Family Law

Alimony

To determine the amount of alimony, you have to carefully examine your needs and expenses and your ability to pay them yourself.

Who gets alimony and much do they get? That’s often the million-dollar question. Unlike child support, an alimony settlement isn’t determined through guidelines or pre-set calculators. In order to receive alimony you must be a “dependent spouse” and your spouse must be the “supporting spouse.” See N.C. Gen. Stat. Sec 50-16.3A. Basically, you must need your spouse’s income to meet your needs and expenses.

If your situation satisfies this initial requirement of dependency, the court considers a number of factors in deciding how much you get and for how long. See N.C. Gen. Stat. Sec. 50-16.3A. It’s not as simple as, “My husband makes $5,000 more than me so I should get alimony.” To determine the amount of alimony, you have to carefully examine your needs and expenses and your ability to pay them yourself. It’s this idea of reasonable needs where the argument typically lies. Consider, what do you really need? For example, is $800 a month at the salon reasonable and necessary? it depends on who you are and what you’re used to spending. We use a Financial Affidavit to help you set out your needs and expenses.

As for how long alimony is paid, while there is no uniform rule, most alimony obligations last for one-half the length of the marriage.

When talking about alimony, many people get hung up on fault. Often a client sees receiving alimony as a way of punishing their spouse for their bad behavior. I’m sure someone has told you that Oliver (that cheating %^*) should pay. Well, it’s not that cut and dry. Even if your spouse has committed an act of illicit sexual behavior (See N.C. Gen. Stat. Sec. 50-16.3A) you may not be entitled to alimony unless you are a dependent spouse. If you’re financially dependent and he’s had a sexual affair then you will get some amount of alimony. If you cheated too, we’re back to square one.

You May Be Wondering...

Q & A

What is PSS?
See our video answer.

Post-Separation Support (PSS) is a financial band-aid, intended to enable a dependent spouse to meet their needs and pay their bills until alimony can be resolved. Many people think of it as temporary alimony. Just like alimony, it’s based on the dependent spouse’s financial needs and the supporting spouse’s ability to pay them (See N.C. Gen. Stat Sec. 50-16.2A). If you’re a dependent spouse (see the section on Alimony) and your financial resources aren’t sufficient to meet your reasonable needs and expenses, then you’re entitled to PSS. If your supporting spouse has the ability to pay your shortfall, then you’ll receive PSS.

Can I get permanent alimony?
Technically alimony may be for a “… specified or for an indefinite term.” (See N.C. Gen. Stat. Sec. 50-16.3A). In reality, permanent or indefinite alimony isn’t common. While there’s no hard and fast rule in North Carolina, the duration of alimony awarded by the court is often one-half the length of the marriage. The amount and duration of alimony is a complicated issue based on the financial details and facts of your case. If you have specific questions, please reach out to us before you settle on any amount or length of alimony.

What if he doesn't pay me?

Well, it depends. Is your alimony established in a court order or a private agreement? If you have a court-ordered obligation and your ex-spouse isn’t paying you on time or at all, you can file a Motion for Contempt and request that the court enforce your order. (See N.C. Gen. Stat. Sec. 5A-21). He’ll be given a chance to explain why he’s not complying with the alimony order. If he has the ability to pay you, then the Court should hold him in contempt.  The “punishment” for contempt can vary, but for money obligations it usually includes a repayment of the money owed and payment of your attorney’s fees for pursuing the motion.

If your alimony is established in an agreement, the path to enforcement is much more difficult. You have to file a new lawsuit for specific performance, which can be a lengthy and expensive process.

In either situation, the specific procedure involved can be tricky and you will be well-served by hiring counsel even if only to coach you before you file your motion or attend your hearing. In these situations, the attorneys at Church Watson Law can work with you every step of the way or we can spend an hour or so walking you through the process as part of our unbundled self-representation plan.

How will I get health insurance coverage?

If your spouse provides your health insurance coverage, most providers will allow you to remain on that plan until the date of divorce. However there are circumstances where the fact that you are separated may be a terminating event for the coverage, allowing your spouse to remove you. You should discuss continuing coverage as part of any negotiations about PSS or alimony. Once you’re no longer eligible to remain on the spouse’s plan, you will need to find a policy of your own and be sure to include the cost of the coverage in your reasonable needs and expenses. There’s a specific place on the Financial Affidavit for you to include this cost as well as any reoccurring uninsured medical or therapeutic expenses that you might have. 

If I am receiving alimony, can I move in with my boyfriend?
Not if you want to keep getting your alimony. In North Carolina, cohabitation terminates PSS and alimony. Cohabitation is defined as “two adults dwelling together continuously and habitually.” (See N.C. Gen. Stat. Sec. 50-16.9). Simple, right?  Not really … ask any two judges or lawyers what continually or habitually means, and they likely will disagree. Whether you are cohabiting is so fact specific that each case really should be examined separately. Some of the things a court might consider are: 1). if you’ve been in a long-term monogamous relationship 2). if you engage in PDA (public displays of affection) and 3). if you mixed your money and/or accounts. Before you make a big decision like this, let Church Watson Law walk you through the pros, cons and possible outcomes.

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