Alimony, or spousal support, refers to payments made by one spouse to another following the dissolution of marriage. Originally, courts established and awarded alimony to punish the guilty spouse for his or her actions in breaking up the marriage. At that time, the law only allowed divorce in the event of marital misconduct; if neither party could prove fault, the court refused to grant the divorce. If the supporting spouse was at fault, or in those times, the husband, the husband was obligated to support the wife financially as if the marriage had never ended. If the dependent spouse was at fault, or the wife, the wife was forced to survive on her own without any financial support from her former husband.
With the advent of no-fault divorces, alimony is no longer imposed solely with the intent to punish. While marital misconduct is certainly still relevant to alimony, it is not a necessary finding for a court to award alimony. Presently, the purpose of alimony is to provide temporary or permanent monetary support for the lower-earning spouse during the marriage. As society progresses, dual income families have become more prevalent, and the earning capacity of spouses are often matched. However, for traditional marriages, wherein one spouse significantly out-earns the other or one spouse forgoes the workforce to take care of the home and/or family, the law continues to provide for his or her support after the marriage is dissolved.
In North Carolina, alimony is governed by statute. The essential questions to ask when thinking about alimony are: Should alimony be awarded? How much? For how long?
Should alimony be awarded?
Whether or not alimony will be awarded is determined by a threshold test, wherein three factors must be present:
1. One party is a dependent spouse;
2. One party is a supporting spouse; and
3. Alimony is equitable after considering all relevant factors.
To qualify as a dependent spouse, said spouse must be “substantially dependent” upon the supporting spouse for his or her maintenance and support. More simply stated, the spouse seeking alimony must rely significantly on the other spouse to provide for his or her needs. A dependent spouse’s “needs” include all basic needs and those that are recreational. Understanding that during the course of marriage, a spouse becomes accustomed to a particular type of lifestyle, the law seeks to preserve the dependent spouse’s standard of living.
In the event a spouse commits illicit sexual behavior, the determination as to whether or not alimony will be awarded becomes much more straightforward. In North Carolina, what constitutes illicit sexual behavior is defined by statute and includes: intercourse, cunnilingus, fellatio, and analingus. If the court determines the dependent spouse has committed an illicit sexual act, the supporting spouse is barred from recovery. However, if the court finds the supporting spouse engaged in illicit sexual behavior, the court shall award some amount of alimony.
In the event a spouse commits illicit sexual behavior, and the other spouse forgives or condones it, that behavior is not be considered for the purposes of awarding alimony. Furthermore, if both supporting spouse and dependent spouse commit an illicit sexual act, the court will not consider the conduct of either party.
How much? For how long?
The questions “how much alimony?” and “for how long?” are evaluated using 16 statutory factors, including but not limited to: marital misconduct, the relative ages and earning potentials of the spouses, the duration of the marriage, relative needs of the spouses and how the marital property was divided in equitable distribution. However, most important is the dependent spouse’s need and the supporting spouse’s ability to pay.
The amount of alimony awarded is dependent upon the particular fact situation for each couple. Most relevant, however, is the supporting spouse’s ability to pay, especially if there are other ordered obligations, like child support.
The duration of the alimony award, or how long a spouse will be paying, is determined identical to the amount, using the same 16 statutory factors. However, a general rule of thumb for Huntersville and Lake Norman marriage is that alimony will be awarded for half the length of the marriage.
Every case is different, and Bell & Bell Law Firm encourages you to seek a legal advice as to your particular situation. If you’re looking for an experienced alimony attorney in Huntersville or Lake Norman, contact us online or call 855-322-2355.