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.
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.
The court must look at a number of factors in making an alimony award:
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.
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.
Updated by: Lisa Guerin, J.D.