Is Alimony an Issue in Your Case?

We often use the term “spousal support” over the term “alimony” when talking to our clients about what alimony is and when it is appropriate. Everyone understands the concept that “child” support exists to assist the parent earning less income with the needs and expenses of the child when the child is with that parent. “Spousal” support is appropriate where a spouse earns less income (or no income) and needs continued financial assistance from the higher-earning spouse to pay their own individual needs and expenses following separation. In these cases dependency on the higher-earning spouse exists to pay for housing, food, medical care, clothing, transportation, etc. The “dependent spouse” must actually need financial support from the other spouse, and the “supporting spouse” must actually be able to provide financial support to the spouse in need.

Determining alimony in North Carolina is much more challenging than determining child support because our legislators have not adopted a uniform set of guidelines to allow attorneys and judges to calculate how much support should be paid from the supporting spouse to the dependent spouse based on the facts of particular cases. Further complicating matters, North Carolina lacks legislation establishing the proper duration of spousal support so the length of time alimony is paid must be established on a case by case basis.

A bridge over a lake. Clemmons Family Law focuses on alimony and spousal support. Photo by Martin Damboldt from Pexels

In North Carolina the “how much” analysis requires both the dependent spouse and the supporting spouse to prepare a detailed listing of their expenses to meet their reasonable needs based on the standard of living during the marriage. Next, each spouse subtracts the income they individually earn from their list of individual expenses. In the ideal case, the dependent spouse has a shortfall (let’s assume $1,000), but the supporting spouse has a surplus (let’s assume $1,500). In that case the proper alimony order is $1,000 because the spouse needs it and the supporting spouse has the ability to pay it.

Unfortunately, we very often run into cases that are not ideal and a tug of war ensues over the money that is available. Let’s still assume the dependent spouse has a need for support of $1,000 as in the above example, but the supporting spouse only has a surplus (generally referred to as their “ability to pay”) of $500. The court has to somehow figure out a fair and just result to both parties when the supporting spouse does not earn enough surplus income to pay both their own reasonable needs and expenses and all of the reasonable needs and expenses of the dependent spouse.

Marital “fault” historically played a significant role in alimony cases and we find that clients still believe it is very important to talk about facts relevant to the “fault” of their spouse. “Marital misconduct” is defined by North Carolina statute and is still often cited in filed pleadings with the court. The court decides in its discretion how much weight to give “marital misconduct." Often, however, we find our courts focusing more on the numbers presented by the two budgets, and how the court can make two separate households operate with the same income that used to be available to operate only one household, than fault factors.

Consult Us About Your Alimony

At Clemmons Family Law, we understand the concern both spouses have with having adequate income to support the standard of living to which they are accustomed. Contact us today to schedule a consultation about alimony and spousal support. Call us by phone at 336-766-2222 or email us at

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