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Basics of Alimony in NC: Understanding Spousal Support and Alimony Payments

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Basics of Alimony in NC: Understanding Spousal Support and Alimony Payments

If you're going through a divorce or contemplating one in Raleigh, understanding the concept of spousal support and alimony payments is crucial. 

Whether you're a spouse seeking support or the one expected to provide it, join our trusted divorce lawyers from Doyle Divorce Law as we navigate the legal landscape, explore the factors influencing alimony decisions, and offer insights to help you make informed decisions during this challenging time.

What is Alimony?

Alimony, also known as spousal support or maintenance, is a legal obligation for one spouse to provide financial support to the other after a divorce or separation. It is a common feature of divorce proceedings and is intended to address any economic disparities between spouses that may arise due to the end of their marriage. 

Alimony and its Purpose in Divorce Settlements

Alimony is a legal obligation for one spouse to provide financial support to the other following a divorce or separation. The primary aim is to ensure that the lower-earning or economically disadvantaged spouse can maintain a similar standard of living that they had during the marriage. This financial support can help them transition into a new phase of life without experiencing severe economic hardship.

Economic Fairness

Alimony is rooted in the idea of economic fairness, especially in situations where one spouse might have given up career opportunities or made sacrifices for the sake of the marriage. It seeks to prevent a scenario where one spouse is left in financial distress due to the end of the relationship.

Supporting Lower-Earning Spouses

In many marriages, there may be a significant difference in earning capacity between spouses. Alimony is intended to provide support to the lower-earning spouse who might have difficulty meeting their financial needs independently after the divorce.

Maintaining Lifestyle

During a marriage, both spouses often become accustomed to a certain lifestyle. Alimony can help the lower-earning spouse maintain that lifestyle, at least to some extent, after the marriage ends.

Facilitating Transition

Divorce can be a major life upheaval, and it may take time for the lower-earning spouse to secure employment or establish financial stability. Alimony provides a transitional bridge, giving them the means to rebuild their life.

Recognizing Non-Financial Contributions

Alimony also acknowledges the non-financial contributions that a spouse may have made to the marriage, such as caring for children, managing the household, or supporting the other spouse's career.

alimony calculation factors

How does Alimony Work?

Alimony works as a financial obligation that one spouse has to the other after a divorce or separation. The process of how alimony works can vary depending on the laws and regulations of the jurisdiction where the divorce takes place. However, there are some common aspects to consider.

Determining Alimony in Divorce Settlements

The determination of alimony is not a one-size-fits-all approach and can vary significantly depending on the jurisdiction and the unique circumstances of the divorce. Courts and legal professionals consider various factors when determining the amount and duration of alimony payments. 

Some of these factors may include:

  • The length of the marriage
  • The financial needs and earning capacity of both spouses
  • Contributions during the marriage, both financial and non-financial
  • Age and health of both parties
  • The standard of living established during the marriage
  • Any prenuptial or postnuptial agreements
  • Any other relevant circumstances impacting the financial well-being of the parties involved

Is Marital Fault a Requirement to Receive Alimony?

It's important to note that while marital fault can be a factor in alimony decisions, it is not the sole determining factor. North Carolina law also considers various other elements when awarding alimony, including the financial needs and earning capacities of both spouses, the length of the marriage, contributions made by each spouse during the marriage (financial and non-financial), and the standard of living established during the marriage.

North Carolina does provide the option for "no-fault" alimony in the case of a no-fault divorce, where the spouses have lived separate and apart for a specified period with the intent of ending the marriage. In these cases, neither spouse is required to prove marital fault to seek alimony.

Types of Alimony

Different types of alimony can be awarded based on the circumstances of the divorce:

  • Temporary Alimony: Provided during the divorce process to support the financially disadvantaged spouse until a final settlement is reached.
  • Rehabilitative Alimony: Aimed at helping the lower-earning spouse acquire new skills or education to become self-supporting.
  • Permanent Alimony: Ongoing financial support provided to the lower-earning spouse for an indefinite duration or until certain conditions are met, such as remarriage or cohabitation.
  • Lump-Sum Alimony: A one-time payment of a fixed amount instead of regular installments.

Factors Considered in Alimony Determination

When determining the amount and duration of alimony payments, courts and legal professionals consider various factors to ensure a fair and equitable resolution. 


The income of both spouses is a crucial factor in alimony calculations. The court assesses the earning capacity and financial resources of each party to determine their ability to meet their own needs after the divorce. If one spouse has a significantly higher income or better job prospects, they may be required to provide support to the other.

Additionally, the court examines sources of income, including wages, bonuses, dividends, rental income, and other financial resources. It's essential to provide accurate and detailed financial information during the alimony proceedings to ensure a fair assessment.

Length of the Marriage

The duration of the marriage is an important consideration in alimony determination. Longer marriages typically involve more significant financial entanglements and mutual dependencies. Consequently, alimony may be more likely to be awarded in long-term marriages where one spouse has become economically dependent on the other.

Shorter marriages may still involve alimony, but the duration of the support is often more limited, focusing on helping the lower-earning spouse transition into self-sufficiency rather than maintaining a lifestyle similar to that during the marriage.

Standard of Living

The standard of living established during the marriage is another critical factor in alimony determination. Courts aim to provide the economically disadvantaged spouse with the means to maintain a lifestyle as close as possible to the one they had during the marriage. If one spouse enjoyed a significantly higher standard of living during the marriage, the court may award alimony to help the lower-earning spouse meet their reasonable living expenses and preserve some level of financial stability.

Who is Eligible to Receive Alimony in North Carolina?

