Factors for Determining Spousal Support

By Jim Warren

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Spousal support, according to North Carolina family statute, is another term for alimony. In family court proceedings, judges typically award two types of spousal support: post-separation support while the divorce proceedings take place (this can be weeks, months, or even years, depending on factors like the complexity of the couple’s asset division and how combative spouses are in areas like child custody and spousal support amounts) and support for after the court issues a final order on the issue of alimony.

Spousal support can take the form of installment payments (usually on a monthly basis) or a lump sum. Judges consider a variety of factors when issuing orders for alimony, and these factors help them determine both the amount of the award and its duration.

The court takes into account multiple economic factors. Of course, judges review the income of each spouse, their future earning potential (and potential for advancement), insurance, benefits, debts and assets (including those brought into the marriage by each spouse), and they take a close look at the couple’s standard of living pre-separation. In addition, the courts may look at other financial investments, such as one spouse’s contribution to the other’s education, or how a spouse may be impacted economically by receiving custody of the children.

Finally, judges may also take into account tax repercussions of alimony awards and even a spousal contribution to the marriage as a homemaker. The list goes on, to include any factor that the court deems proper to consider economically.

There are also several non-economic factors that the courts consider. Marital misconduct is a consideration. While most people think of adulterous behavior straightaway, marital misconduct may also include financial dealings, drug and alcohol abuse, and mental cruelty. Sexual misconduct is in the popular consciousness because any evidence of adultery often has dire consequences for a spouse seeking support. In fact, they often get nothing.

In addition to misconduct, judges factor in the duration of the marriage (how long the two became accustomed to their married lifestyle), and the physical, mental, and emotional condition of each spouse after the separation.

Many people come to us asking if there’s a formula for calculating spousal support. Several states dictate that judges use a formula of some kind as the basis for an alimony award. But here in North Carolina, judges are given wide discretion for spousal support considerations. This leeway allows judges to carefully consider scenarios. If a person of wealth has a relatively short marriage to a person of more meager means, that doesn’t have to result in the wealthier spouse paying alimony in a large sum. Likewise, if a spouse invests years as a homemaker in a marriage, enabling the other spouse to earn advanced professional education and earn hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, judges are able to ensure that the career homemaker is well cared-for in the dissolution of the marriage.

At Warren Family Law, we will put more than 30 years of negotiating and litigating divorces, achieving fair outcomes for hundreds of clients, in your service. Contact us today to get started, and get the peace of mind and strategy you need to protect your interests and those of your children.