You may notice people visibly cringe when the word alimony comes up in casual conversation. While divorce is an emotionally charged event on its own, alimony often adds to the acrimonious nature of a marital split.

Spouses who are ordered to pay resent forking over their hard-earned money to their former spouses. Meanwhile, receiving spouses might be resentful about how much they have sacrificed for their partners, and how dependent they currently are on alimony payments. When it comes to alimony, emotions can really run the gamut.

No matter which side of the fence you fall on, there are a few things you need to know about alimony in North Carolina. For instance, you should know how to tell if you might qualify to receive payments, how alimony is calculated, and even how long it could last. In this basic guide, you will gain all of the insight you will need to feel well-informed when you meet with your attorney.

Understanding the Basics of Alimony

Alimony payments are funds that one spouse gives another after the end of the marriage. Some people refer to them as spousal-support payments, particularly if they are being made prior to the finalization of the divorce.

The court may order the alimony to be paid in one lump sum, or via several monthly payments. Alimony can be ordered from the period following separation until well after the divorce is finalized. All payments must be ordered by a judge following a court hearing, where he or she can consider the different factors that weigh into alimony payments.

Two major types of alimony are offered to a spouse during the breakdown of a marriage:

  • Rehabilitative alimony is used to help one spouse get back on his or her feet after the split. It can supplement this spouse’s income or help provide financial stability while he or she searches for a job, goes back to school, or receives more training. This money is meant to help make up for the things that he or she might have sacrificed over the course of the marriage, including his or her own career.
  • Permanent alimony is based on the age and training of one spouse, as well as other factors. When deciding whether or not to order permanent alimony, judges must take the entire relationship into consideration.

What Does the Judge Consider before Ordering Alimony Payments?

Judges have a list of several common factors that they review before deciding whether or not alimony is justified. All divorces do not require alimony, so the court must be able to prove that one spouse needs the financial support. Every marriage will be slightly different, but these are a few of the factors that every judge considers:

The Income, Potential Income, Education, and Employability of Each Spouse

Sometimes, one spouse will request alimony, even though he or she makes a steady,substantial income. Someone might request these payments to spite his or her spouse, so it is important that the judge weighs each income carefully.

For spouses who have stayed at home to raise children or given up their career for their partner, judges must look at their potential incomes, including the types of jobs that would be available to them. A key role in alimony cases involves determining employability, based on spouses’ current education and training.

If you suspect that your spouse might be making less money than he or she could be, you can have your spouse’s employability assessed. You might be able to prove that he or she has adequate training to obtain a higher-paying position, which could seriously reduce your alimony payments or limit the amount of time you are required to pay.

Age, Physical, Mental, and Emotional Capacity of Both Spouses

The physical characteristics of both spouses are important when determining alimony. Judges will consider whether either spouse has a disability or chronic medical condition, which affects his or her ability to work.

In the case of a grey divorce, one spouse may be too advanced in years to go back to school or learn a new trade. Therefore, alimony is likely going to be ordered to help support an older spouse who has stayed at home throughout a long marriage.

Length of Time That the Marriage Lasted

Short marriages will very rarely have long alimony battles. The general rule of thumb is that the marriage must last ten years or more. If you want to avoid alimony payments, you might want to take note of this milestone, and end the marriage early. If you know that your marriage is headed for disaster with no hope of reconciliation, it might be best to end the union before alimony becomes a factor.

Marital Misconduct

The reason behind your divorce could play an important role in determining alimony payments. Proving marital misconduct could erase the possibility of having to pay alimony to your soon-to-be ex. Marital misconduct can include adultery, abuse, or substance abuse.

You will need to provide proof of these circumstances, including photos, police reports, or doctor’s records. Be aware that it will require a lot more than just a simple explanation about the types of bad behavior that went on behind closed doors. A judge might require a great deal of information from you, in order to prove the extent of the misconduct. Many people are not prepared for the emotional and psychological toll that the burden of proof can take on them. Therefore, consider enlisting the help of a trained therapist or counselor, who can help you sort through any unresolved feelings before your hearing.

