the terms of the agreement, i.e. the agreement calls for a change upon the occurrence of an income change, or (2) by renegotiation of the agreement between the parties. The court lacks the authority to modify the terms of a separation agreement.

When does alimony stop?

Court ordered alimony ends upon death, remarriage, cohabitation or a term of years set by the judge. The court has broad discretion in setting the term of alimony. Alimony paid pursuant to an agreement is paid for as long as the agreement provides.

Other issues in North Carolina: