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?
Whether or not alimony will be awarded is determined by a threshold test, wherein three factors must be present:
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.
In the months following separation, it is not uncommon for estranged spouses to find themselves in financially stressful situations. This financial distress intensifies if, during the marriage, one spouse was fully or partially dependent on the other spouse for economic support. This unfortunate reality is compounded by the lengthy nature of court proceedings. North Carolina, acknowledging this economic hardship felt by dependent spouses, therefore recognizes a legal claim for post-separation support, or a monthly monetary award to the dependent spouse.
Post-separation support, oft referred to as temporary alimony, will be awarded if the following conditions are met: