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Definitions under North Carolina law

If you need spousal support legal advice, you likely need guidance from a family law attorney. Spousal support—also called alimony—is money one spouse pays to the other by agreement or court order for support and maintenance after a separation or divorce.  Post-separation support (PSS) is temporary and is provided to support a spouse for a specified period of time until an alimony order is entered, an alimony claim is denied by the judge, or an out-of-court agreement is reached.  These terms are important to understand as related to alimony and PSS.

  • Dependent spouse—is substantially dependent on the other spouse for support and maintenance.  In large part, the judge determines the extent of this dependency.
  • Supporting spouse—is the one with the means to support a financially dependent spouse.

For a court to award alimony and/or PSS, it must find that there is a supporting spouse and a dependent spouse. The court must also find that the dependent spouse’s financial resources are not enough to meet his/her reasonable monthly needs and personal living expenses, and that the supporting spouse has the ability to pay after meeting his/her own reasonable monthly needs.  If, however, the court finds that there is a dependent spouse and supporting spouse, but that the supporting spouse does not have the ability to pay, alimony is not awarded.  A finding of dependency is not required if an order for payment of alimony is entered by consent of both spouses.

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North Carolina law changed significantly in 1995.  The information on this page relates only to alimony actions filed after October 1, 1995.

Determining North Carolina alimony

Alimony can be paid as a one-time lump sum payout or as monthly payments over time.  Whether to pay, how much to pay, and how long to pay are issues to be resolved between the parties or by the court.  The spousal support legal advice provided by a lawyer will depend on the parties involved and the current separation or divorce status. North Carolina law provides guidance for judges to determine alimony claims.  The factors the court considers include—

  • Relative earnings and earning capacities of each spouse
  • Ages and physical, mental and emotional health of the spouses
  • Length of the marriage
  • Standard of living established during the marriage
  • Relative needs of the spouses
  • Contribution of a spouse as homemaker
  • Each party’s education and the time needed to educate or train a spouse to become self-sufficient
  • Financial impact of either parent being custodian of a minor child
  • Amount and sources of earned and unearned income of both spouses, such as—
    • Earnings
    • Dividends
    • Medical benefits
    • Retirement accounts
    • Insurance
    • Social Security
  • Marital misconduct of either of the spouses through the date of separation
  • How each party has contributed to each other’s education and increased earning power
  • Relative assets and liabilities of the spouses and the relative debt service requirements of the spouses, including legal obligations of support
  • Property brought to the marriage by either spouse
  • Federal, state and local tax ramifications of the alimony award
  • Any other factors relating to the economic circumstances that the court finds to be just and proper

Understanding marital misconduct

Marital misconduct is an important term to understand.  Alimony can be denied for certain types of misconduct, the most frequent of which is infidelity.  For uncondoned acts of infidelity, a supporting spouse may be required by the court to pay alimony.  A dependent spouse who commits an uncondoned act of infidelity may be barred from receiving alimony to which he/she would have been entitled had he/she not committed marital misconduct.  Infidelity also exposes the paramour to potential liability for the torts of alienation of affection and criminal conversation.