Most people who are contemplating or going through a divorce know, or quickly come to find out, that alimony, or spousal support, is often one of the primary issues to be addressed during the process. Alimony is a legally required payment by one spouse, often called the “supporting spouse” to the other spouse, often called the “dependent spouse” as a result of a divorce.
As with most issues involved in the divorce process, alimony can be determined in two ways:
- The court can make an official alimony determination, or
- An alimony arrangement can be negotiated and agreed upon by the parties.
Often, when people envision the divorce process, there can be a tendency to envision a traditional courtroom setting where a husband and wife, each with their own aggressive attorney, battle it out over every issue. While some divorces can unfortunately still be this way today, for the most part, this antagonistic style of litigation is becoming a thing of the past. Increasingly, couples are turning to alternative methods of dispute resolution like mediation or collaborative law to work through their issues and find solutions that work best for everyone.
In some cases, however, for any number of reasons, it simply isn’t possible for a couple to reach a resolution of their issues on their own. In those circumstances, a court will make the determination for the couple. In these situations, many couples want to know what factors a court might consider in making an alimony award. It’s a good question to ask. As with any aspect of the divorce process, understanding the nature of the process and how decisions are made can be helpful to give you peace of mind, and to help you feel prepared.
First and foremost, it’s important to understand that when it comes to determining an alimony award, courts in North Carolina generally have a good deal of discretion. This means that while the court may consider a variety of factors in determining alimony, it is up to the judge to decide the amount of weight to give to each factor. The court has the authority and ability to look at the entire picture and all of the circumstances as it seeks to make a determination.
Some of the factors that a court might consider include:
- Marital misconduct: Marital misconduct can include any number of behaviors that are generally frowned upon by a court as it seeks to make an alimony determination – and incidentally concerning many other issues to be decided in the divorce process as well. Some examples of marital misconduct might include extramarital affairs, abandonment, verbal, physical, or emotional abuse, failure to provide support, addictions, and any number of other behaviors.
- The relative earnings and earning capacities of the spouses, the amount and sources of earned and unearned income of both spouses, including earnings, as well as dividends, and benefits such as medical, retirement, insurance benefits and more.
- The ages and the mental, physical, and emotional health of each spouse: If, for example, one spouse has a significant or disabling condition that requires ongoing treatment and/or prevents that spouse from being able to earn a steady and stable income, that may be taken into account.
- The duration of the marriage: The longer a marriage has lasted, the larger an alimony award is likely to be.
- The contribution by one spouse to the education, training or increased earning power of the other: One example of this situation might be a spouse who works to put the other spouse through medical school. Eventually, the spouse with the medical degree often becomes the higher earner, but the contribution of the other spouse toward helping the other spouse earn the degree is taken into account.
- The extent to which the earning power, expenses, or financial obligations of a spouse will be affected by serving as the custodian of a minor child: Certainly, if one spouse is primarily staying at home and taking care of the children, this will factor into the amount of alimony that is awarded.
- The standard of living of the spouses established during the marriage.
- The relative education of the spouses and the time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the spouse seeking alimony to find employment to meet his or her reasonable economic needs: In some cases, if both spouses are relatively young and one spouse can earn an education or begin a new profession, alimony may be awarded for a time to enable that spouse to afford to do so, in order to better provide for him or herself in the future.
- The property brought to the marriage by either spouse: Sometimes, one spouse may have significant assets before the marriage. If those assets are not considered marital property and belong solely to that spouse upon divorce, the value of those assets may be taken into account in determining an alimony award.
- The tax ramifications of the alimony award.
- Any other factor relating to the economic circumstances of the parties that the court finds to be just and proper.
After a court considers the various factors in a particular case and decides an appropriate amount of alimony, it will be decided whether or not the alimony will be paid via lump sum, or periodically on a schedule either set forth by the court or agreed to by the parties.
The alimony award will continue for the period outlined in the court’s order, or as agreed upon by the parties. If one spouse remarries or unfortunately passes away, that will terminate an alimony award, but otherwise, the amount and payment schedule will remain the same unless the parties seek and are granted a modification of the award for a change in circumstances.
Ultimately, whether you are seeking alimony, or are wondering if you may be responsible for paying alimony, it is always important to retain the services of a knowledgeable and experienced attorney who can help you to determine how the law might apply to your particular circumstances. At The Law Office of Dustin McCrary, we are here for you and would be honored to have the opportunity to help you with alimony issues, and any other matters you face in the divorce process. Call us at any time.