Will You Have to Pay Alimony to Your Ex-Spouse?

Will I Have To Pay Alimony To My Ex-Spouse? / Brook Stuntebeck / Triangle Smart Divorce

It is easy to get overwhelmed at the sheer amount of factors you have to consider once you decide that you and your ex-spouse should separate. One of the first things that most people think about when they decide to file for divorce is the age-old question: “Will I have to pay Alimony?”.  This usually leads to the next question of what exactly is alimony? This can be an all-encompassing question or lead you to spiral into a million others.

First, what is Alimony?

In North Carolina, Courts have broad discretion to award alimony, which is financial support from one spouse to the other.  There is no magic formula for determining alimony, and many considerations are made by the Court when deciding the final award. However, the law requires the judge to list the reasons for a denial or award of alimony and reasons for the amount and duration. But alimony is awarded only if the receiving spouse (known as the dependent spouse) proves a need for financial help and proves that the other spouse (the supporting spouse) has the ability to pay. Once the court decides if alimony should be awarded along with the amount and duration of the award, there are different payment methods available to the spouses. A Court may order supporting spouses to pay in one lump sum or monthly or quarterly (periodic) payments.

The Court may also award post-separation support to spouses who need time to acquire job skills or find employment that pays well enough to financially support themselves on their own. Post-separation support payments usually cover living expenses and other necessary expenses for the recipient during the separation period and prior to the final alimony award. Courts can also require one spouse to permanently support the other spouse, if the receiving spouse is unable to reach financial independence, for reasons such as disability preventing one from working or advanced age.

Is there a dependent spouse and supporting spouse and good behavior?

“Dependent spouse” as defined by statute in North Carolina, means a spouse, whether husband or wife, who is actually substantially dependent upon the other spouse for his or her maintenance and support or is substantially in need of maintenance and support from the other spouse. But dependency, alone, does not justify alimony. There must be a “Supporting Spouse” who is a spouse with the financial ability to pay. As the saying goes, you can’t get blood from a turnip.

Further, before a judge will determine if alimony is appropriate, if either spouse committed “illicit sexual behavior” during the marriage and before the couple’s separation date, such behavior could have an enormous impact on the award of alimony. If a dependent spouse has committed illicit sexual behavior, no alimony will be awarded, even if there is a financial need. And if the supporting spouse committed such behavior, the Court will award alimony, even if a nominal amount. But if both spouses were involved in illicit sexual behavior, the Court will determine whether alimony is appropriate and, if so, how much the supporting spouse will pay. In other words, the acts cancel one another out and the Court is left to consider if alimony is equitable.

What are the factors the Court will consider?

If there are no acts of illicit sexual behavior OR if both spouses have committed those acts, the Court will evaluate the following factors to determine the amount, duration, and payment method for alimony:

  • marital misconduct, including abandonment, cruel treatment, or excessive use of alcohol or drugs
  • earning capacities for each spouse
  • ages and the physical, mental, and emotional health of both spouses
  • the amount and sources of earned and unearned income of both spouses
  • the length of the marriage
  • whether one spouse contributed to the other’s education, training, or increased earning power
  • whether either spouse has custody of children, and, if so if caring for the child reduces that spouse’s earning ability
  • the marital standard of living
  • each spouse’s education and the time necessary for the supported spouse to acquire job training or employment to become self-supporting
  • both spouse’s assets and liabilities
  • the property each spouse brought to the marriage
  • contributions by either spouse as a homemaker
  • the needs of both spouses
  • the tax ramifications of alimony, and
  • any other factor the court considers relevant.

Each family is different, and not all factors are applicable in each situation. But, with the information relevant to your situation, the Court considers the above before determining whether alimony should be awarded and if so, how much and for how long it should be paid. Additionally, all alimony ends if the recipient remarries or cohabitates with a third party in a “marriage-like” relationship or if either spouse dies.

Will you have to pay alimony to your ex-spouse? It’s a tricky question, and the answer is completely dependent upon your facts and circumstances. Are you the supporting spouse with the ability to pay? Is your ex-spouse a dependent spouse who is unable to support themselves independently without your assistance? Is there marital misconduct by either of you? Do any factors considered by the Court directly relate to your family and financial situation?