Alimony is payable from a "supporting spouse" to a "dependent spouse," which means that only a dependent spouse may receive alimony. 

North Carolina Alimony Law has defined “Dependent spouse” as a 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. In other words, a dependent spouse does not make enough money to pay bills and/or live the lifestyle enjoyed during the marriage.

The supporting spouse, who makes substantially more, has to have enough money after considering their reasonable living expenses, to pay support. If the dependent spouse makes $30,000 per year, and the supporting spouse makes $60,000 per year, however, the supporting spouse is paying on (or is ordered to in the Equitable Distribution Order) any of the following, then an alimony settlement will probably not be awarded.

  • Bankruptcy
  • Marital mortgage
  • Tax debt
  • or other long-term obligations that take up all of their extra income
Calculating Alimony Payments

Calculating Alimony Payments

Once it's decided who will pay alimony, the court must consider how much alimony will be paid. In North Carolina, this involves considering various factors to calculate alimony payments that are fair and equitable.

Income and Earning Capacity

The court will examine the financial resources, wages, bonuses, investments, and any other sources of income for each party. It aims to determine the ability of the lower-earning spouse to support themselves after the divorce.

Duration of the Marriage

Longer marriages, typically those lasting for many years, may result in longer alimony periods, especially if one spouse has become financially dependent during the marriage.

Marital Standard of Living

The court seeks to provide the economically disadvantaged spouse with a level of financial support that allows them to maintain a lifestyle similar to what they had during the marriage.

Contributions During the Marriage

The financial and non-financial contributions made by each spouse during the marriage are evaluated. This includes contributions to household duties, child-rearing, and supporting the other spouse's career or education.

Health and Age

The health and age of both spouses are taken into account. The court considers how these factors might affect the earning capacity and financial needs of each party.

Education and Employability

The court assesses the education level and employability of the lower-earning spouse. If the spouse needs further education or training to improve their job prospects, the court may consider this in the alimony determination.

Financial Needs and Expenses

The financial needs and reasonable living expenses of the lower-earning spouse are thoroughly evaluated. This includes costs associated with housing, healthcare, education, and other essential living expenses.

Prenuptial or Postnuptial Agreements

If the couple has a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement that addresses alimony, the court will review the terms outlined in the agreement.

Tax Implications

The tax consequences of alimony payments for both parties are considered, as this can influence the overall alimony calculation.

Discretion of the Court

North Carolina law provides the court with significant discretion in determining alimony awards. Each case is unique, and the court considers the specific circumstances of the divorcing couple to reach a fair and reasonable alimony arrangement.

Modifying Alimony Orders

Modifying alimony orders involves making changes to an existing spousal support arrangement after it has been established during a divorce. To seek a modification, a substantial change in circumstances must be demonstrated, such as a significant change in income, health issues, remarriage, or completion of educational programs leading to increased self-sufficiency. The party seeking the modification must file a motion with the court, presenting evidence to support their claim. 

Both parties will have the opportunity to present their cases, and the court will make a decision based on the best interests of both parties. In some cases, alimony modifications can be retroactive to the date the motion was filed. It is essential for both parties to seek legal representation from a Raleigh alimony attorney during this process to ensure a fair and just outcome.

Termination of Alimony

In many jurisdictions, one of the most common events that can lead to the termination of alimony is the remarriage of the dependent spouse. When the recipient of alimony decides to marry a new partner, it can significantly impact the original alimony arrangement that was established during the divorce. 

Circumstances that might lead to a termination of spousal support are: 

  • The dependent spouse remarries
  • The cohabitation of the recipient spouse with a new partner
  • Expiration of the specified alimony duration
  • Death of either spouse
  • Significant improvement in the financial situation of the recipient's spouse
  • Reaching the age of retirement for the paying spouse in some cases
  • Court-ordered termination due to changed circumstances
  • Failure to comply with the terms of the alimony agreement or court order
  • Completion of a rehabilitative program leading to increased self-sufficiency
  • The recipient spouse becomes financially independent and no longer requires support.

Alimony FAQs

How long do you have to be married to get alimony in North Carolina?

There is no specific minimum duration of marriage required to be eligible for alimony in North Carolina. The length of the marriage is just one of several factors considered when determining alimony. Even in short-term marriages, alimony may be awarded if the financial circumstances and needs of the parties warrant it.

Is alimony the same as child support?

No, alimony and child support are two different concepts. Alimony, also known as spousal support or maintenance, is the financial support provided from one spouse to the other after a divorce or separation. It is intended to help the lower-earning or economically disadvantaged spouse maintain a reasonable standard of living.

Child support, on the other hand, is a financial obligation to support the children resulting from the marriage. It is paid by one parent to the other for the well-being and care of the children and is not connected to the spousal relationship.

How long does alimony typically last?

The duration of alimony in North Carolina varies based on the unique circumstances of each case. There is no fixed duration, and alimony can be awarded for a specific period, until certain conditions are met (such as remarriage or cohabitation of the recipient spouse), or for an indefinite duration.

Consult with a Family Law Attorney at the Doyle Law Group for Personalized Guidance on Alimony Matters in North Carolina

Are you facing alimony matters during a divorce in North Carolina and need personalized guidance? Don't navigate this complex process alone. Reach out to the Doyle Law Group today and consult with our top-rated family law attorneys

We understand the intricacies of alimony laws in North Carolina and can provide you with the expert advice and representation you need. Whether you're seeking or contesting alimony, our dedicated team will work tirelessly to protect your rights and ensure a fair and just outcome. 

Contact us now to schedule your consultation by calling us at  (919) 301-8843 or filling out the contact form below to get started.

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