Alimony Regulations in North Carolina

by Bernadette A. Safrath

When spouses divorce, one spouse may leave the marriage financially weaker, without having the other spouse's income and assets at her disposal. North Carolina awards alimony to that spouse, in accordance with the state's legislative code. The law sets forth who is entitled to alimony, how the award amount is determined and when alimony is modifiable or when it will terminate.

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Eligibility for Alimony

North Carolina law states that a spouse is eligible for alimony if she is "substantially in need of support" from the other spouse so that she can maintain her current standard of living. The law also provides that if a spouse seeking alimony committed adultery during the marriage, she forfeits all rights to alimony, regardless of need. Additionally, if the supporting spouse committed adultery during the marriage, the court is required to order an alimony award to the other spouse.

Alimony Payments

Alimony may be permanent or temporary -- and it may be paid as a lump sum or in installments. The amount and duration of alimony is determined on a case-by-case basis, in accordance with several factors set forth in North Carolina's code. The court will consider any marital misconduct -- especially adultery -- along with the length of the marriage, each spouse's income, the value of assets received from the marital property settlement, the needs of the requesting spouse, and the owing spouse's ability to satisfy his alimony obligation, while still meeting his own needs.

Modification of Alimony

When a spouse is awarded one lump-sum award for alimony, even if it is paid in installments, it cannot be modified. However, indeterminable alimony awards can be modified in accordance with North Carolina law. Either spouse can petition for modification and must establish a "substantial change in circumstances." If a receiving spouse's income increases, the owing spouse can seek modification to pay a lower amount. He can do the same if he suffered the loss of his job or if his income was reduced. The receiving spouse can seek more alimony if she has unexpected expenses or if her income was reduced. The court will examine any claimed expenses -- a spouse is not permitted to intentionally spend more money, simply to seek additional alimony.

Termination of Alimony

Alimony will terminate on the date set by the court in the initial order. However, North Carolina law sets forth several circumstances in which alimony terminates immediately. If either spouse dies, alimony is terminated. Additionally, if the spouse receiving alimony remarries, her right to alimony ends. Lastly, if the receiving spouse enters a relationship in which she and the other person cohabit but do not marry -- in which she and another person are sharing expenses -- she is no longer eligible to receive alimony. The law states that this relationship can be the spouse and someone of the same or opposite sex.