Alimony, or spousal support, is designed to provide financial support and stability for a spouse who has fewer resources than the other spouse. If alimony cannot be agreed to, it can become a highly contentious aspect of a divorce, especially as it is one of the few places that the court can actually consider a spouse’s marital misconduct, such as adultery. A jury can even be requested as to whether marital misconduct occurred. In short, alimony proceedings can be emotionally charged, even after the dust of trial has settled.
Alimony Factors Account for Working Spouses
North Carolina General Statute Section 50-16.3A governs alimony awards paid by a “supporting spouse” to a “dependent spouse”. Naturally, many supporting spouses do not want to pay alimony, and therefore want to fight an alimony award, or reduce or eliminate existing obligations as quickly as possible. A common question that we hear from both sides is: If a dependent spouse is working or obtains employment, how does that impact alimony?
To a dependent spouse, this is an important question as the answer may weigh into a decision to re-enter the workplace or pursue career advancement. Fortunately, North Carolina law explicitly envisions that both spouses work and does not prohibit an alimony award based on the mere fact that a dependent spouse works.
In fact, among the factors that a court must consider when awarding alimony include:
- “The relative earnings and earning capacities of the spouses”;
- “The amount and sources of earned and unearned income of both spouses, including, but not limited to, earnings, dividends, and benefits such as medical, retirement, insurance, social security, or others”; and
- “The relative education of the spouses and the time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the spouse seeking alimony to find employment to meet his or her reasonable economic needs”.
In other words, the fact that a dependent spouse works does not make any difference to the court. Instead, the critical question is how much the dependent spouse earns in relation to the other spouse; or, how long it will take for the dependent spouse to obtain the education necessary to find a job to meet his or her needs.
Modification of Alimony
So what happens if the dependent spouse obtains employment that equalizes or exceeds the earnings of the other spouse? Or, if the dependent spouse obtains sufficient income to meet his or her own “reasonable economic needs”? In that case, the law provides for a modification of alimony order. The party seeking the modification must demonstrate that there has been “changed circumstances by either party or anyone interested” to obtain relief.
New Direction Family Law
Alimony proceedings are hard-fought, yet an incredibly important tool that provides financial stability for dependent spouses. North Carolina courts can consider many factors when awarding alimony. Let us help you get fight for your legal rights. Our attorneys have years of experience in passionately advocating for our clients and will treat you with the respect that you deserve. We serve clients in Wake, Johnston, Durham, and surrounding counties. Contact New Direction Family Law today at (919) 719-3470 to schedule an appointment or reach us online.
Sarah J. Hink
New Direction Family Law