North Carolina Divorce: When Is an Ex-Spouse Entitled to Alimony?

When a couple divorces, the two spouses are seldom on an equal economic footing. In many marriages, one spouse is the main breadwinner. The other may devote more time to caring for children or the household, may work part time or may be employed in a less lucrative profession. It is not uncommon for the dependent spouse to tend to family matters while the supporting spouse furthers his or her education and career.

North Carolina courts often award alimony, also called spousal support or spousal maintenance, to help the dependent spouse maintain his or her lifestyle following a divorce. The payment may be temporary, and determined to be paid in one lump sum or periodically over a set term of months or years.

Divorcing spouses may be able to negotiate the details of an alimony agreement, but when they cannot, the court must decide whether an award of spousal support is proper. Either spouse may request that the court order alimony.

A North Carolina court may allow alimony if one spouse is a "supporting spouse" and the other a "dependent spouse," and such a payment is "equitable" considering "all relevant factors." The court may weigh any relevant matter, but must look at 16 factors cited specifically by law:

  • "Marital misconduct," including adultery, abandonment, dangerous cruelty, reckless spending, asset destruction, substance abuse, "involuntary separation" because of criminal activity, "malicious turning out-of-doors," "indignities" that make life "intolerable" and "burdensome," and willful refusal to support
  • Income and income potential (earned and unearned)
  • Ages
  • Physical, mental and emotional health
  • Contribution of one spouse to the education or career of the other
  • Length of the marriage
  • Financial strain on a parent who will provide care of the children
  • Marital standard of living
  • Educational levels
  • Spousal liabilities and assets
  • Spousal contributions of property to marriage
  • Homemaker services
  • Personal needs
  • Tax consequences
  • Any other economic factor
  • Whether any income source was already taken into account by the court in dividing property

Relative to many other states, North Carolina takes a hard line on spousal infidelity when it comes to awarding spousal support. The court may not award alimony to a dependent spouse who participated in "illicit sexual behavior" (adultery) before the couple separated. Likewise, a supporting spouse who committed adultery before separation must pay alimony. If they both were unfaithful, the court has discretion whether to order spousal maintenance. The court does not consider "condoned" adultery in its decision.

This is only a general introduction to North Carolina alimony law. If you are facing separation or divorce, alimony may be available to you or your spouse, talk to a spousal support attorney to understand all of your options.