In North Carolina, there are no black-and-white guidelines when it comes to alimony amounts. Rather, judges are tasked with using 16 factors to guide their decisions on post-separation support for divorcing couples. Some of these factors include both spouses' financial needs, their income, the standard of living they are used to and their ability to earn income.
The ability to earn income can be a somewhat subjective area, but a vocational expert should be able to break it down fairly objectively. Whether you are a spouse seeking to reduce the amount of support you have to pay or a spouse who needs more support, a vocational expert may help your case by looking at a wide range of factors and coming up with a practical and realistic picture of your or your spouse's actual ability to earn income. Sometimes, a judge may decide to appoint a vocational expert if both sides present conflicting explanations.
A vocational expert looks at considerations such as a person's age, health, education and training, job skills and employment history to come up with a comprehensive picture of how much that person should be capable of earning. An expert also assesses the area job market for jobs the spouse is qualified for.
A judge is not required to follow the recommendations of a vocational expert, but many do so. A judge may use the information to decide that one spouse who has been repeatedly saying he or she cannot find work must not be trying hard enough and therefore decrease the amount of support that spouse receives. Conversely, if the job market is tight and a spouse's earning prospects are limited, there could be an increase in support. Judges in North Carolina cannot order someone to work, but they can base post-separation support on earning capacity, which is the amount a spouse should be earning.