In North Carolina, when a married couple decides to divorce, often one spouse is earning more money than the other spouse. Sometimes, especially when young children are involved, one spouse may not earn any income at all because he or she stays at home. The spouse who earns less (or no) income is called the “dependent spouse” and is usually entitled to financial support from the “supporting spouse.”
To determine the amount of support and the length of time it is paid, a judge will consider each spouse’s income, earning abilities, financial need based on the marital standard of living, and the length of the marriage. Sometimes the conduct of the parties during the marriage will play a role in the spousal support awarded.
Temporary Spousal Support in North Carolina
Temporary spousal support, also known as post-separation support (or PSS), is the temporary financial support one spouse pays to the other after separation, typically during the year following separation. It is awarded on a temporary basis pending the resolution of the marital property and debt division and alimony.
Alimony in North Carolina
Alimony is longer-term financial support one party pays to the other for a period of time that is determined by the parties in a settlement or by the court. In North Carolina, the duration of alimony, like the amount, is in the sole discretion of the presiding family court judge unless the parties are able to reach their own agreement. The outcomes can vary wildly depending on the facts and circumstances of the case and the particular assigned judge. A good rule of thumb, however, is the longer the marriage, the longer the expected duration of alimony. Many cases are resolved with the supporting spouse paying alimony for at least half the duration of the marriage.
Calculating Spousal Support in N.C. Divorce
Determining the amount and duration of financial support owed to a spouse who is dependent on the other spouse is one of the most challenging aspects of divorce to resolve. North Carolina law does not have guidelines for calculating alimony, like in the case of child support. Instead, a three-pronged approach considers the following factors:
Monthly amount needed by the dependent spouse >
To determine the monthly financial needs of a dependent spouse, the courts consider the spending of the dependent spouse in the year or so prior to the couple’s separation. This process typically involves a review of all monthly credit card statements, bank account statements, and receipts for the time period at issue and can be quite a tedious task.
Income earned by dependent spouse (if any) >
After establishing the monthly financial needs of the dependent spouse, an analysis is then done to determine the ability of the dependent spouse to contribute to his or her own income from employment or other sources. In certain cases, the dependent spouse’s earning capacity is considered even if he or she is not employed or is employed only on a part-time basis.
Ability of the supporting spouse to help make up the shortfall between 1 and 2 >
Finally, if the dependent spouse is not able to bring in enough money herself/himself to meet his or her monthly expenses, the supporting spouse’s ability to help make up the shortfall is considered. If after taking into account the amount needed for the supporting spouse’s own monthly expenses and any child support obligations he or she may have, there is a “surplus,” then typically alimony will be awarded to the dependent spouse.
Many other factors play into the alimony award, including any marital misconduct (e.g., illicit sexual behavior, substance abuse, domestic violence, indignities) on the part of either the dependent spouse or the supporting spouse. Regardless of the duration awarded, alimony terminates upon the death of a party or the remarriage or cohabitation of the dependent spouse.