Maintaining financial stability is a crucial component of a marriage breakup. Both parties — and the court — want everyone to manage reasonable lifestyles. North Carolina courts review the needs of each spouse and the children to ensure everyone has the financial support they need.
In North Carolina, the state acknowledges two types of spousal support. These are alimony and post-separation support.
Alimony is a determination that considers relevant factors for one spouse’s financial obligation to the other spouse. It’s a long-term administration, whereas post-separation concerns itself with temporary, immediate needs. Alimony can also be compensation for monetary sacrifice or marital misconduct. That’s not to say alimony is retribution but meant to hold guilty parties responsible for their contribution to the marriage’s dissolution.
For these decrees, the following is required for alimony:
- The parties are legally married.
- The spouse asking for alimony is the dependent party.
- The party from whom support is being sought is the supporting spouse.
- After considering relevant factors, alimony orders are equitable.
Dependent Spouse vs. Supporting Spouse
Divorce court in North Carolina defines the dependent spouse as the husband or wife who financially depends on their spouse for primarily managing their lifestyle.
Both parties having stable employment does not negate either party deserving alimony. In that case, the dependent spouse would be the party who made less.
The supporting spouse is the party who substantially carried most of the family’s financial maintenance and support.
When the separation occurs, the court will issue a post-separation support decree before divorce and alimony settlements. The order requires the supporting party to make regular payments to the dependent spouse.
For post-separation support, the court will review the following criteria:
- The spouses are legally married.
- The spouse looking for support is the dependent spouse.
- Said dependent spouse is unable to meet financial needs.
- The other spouse is the supporting spouse.
- The supporting spouse has the means to pay support.
The amount of support is at the court’s discretion, whereas alimony looks at several factors. The court can also potentially consider reasons for the breakup — such as accusations of infidelity — in deciding on post-separation support.
Many might automatically assume marital misconduct involves extreme behavior such as domestic violence or adultery. While true, that is far from the case. When determining support payments, the court reviews three primary concerns, which can include abuse and adultery:
1. Mistreatment of Spouse
We define mistreatment as one spouse abusing the other during the marriage. Poor treatment does cover violence and other harmful circumstances. But it can also encompass emotional abuse or creating difficult or intolerable living conditions.
2. Unacceptable Behavior
Besides adultery and abuse, other harmful acts impact the court’s view of financial dissolution. Drug and alcohol abuse has a devastating impact on a marriage. A spouse committing criminal and illegal acts is behavior that can hurt a union and lead to divorce, and thereby affect financial support.
3. Financial Impropriety
If a spouse is using the marital income wastefully, the court will hold that party responsible for creating intolerable and emotional living conditions. Financial impropriety includes reckless and needless spending, hiding funds, wasting and destroying money, or any action that creates a financial burden.
When it comes to adultery, the court will consider whether a spouse deserves alimony. If the supporting spouse is the culprit, the other spouse is more likely to get alimony. If the dependent is proven to be the adulterer, that party is less likely to get alimony, even if they got post-separation support.
A “no-fault divorce state” is called such because a marriage can be dissolved without anyone claiming either party did anything that contributed to the separation. North Carolina is a no-fault state.
The law allows the couple to choose to make the decision for a no-fault divorce.
Factors That Alimony and Post-Separation Support Have in Common
Before deciding on a monetary award, the court looks at the circumstances of the marriage. A variety of factors affect approval and amounts, including the following:
- Length of the marriage
- Ages and health and mental conditions of both parties
- Earning capacity and relative earnings of the spouses
- Contributions each spouse made to the other’s education and training
- Financial positions of each spouse, including owed debts
- Reasonably required support for any spouse’s expenses
- Responsibilities for supporting a former spouse or children
All these and more are part of the court decision award. Denial of alimony is feasible if there’s marital misconduct or adultery. But, misconduct does not necessarily bar any post-separation support.
Determining Factors for Post-Separation Support and Alimony
While the court is not necessarily bound to any structured set of circumstances when deciding alimony awards, there are factors that it uses to assess the necessity for awards. Here are general items the court reviews:
- Each party’s financial situation
- Each party’s current standard of living
- Earning potential for both spouses
- The income of each spouse
- Accumulated individual or couple debt
- Reasonable expenses for both parties
- Current support of others (children or previous spouse)
- Length of marriage
- The overall health of both parties
On the other hand, post-separation support is roughly formulated via a few criteria. Both parties’ gross and net incomes are on the table, alongside payments for child support and prior support payments. The award ensures the negative impact of separation is minimized until the divorce and settlements get finalized.
Alimony and post-separation support can make an already volatile situation more stressful. It’s best to have an experienced attorney on your side, ready to protect your best interests. Contact our family law attorneys in North Carolina at Remington & Dixon, LLC to schedule a consultation.
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Jennifer is a founding partner at Remington & Dixon, PLLC. Jennifer concentrates her practice in the areas of family law, wills & estates, unemployment benefits appeals, and traffic. At Elon University School of Law, Jennifer was the vice president of the Public Interest Law Society and a member of the Family Law Society. During law school, Jennifer interned at the Elon University School of Law Field Placement Clinic with Legal Aid of North Carolina where she represented clients in domestic violence court proceedings.