When you and your spouse are divorcing, it’s very common to worry about what your life will be like after the divorce is finalized. Specifically, you may be worried about your ability to support yourself or maintain a similar lifestyle to what you had while you were married, especially if you spent years as a homemaker or your spouse has a significantly higher earning potential than you do.
In fact, one question our divorce attorneys in Raleigh are asked most frequently during case consultations is, “Should I ask for alimony?” Like so much in divorce law, the answer isn’t always a simple yes or no, which is why we are breaking down the issue of when to ask for spousal support.
What Is Alimony?
Alimony, also called spousal support, is a regular, court-ordered payment within a divorce agreement or settlement from one spouse to the other in order to provide financial assistance to a spouse who has a lower or no income and a limited earning potential. The spouse to whom alimony is awarded is referred to as the dependent spouse and the spouse who is paying is referred to as the supporting spouse.
What Factors Determine Being Awarded Alimony?
In North Carolina, judges will award alimony only when the dependent spouse shows a clear need for financial support and the supporting spouse has the ability to pay. After that has been determined, several factors are considered when determining spousal support.
Once the determination of need and ability to pay has been determined, the judge will often look at marital misconduct, including abuse, adultery, or abandonment. If the dependent spouse is found to have illicit sexual behavior, the judge will deny misconduct. If the supporting spouse participated in illicit sexual acts, the judge will award support to the dependent. The court will also evaluate other issues of marital misconduct to determine the proper amount of spousal support and the duration of payments.
Income and Earning Potential
If the supporting spouse makes significantly more than the dependent spouse, the court can find in favor of alimony. However, if the dependent spouse has the potential to increase their income, this can affect the decision. For example, if they were unemployed by choice, but they have the ability to go back to work and earn enough that would remove the financial need, the judge may not award alimony.
Additionally, the physical, mental, and emotional health of the spouses can affect their income and earning potential. The court will also look at this factor as well as any debt or financial liabilities, including child support obligations.
Duration of the Marriage
The court will also look at how long you and your spouse were married, to determine how much and how long alimony will be paid, if at all. The marriage must be valid for at least one year in order for any support payments to be awarded.
“Roles” Within the Marriage
The defined roles within the marriage can also be taken into consideration when awarding alimony. For example, if one spouse was the homemaker and the primary caregiver to shared children, this meant they were most likely less able to work outside the home and this impacted their earning potential. Another example is a spouse who worked in order to support the family while the other spouse went to college or obtained a higher level degree. If you had to put your future on hold or forgo your opportunities at the expense of your partner or the household, the judge can factor this into your divorce settlement.
Standard of Living During the Marriage
Finally, a judge can look at the standard of living during the marriage. The goal is that neither spouse should experience a major decrease in their standard of living due to the divorce.
If you feel these factors apply to your situation, the most important thing you can do is speak with a divorce attorney about asking for alimony as part of your divorce settlement.
Can I File for Alimony After the Divorce Is Finalized?
You can only ask for alimony before the divorce is finalized. While child support can be changed or the supporting spouse can petition the court to lower an alimony payment, a spouse can’t go back to the court to change the settlement. That’s why we highly recommend working with an experienced divorce attorney during the process to help you get a fair settlement.
Schedule a Case Consultation with a Divorce Attorney in Raleigh Today
If you are concerned about your future and worry about getting a fair settlement in your divorce, don’t try to navigate this alone. Schedule a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys to discuss your options, including property division and alimony today by calling us at (919) 301-8843 or filling out the form below to get started.