In Brief: Alimony in North Carolina

Introduction

A close-up photo of cash

Alimony is one of the biggest toss-ups in North Carolina divorce law. How much monthly alimony is owed and for how long depends on sixteen factors. However, even though each judge is applying the same sixteen factors, the alimony awarded in similar circumstances varies greatly from one county to the next, or even from one judge to the next.

Qualifying for Alimony

To qualify for alimony, the spouse asking for it needs to depend on their spouse to support the lifestyle they grew accustomed to, or need the money make ends meet. That spouse also has to be innocent of any marital misconduct as defined by statute. The spouse that would be paying alimony has to be able to afford to pay it.

Technically, this is a complex analysis to show differences in lifestyle before and after separation. However, in most cases, the biggest thing a court is looking for is the gap in income between the spouses. If one spouse earns a lot more than the other, that is compelling evidence that the spouse that earns less depended on the bigger breadwinner.

Amount and Duration of Alimony

A judge determines the amount of alimony payments and how long the payments must be made using sixteen factors defined by statute. You can see the entire list of factors here under sub-section (b). However, a good rule of thumb is to look for 20-40% the gap in earning ability between the spouses for half the length of the marriage.

This is the difference in earning capacity, not actual earnings. Many alimony recipients are homemakers that have relied on their spouse for a long time. After separation, they need to get a job quickly. Alimony will subsidize this spouse’s income, but it won’t pay their rent and bills. Also, alimony is determined based on earning ability, not actual earning if a spouse is not making a real effort to get a job.

Marital Misconduct

Marital misconduct is defined by statute here under section 3. Only the specific acts on that list qualify as marital misconduct. Misconduct, such as cheating, hiding assets, or locking a spouse out of the house is just one of the sixteen factors listed by statute. However, it can substantially increase an alimony award.

While you can get a better alimony award, you can’t sue your spouse directly for cheating on you. You can sue the person that had sex with your spouse. These lawsuits are called “alienation of affection” and “criminal conversation.”

In most cases, these lawsuits are not recommended. That’s because the plaintiff has to prove the person that slept with their spouse caused the spouse to lose affection for them. In most cases, the spouse will convincingly testify that the cause and effect is reversed. They lost affection, which is what caused them to cheat.

More Information

This post offers a brief summary. For a more in-depth guide, download our alimony guide. For more information about negotiating divorce terms like alimony, visit our negotiations page. Attorney David King can be reached at David@kinglawnc.com. If you have questions or complications to discuss, please schedule a consultation.