Alimony is support paid by one spouse to the other for a specified amount of time as a result of separation or divorce. Alimony can be paid periodically or in a lump sum and can result from an absolute divorce, a divorce from bed and board, or in an action for alimony without divorce. See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-16.3A
Our Courts grant alimony to the dependent spouse once the court establishes that one spouse is a dependent spouse, that the other spouse is a supporting spouse, and that an award of alimony is fair to the parties involved (meaning the supporting spouse can afford to make the payment).
A “dependent spouse” is a spouse (either husband or wife) who is actually substantially dependent on the other spouse for support or is in need of maintenance and support from the other spouse. This spouse must be actually dependent on the other in order to maintain the standard of living that they became accustomed to during the time before the two were separated.
A “supporting spouse” is the spouse upon whom the other spouse (dependent spouse) is substantially dependent for support. This is usually the spouse who made more money and supported the family during the marriage.
What will the court look at to determine alimony?
The alimony statute contains a long list of factors that the court will consider in determining the amount and duration of alimony. A few of those factors are:
- If there was any marital misconduct by either spouse; (click here for more information on marital misconduct and how it can impact alimony)
- The earnings/salary of both spouses, including the potential earnings;
- Duration of the marriage;
- The standard of living of the spouses during the marriage;
- Assets and liabilities of the spouses (including debt);
- Property owned by the spouses;
- Taxes and tax ramifications of the alimony award on the parties (alimony is tax deductible to the paying spouse and is taxable as earned income to the receiving spouse).
Although the statute does list factors that are to be considered, the goal of awarding alimony is fairness to both of the parties. The court will not want to award alimony to a spouse that is not in need of the support. That being said, the court can look at additional factors not mentioned in the statute that can help determine the economic need of the parties.
Alimony can be ordered to expire after a set amount of time or can be granted for the remaining lifetime of the dependent spouse (although “lifetime alimony” is extremely rare).
Once alimony is determined, can it change?
Per our statutes, alimony may be terminated (end earlier than otherwise ordered) if one of the following occurs:
- The dependent spouse remarries;
- The death of either spouse;
- The dependent spouse cohabitates with someone.
Alimony can be modified if one of the parties can show that there has been a “substantial change in circumstances” that impacts the individual’s ability or need to pay the alimony. For example, if the supporting spouse suddenly loses their job and is no longer able to make the alimony payments, the court may consider modifying the order. Alternatively, if the dependent spouse suddenly has an increase in income, the supporting spouse can request a modification of the alimony amount.
Do I need to go to court for alimony?
No, court is not always necessary. If you and your spouse can decide together that one of you is entitled to receive alimony, there may not be a need to take the issue to court. Most of the time, however, parties are unable to negotiate and agree on their own and need the judge to decide and order the payments.
It is important to remember that if you are a dependent spouse and have committed acts of illicit sexual behavior you are not entitled to receive alimony.