Alimony is not automatically awarded in divorce proceedings. In North Carolina, the court must first determine that one spouse is “substantially dependent” on the other for his or her “maintenance and support.” The dependent spouse may then be entitled to alimony provided he or she did not have a sexual affair with another person during the marriage and before the spouses legally separated. Similarly, if the court finds the supporting spouse cheated, the court will order alimony paid to the dependent spouse. If both spouses cheated during the marriage, the court may award alimony at its discretion “after consideration of all of the circumstances.” If there’s a dispute as to whether one or both spouses cheated, the issue may be tried before a jury.
In determining the amount, duration and frequency of alimony payments, the court may consider evidence of several relevant factors defined by law:
- Marital misconduct by either spouse, including corroborating evidence of misconduct after the parties separated;
- How much each spouse earns or may potentially earn;
- The age and overall health of each spouse;
- All sources of income, including retirement benefits and investments;
- How long the parties were married;
- How much one spouse contributed to the other’s professional education (i.e., a wife working to pay her husband’s way through medical school);
- The financial impact on the spouse who assumes custody of any minor children;
- The standard of living created during the marriage;
- The difference in the spouses’ education, and how long it may take the spouse requesting alimony to receive sufficient training to find employment;
- The difference in the spouses’ assets and debts, including other legal support obligations;
- What property each spouse brought to the marriage;
- The household contributions of a stay-at-home spouse;
- The relative needs of either spouse; and
- The tax impact of any alimony award.
This is not an exhaustive list, and the court may consider “any other factor relating to the economic circumstances” of the spouses that it deems relevant. The court may also consider any previous analysis it performed of the parties assets when dividing property.
A judge, not a jury, decides the terms of any alimony award. The judge must offer specific written reasons for granting or denying alimony and calculating the amount of any award. Either spouse may appeal a judge’s decision. If alimony is awarded, the dependent spouse may also be entitled to recover attorney’s fees.