In some North Carolina divorces, a judge may require the higher-earning spouse to pay alimony to the lower-earning spouse. Keep in mind that alimony isn't awarded in every divorce and alimony awards aren't limited to women. In some cases, a wife may be required to pay her ex-husband alimony.
This article provides an overview of alimony awards in North Carolina and the impact of a spouse's cohabitation or remarriage on alimony awards in the state. If after reading this article you have questions, contact a local family law attorney for advice.
A spouse can motion the court to receive alimony (also called "spousal support"). The goal of an alimony award is to approximately maintain the standard of living the couple enjoyed during their marriage. The spouse seeking alimony must show financial need, the inability to meet those needs, and the other spouse must have the ability to pay alimony.
The court will consider a number of factors when making an alimony award in North Carolina, including the following:
In North Carolina, a judge can consider either spouse's marital fault when determining an alimony award. Specifically, if a spouse engaged in an affair during the couple's marriage, that spouse is prohibited from seeking alimony. See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-16.3A (2020).
If a judge determines that alimony is appropriate in your case, he or she can award alimony as a lump sum award, property transfer, or periodic alimony payments. A lump sum alimony award is paid out as a one-time, permanent payment. A property transfer constituting alimony is usually completed following a divorce. Lump sum alimony payments and property transfers are permanent alimony awards and can't be modified or undone by a spouse's remarriage or cohabitation. Periodic alimony awards are the most common and are generally paid out monthly for a set period of time.
Either spouse may file a request to modify alimony if there's been a substantial change in either spouse's circumstances. Once the motion to modify is filed, the court will schedule a hearing requiring both spouses to appear. The spouse asking for a change or termination of alimony will need to prove that one or both spouses' financial circumstances have changed significantly warranting a change in alimony. The spouse requesting the change to an alimony award has the burden of proof. If you're seeking an alimony modification, you should gather any evidence of changes to your income or your ex's income, as well as any adjustments to your basic needs and expenses. See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-16.9 (2020). In most cases, a judge won't terminate an alimony award based on changed circumstances. Most alimony awards will end if either spouse dies, or the receiving spouse cohabitates or remarries.
You may be able to avoid going to court if you and your ex-spouse can agree to modify alimony yourselves. If you and your ex-spouse come to an agreement, put the agreement in writing, sign it before a notary, and submit it to the court for approval.
In North Carolina, a periodic alimony award ends if the dependent spouse remarries. An alimony award will terminate automatically upon the date of the dependent spouse's remarriage. In other words, a paying spouse doesn't have to return to court for an order ending payments if the dependent spouse weds.
If a court ordered that alimony be paid in the form of a property transfer, and the paying spouse hasn't transferred the property before the dependent spouse's remarriage, he or she still must transfer the property to the dependent spouse. Likewise, a lump sum alimony payment can't be undone by a dependent spouse's remarriage.
An alimony award terminates in North Carolina when the dependent spouse cohabits with another person. In North Carolina, "cohabitation" is defined as two adults living together continually, in a relationship similar to married persons. For example, when two individuals share expenses, live in the same residence, and are engaged in a romantic relationship, they are cohabitating under the law. Under North Carolina law, the two adults don't have to be having sexual relations to be cohabiting.
On the other hand, if a dependent spouse is having sexual relations with another person, and they occasionally spend nights together or take trips together, but maintain their own residences, that will not qualify as cohabitation. Cohabitation requires that the dependent spouse be living in a situation similar to a married couple.
If you are paying alimony to your ex-spouse, and you believe he or she is cohabiting with another person, you'll need to file a motion to terminate alimony in your local district court. You should gather evidence of their cohabitation to present to the judge at a hearing. You'll want to gather evidence such as:
You can also prove cohabitation through witnesses who can testify about your ex-spouse's relationship.
If you have additional questions about remarriage and alimony, contact a North Carolina family law attorney for help.