When a married couple is contemplating getting a divorce, each spouse must consider the possibility of alimony, also known as spousal support. A spouse who earns substantially higher wages than their partner for several years is faced with the reality of being ordered by the court to pay alimony to a dependent spouse. The purpose of these payments is to assist a spouse in maintaining the standard of living they were accustomed to during a marriage until they become completely self-sufficient.
Eligibility for Alimony
As with most alimony cases, a person who files a claim to receive alimony is considered the dependent spouse, while the supporting spouse is typically the defendant. North Carolina law explicitly defines what constitutes an individual as a dependent spouse in the state.
Essentially, a dependent spouse is a husband or wife who obtains a substantial need for maintenance and support from the other spouse. Claimants who qualify for spousal support often times did not earn any wages or earning low wages in comparison to their spouse throughout the duration of the marriage.
A determination of the extent of dependency is based on the court's interpretation of the facts and the couple's marital circumstances. Oftentimes, the court will assess specific economic factors in order to dictate if a spouse is truly dependent. The following elements will most likely be considered when a court wishes to evaluate the dependency of a claimant:
- A claimant's accustomed standard of living years prior to the divorce
- Expenses necessary to reasonably support a claimant
- Each spouse's potential income-earning abilities
- The financial needs of a claimant
- Current employment income (if employed) and other recurrent earnings from any source
- Individual and marital debt service obligations
- Other respective legal obligations for a defendant to support a claimant
It's important to note that a judge of the district court may find evidence of each party's economic circumstances solely from a submitted affidavit, a pleading or any other proof that is presented outside of a courtroom. Therefore, a judge may decide that an actual trial is not necessary nor appropriate to order payments for alimony. If the judge finds that he or she has collected enough evidence to make a knowledgeable and fair decision in the absence of a trial, the court is not obligated to hear oral testimony from either party before a determination.
How Alimony is Determined in North Carolina
Spousal support is distributed in payments made by the supporting spouse to a dependent spouse. How much a supporting spouse is required to pay and for how long is completely under the discretion of the courts. In order for the court to determine whether these payments are legally necessary, North Carolina statutes (NCGS 50-16.3A) require courts to consider 16 factors that are meant to influence its decision.
1. Marital Misconduct
Due to legislation that went into effect on October 1, 1995, the state of North Carolina does not require that a supporting spouse is proven to be responsible for marital misconduct for an alimony court order. However, under the new law, proving that a spouse did not conduct themselves appropriately within a marriage still remains a factor that could influence the court's decision. When the words “marital misconduct” come to mind, most people assume that
According to North Carolina statutes, marital misconduct is constituted if either spouse exhibits the following behaviors:
- Illicit sexual behavior (cheating on a spouse)
- Endangering the life of a spouse; cruel or barbarous treatment
- The excessive consumption of alcohol or drugs
- Overspending the income of either party or the destruction, exhaustion, diversion or concealment of shared assets
- Involuntary separation of spouses due to a criminal act committed before an alimony proceeding
2. Contributions to the earning power of the other spouse
Another factor that will be considered in regard to a determination is the contributions made by one spouse to another spouse. This means that all the money and time dedicated to helping a spouse go to the college, train for a job, or find a new career will be accounted for in a judicial decision.
3. The ages and mental, physical, and emotional conditions of spouses
In the event that a claimant's life has drastically affected by old age or has endured a physical or psychological illness, orders to pay alimony may be issued by the court. For example, let's say a party was involved in a car accident a few years and is required to attend physical therapy sessions for years after the divorce. However, they would not be able to afford these classes with solely their income. In this case, the supporting spouse may be required to subsidize the burden of these medical expenses by paying the remainder of them in spousal support, just as they were doing before the divorce.
The remaining factors that will be considered for a determination in North Carolina include:
4. The relative earnings and other earning capacities of the parties
5. Total amount of earned and unearned income of both parties
6. The duration of the marriage
7. The effect that a divorce will have on a parent with full custody of a child under the age of 18
8. The standard of living of parties for the duration of the marriage
9. Assets and liabilities of parties
10. Property brought to the marriage by both parties
11. Contribution of a party as a homemaker
12. Relative needs of each party
13. Individual and marital debt accrued by the parties
14. Previous determination of the distribution of assets
15. Education level of each party
16. Any other factor that relates to the economic circumstances of the parties that the court finds to be just and proper
When do Do Alimony Payments end?
Alimony is only ordered for as long as it is necessary for the dependent spouse to acquire the monetary funds they need to become self-sufficient. But there are other reasons for the termination of spousal support payments. In North Carolina, alimony will no longer be necessitated if parties decide not to get a divorce, the dependent spouse remarries, the dependent spouse cohabitates with a romantic partner, or the dependent or supporting spouse dies.
Experienced Family Law Attorneys
Since an alimony determination is decided completely by the discretion of the courts, it's important you understand the options you have. We, at Caulder & Valentine, understand that going through a divorce is difficult in and of itself. The issue of alimony is another stressful aspect of divorce that you'll have to work through. Our attorneys are dedicated to helping you get through the process of settling on an amount for spousal support. Contact us today for a consultation.