Like most states, North Carolina allows a court to award alimony (also called spousal support) when a couple divorces. The court must consider a list of factors in deciding whether an alimony award is appropriate, how much to award, and for how long. This article answers some common questions about alimony in North Carolina. For all of our articles on North Carolina divorce law, see our North Carolina Divorce and Family Law page.
What is alimony?
Alimony (also called spousal support) means payments one spouse makes to support the other. These payments can be made in a lump sum or on an ongoing basis.
In North Carolina, the court can award two types of alimony. Post-separation support lasts only as long as the divorce action. The court will look at each spouse's income, earning ability, and need, as well as the standard of living the couple had when together, to determine whether one spouse should pay the other post-separation support.
Once the divorce is finalized, the court may award alimony.
What factors does the court consider in deciding on alimony?
The court must look at a number of factors in making an alimony award:
- the marital misconduct of either of the spouses
- the earnings and earning capacity of each spouse
- the age and the physical, mental, and emotional condition of each spouse
- the amount and sources of earned and unearned income of each spouse, including, but not limited to, earnings, dividends, and benefits such as medical, retirement, insurance, social security, or others
- how long the marriage lasted
- any contribution by one spouse to the education, training, or increased earning power of the other
- the extent to which one spouse's earning power, expenses, or financial obligations will be affected by that spouse's custody of the children
- the standard of living the couple established during the marriage
- the education of each spouse 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
- the assets and liabilities of each spouses and the relative debt service requirements of each spouse, including legal obligations of support
- the property each spouse brought to the marriage
- either spouse's contribution to the marriage as a homemaker
- the relative needs of the spouses
- the tax consequences of the alimony award
- whether either party's income was considered in dividing the couple's property, and
- any other factor relating to the economic circumstances of the spouses that the court finds to be just and proper.
If either spouse has engaged in "illicit sexual behavior" during the marriage (defined as voluntary sexual or "deviate" sexual intercourse with someone other than one's spouse), it will affect the alimony award. A dependent spouse who might otherwise be eligible for alimony will receive nothing if that spouse committed illicit sexual behavior. And, a supporting spouse who might otherwise not have to pay alimony will have to do so if that spouse was the one who engaged in the illicit behavior.
How is alimony calculated? Are there alimony guidelines?
Although guidelines are often used to calculate child support, there are no guidelines for awarding alimony in North Carolina. 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. For example, if a couple had a high standard of living in a long-term marriage in which one spouse stayed home to raise the couple's children, that might justify a significant award to the homemaker. On the other hand, if both spouses worked, their marriage lasted only a few years, and they have no children, alimony is much less likely.
You and your spouse may decide on your own that one of you is entitled to receive alimony payments. If you are unable to agree on the matter, then you can submit the issue to the court for a decision. 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.