While acquiring evidence might be painful and difficult, it could be one of your best chances at avoiding alimony payments.

Child Custody Arrangements

Deciding who will have custody of the children can affect whether or not there is money left over for alimony payments. While splitting the bills for the children, you will need to decide who will have custody when, who will be responsible for child support, and what your financial situation will look like while splitting the bills.

Individual Assets or Liabilities

In order to determine if alimony is truly necessary, the judge will need to examine what each spouse will retain in individual assets and liabilities. Did your spouse bring any property of his or her own into the marriage? Some spouses may have extensive individual assets that they could sell, in order to make themselves more financially comfortable, without the need for alimony payments.

If you believe that your spouse is hiding assets, you could hire a forensic accountant to help you search for them. Look for trust funds, expensive cars or artwork, real estate, or other items of value that you did not know about before. A trained eye can help you spot where some of these assets might be, if you are not sure where to look. This tactic is a great way to prove that your spouse does not truly need alimony payments.

Homemaker Status

Individuals who stay at home to take care of the children often sacrifice their careers, so their spouses can keep working. They trade years of experience, promotions, and even their educations to help raise a family.
When a spouse has spent a number of years as a homemaker and now needs to return to the workforce, he or she might need time and training to become employable again. Rehabilitative alimony can help during this time.

Tax Implications

Judges are also very conscious about the tax implications associated with divorce. The payments will be tax-deductible for the payers, possibly knocking them down into a lower tax bracket. However, the receiving spouses will need to label these payments as taxable income. This tactic could cost them significantly more at the end of the year, if it moves them into a higher tax bracket.

How is Alimony Calculated in North Carolina?

In this state, there is no set formula for how alimony will be calculated. The final number depends on the factors listed above. Each judge will make his or her own determination about who will qualify for alimony, and what that payment should ultimately be. One spouse must be able to demonstrate an actual need for the payment, and the other must have the ability to pay it. If there is no money left over after the bills are paid, alimony cannot be awarded to the other spouse.

Some people try to use this rule to their advantage, so they take lower-paying positions to avoid paying alimony. While this strategy could be successful, you need to carefully consider whether or not you can afford this lifestyle change. To identify whether or not this tactic could work for you, consult with a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst.

A judge is more likely to consider alimony for longer marriages, as opposed to shorter unions in which neither spouse really sacrificed much for the other. When a couple has been together for many years, one spouse often leaves a lot behind to help improve the position and status of his or her partner. This change can be ideal during the marriage, but it puts a massive roadblock in the way when it comes time for that spouse to find a new job.

Marital misconduct is another factor that will lead most judges to consider awarding alimony. The receiving spouse could be guaranteed alimony if the paying spouse was guilty of having an affair during the marriage. Other examples of marital misconduct can include physical abuse, abandonment, and drug or alcohol abuse.

Does Alimony Ever End?

The finiteness mostly depends on court-ordered alimony payments. Rehabilitative alimony usually only lasts for a set period of time: until your spouse can find a new career, and establish a single life. However, permanent alimony will last for the rest of your spouse’s life, unless your spouse moves in with a new romantic partner, remarries, or gets back together with his or her former spouse.

If you are ordered to pay permanent alimony, make sure that you pay close attention to your spouse’s new relationships. By monitoring his or her status and knowing when he or she begins to cohabitate, you could forego alimony payments. Therefore, you might need to keep tabs on his or her social media, or keep in touch with mutual friends. Make sure that this stipulation is written into the alimony agreement.

Knowing What to Expect in North Carolina

Alimony can be a challenging subject to broach amidst all of the overwhelming emotions surrounding divorce. However, these payments could be essential to a spouse who needs a little bit of financial support. Even a temporary respite while searching for new jobs can be a huge help to those who are struggling. However, paying spouses might be looking for ways to avoid making these payments if they are not sure that their partners truly need the money.

Either way, you need to know how alimony in North Carolina is handled before you decide how to proceed. Armed with this knowledge about all of the ins and outs of alimony in this state, you can enter your next consultation with your divorce attorney in confidence.