How is Alimony and Child Support Determined?

Husband and wife separate. They are mature, responsible adults who want the best for their children, so they are able to quickly establish an informal custody schedule that enables both parents to spend meaningful time with the children. Husband and wife both work, but husband’s earnings are far greater than wife’s. The parties agree, in principle, that husband will pay child support. Husband consults with an experienced family law attorney to determine how much child support he owes.

Child support is typically calculated using North Carolina’s Child Support Guidelines

In North Carolina, child support is calculated based on the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines. In most cases, lawyers and judges can calculate the proper amount of child support by plugging appropriate figures into a worksheet. In general, the amount of child support is determined based on the incomes of the husband and wife plus additional costs including medical insurance and child-care expenses.

Child support ends when a child turns eighteen, so long as the child has graduated from high school. Child support may last beyond a child’s eighteenth birthday if additional time is needed to complete high school. While issues related to the amount of child support do arise in family law cases, in general the Guidelines and North Carolina law control the amount and duration of child-support obligations.

Alimony is the unwieldy elephant in the room in contested divorce cases

With custody and child support out of the way, husband and wife face the next looming issue: Alimony. She says she needs it and deserves it. He says she should not spend so much money. Moreover, husband says, he cannot afford to pay the amount of alimony wife has requested. He says wife ought to get a job and work towards supporting herself.

What happens next?

Unlike child support, in general North Carolina law provides no formula for determining the amount or duration of alimony. In many cases, alimony is not awarded at all. In order to be awarded alimony, a spouse must prove to a judge that he or she is a “dependent spouse.” If spouses earn similar incomes, then most likely neither spouse will be considered “dependent” and no alimony will be awarded.

If, on the other hand, one spouse earns significantly more income than the other spouse, then alimony may be awarded.

Once a spouse who earns less is deemed dependent, the amount and duration of alimony payments must be determined. Under North Carolina law, the amount and duration of an alimony award is based upon a number of factors including the length of the marriage, the reasonable needs of the spouses, the ability of one spouse to pay alimony, the dependent spouse’s standard of living, the dependent spouse’s educational background, and any so-called marital misconduct.

In general, longer marriages result in alimony awards of greater duration. Parties who earn higher incomes can expect pay more significant monthly sums of alimony than parties with more modest incomes.

It is important to note, however, that North Carolina judges can and do exercise a wide range of discretion in crafting alimony awards. The absence of any formula for determining the amount and duration of alimony as well as the wide disparity in awards handed down by judges can create difficulties for parties and lawyers seeking to resolve alimony issues in contested divorce cases.

Marital misconduct can play a role in the amount and duration of alimony awards

When determining whether a spouse is entitled to alimony, marital misconduct is relevant and must be considered by the court. “Marital misconduct” can include abandonment, excessive use of alcohol or drugs, or adultery. If a higher-earning spouse is ordered to pay alimony to a dependent spouse, North Carolina case law appears to suggest that marital misconduct committed by the higher-earning spouse will result in higher monthly alimony payments or a longer duration of alimony payments—or both.

If a wife has committed adultery prior to a couple’s separation, her adultery may bar her from recovering any alimony from her husband. However, in order for a husband to seek to bar his ex-wife from receiving alimony on this basis, he must not have committed adultery himself.

Spouses seeking or defending against alimony claims should seek out the help of an experienced family law attorney

The application of North Carolina’s alimony laws can result in widely disparate outcomes based upon the factors discussed in this article as well as upon the unique facts and circumstances of a given case. Spouses seeking alimony as well as spouses defending against alimony claims should seek help from competent legal counsel who are experienced at presenting their clients’ positions effectively in a court of law.

If you or someone you know has any questions regarding how alimony and child support payments are determined or any related type of matter feel free to contact the experienced family law attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC in Charlotte, North Carolina. Call toll free at (955) 370-2828 or Contact Us Here.