Understanding and Calculating Alimony in North Carolina

Find out how courts in North Carolina decide alimony awards when a couple divorces.

Updated by , Attorney

Divorcing spouses often argue about money, especially when it comes to alimony, which is a court-ordered payment from one spouse to the other during or after the divorce. Laws in North Carolina permit judges to award alimony, but only if the dependent spouse proves a need for financial help and that the other spouse has the ability to pay. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-16.1A (2018).)

Types of Alimony in North Carolina

Judges in North Carolina can award post-separation alimony, also referred to as spousal support. Post-separation support is a form of temporary alimony and is available to dependent spouses during the divorce process (or after they've filed for "divorce from bed and board," which is basically court-ordered legal separation in North Carolina). Post-separation payments usually cover the recipient's living and other necessary expenses. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-16.8 (2018).)

Alimony is financial support from one spouse to the other after the judge finalizes the divorce. The court may award temporary alimony to spouses who can become financially independent but need time to acquire job skills or find employment that pays well enough to become self-supporting. Or, the court can ask one spouse to permanently support the other if the recipient is unable to reach financial independence, due to advanced age or a disability that prevents the spouse from working.

Qualifying for Post-Separation Support

Before judges may award post-separation support, they must first evaluate whether the dependent spouse has enough resources to be self-supporting during the divorce process. If not, the next step is to verify that the other spouse can afford to pay. The judge will then consider the following factors when deciding the amount of post-separation support:

  • financial needs of both spouses
  • the marital standard of living
  • present employment income and other recurring earnings from each spouse
  • each spouse's income-earning abilities
  • separate and marital debt obligations of each spouse
  • each spouse's necessary expenses, and
  • whether either spouse is legally obligated to support a third-party.

Before judges award post-separation support, they will also consider whether either spouse committed marital misconduct during the marriage or before the couple's separation date. If so, the misconduct may impact the amount of post-separation support or whether the court will award it at all. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-16.2A (2018).)

Factors the Court Considers When Deciding Alimony

Before deciding whether alimony is appropriate, the judge will first investigate whether either spouse committed "illicit sexual behavior" during the marriage or before the couple's separation date. If the dependent spouse is guilty of these acts, the court will deny alimony, even if there's a financial need. If the supporting spouse participated in illicit sexual acts, the court will automatically award alimony. If both spouses are guilty, the court will determine whether alimony is appropriate and, if so, how much the supporting spouse will pay. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-16.3A (a) (2018).)

If there are no illicit sexual acts, or if both spouses are guilty, the court will evaluate the following factors to determine the amount, duration, and payment method for alimony:

  • marital misconduct, including abandonment, cruel treatment, or excessive use of alcohol or drugs (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-16.1A (3) (2018).)
  • earning capacities for each spouse
  • ages and the physical, mental, and emotional health of both spouses
  • the amount and sources of earned and unearned income of both spouses
  • the length of the marriage
  • whether one spouse contributed to the other's education, training, or increased earning power
  • whether either spouse is a custodial parent, and, if so, if caring for the child reduces that spouse's earning ability
  • the marital standard of living
  • each spouse's education and the time necessary for the supported spouse to acquire job training or employment to become self-supporting
  • both spouse's assets and liabilities
  • the property each spouse brought to the marriage
  • contributions by either spouse as a homemaker
  • the needs of both spouses
  • the tax ramifications of alimony, and
  • any other factor the court considers relevant.

(N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-16.3A (b) (2018).)

After evaluating all these factors, the judge will decide the amount, duration, and payment method (if any) for alimony. There's no formula for alimony, and judges have broad discretion when deciding the final award. However, the law requires the judge to list the reasons for a denial or award of alimony and reasons for the amount and duration. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-16.3A (c) (2018).)

Paying Alimony in North Carolina

Once the judge decides the amount and duration of alimony, there are different payment methods available to the spouses. Supporting spouses can pay in one lump sum, in monthly or quarterly (periodic) payments, an income withholding order, or even through a transfer of property. If you fail to pay alimony, the court may order you to pay fines, fees, or order you to spend time in jail. If you're a recipient of alimony and not receiving payment, you can file a formal request for enforcement with the court. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-16.7 (2018).)

Modifying Alimony Orders

Unless the supporting spouse pays in one lump sum, most alimony orders terminate on the date ordered by the judge or at the time the recipient meets the court's requirements for financial independence. For example, if the court awarded alimony while the supported spouse attended school, once the recipient graduates, alimony will end.

On the other hand, if the court awarded permanent alimony, or if there's a change of circumstances that make the current temporary order unfair or inappropriate before the court's end date, either spouse can ask the court to review or modify it. An example of a change in circumstances may be that your spouse finished a job training program earlier than the court expected and no longer needs alimony.

All alimony ends if the recipient remarries or cohabitates with a third party in a "marriage-like" relationship or if either spouse dies. (N.C. Gen Stat. § 50-16.9 (2018).)

Alimony and Taxes

If you finalized your alimony agreement and/or divorce before January 1, 2019, spouses who pay alimony can deduct alimony payments on their taxes and the recipient must report and pay taxes on the income. However, after January 1, 2019, changes to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminated the tax-deduction benefit of alimony and the reporting requirements for the recipient. If you're wondering how the tax changes impact your support case, you should speak with an experienced family law attorney in your area.