Blog What Is A “Dependent Spouse” In North Carolina?

What Is A “Dependent Spouse” In North Carolina?

In North Carolina, spousal support is used to describe the different types of alimony that a spouse needs to pay to the other spouse when a marriage ends. However, for a spouse to receive this support, the court must first determine whether they are a “dependent spouse” as defined by the state’s laws. 

What Exactly is a Dependent Spouse?

In North Carolina, the alimony statute defines a dependent spouse as a husband or wife who is substantially dependent on the other spouse for maintenance or one who is substantially in need of maintenance and support from the other spouse. In comparison, the supporting spouse is defined as the spouse who provides the majority of the income. 

Unfortunately, determining whether a spouse is dependent is not as straightforward as many may believe it to be. In truth, this dependence will involve many factors, and the decision is ultimately left to the court. As a result, in determining whether a spouse is dependent, the court can look into issues regarding the needs of the dependent spouse and even the standard of living to which the dependent spouse was accustomed to before the separation.

Factors that Impact Alimony

Alimony in North Carolina is not automatically granted to either spouse in a divorce. To receive this alimony, a request must first be filed with the North Carolina district court that is handling the divorce proceedings.

The first type of alimony a spouse can ask for includes Post Separation Support or temporary alimony. This temporary alimony refers to money paid to the dependent spouse during the divorce proceedings. Typically, spouses can voluntarily agree to this type of alimony, or the court can order for it to be granted. However, Post Separation Support will automatically stop upon a court’s final order, either denying or awarding alimony. 

The second type of spousal support in North Carolina is known as alimony. Generally, alimony is paid for a specific period of time after the divorce is granted, or it can be paid in a lump sum. Yet, according to the state’s regulations, the amount that will need to be paid and the duration of these payments will depend on several factors, including:

  • How long the marriage lasted
  • Whether there was any marital misconduct by either spouse
  • The relative income of both parties and their earning capacity
  • The education level, mental health, physical health, and emotional condition of both spouses
  • The standard of living the spouses have become accustomed to during the marriage
  • The amount of earned and unearned income and their sources and the debts and assets of both parties
  • The contributions made by a spouse that is the homemaker
  • Tax ramifications of alimony for both parties 
  • Whether one spouse contributed to the career, education, or training of the other spouse that increased their earning potential
  • The custody arrangement and whether these arrangements affect the earning capacity of either party
  • Whether there was any property brought into the marriage by the parties, and
  • Any other economic factors that can help decide the alimony payments and whether alimony is appropriate

As you can see, determining the amount of alimony a spouse can receive and whether alimony is justified is a complex process that is highly contested. As a result, if you are going through a divorce and alimony may be on the table, it is important that you reach out to an experienced Beaufort alimony attorney that can help walk you through this process and assist you as you fight for the money you need.

Misconduct and How It Plays a Role in Alimony Payments

It is important to note that if either spouse committed marital misconduct during the marriage, the court will consider this conduct when determining its final ruling on alimony. Take, for instance, the following types of misconduct:

Cruel Treatment of the Spouse

If a spouse behaves negatively towards the other or abandons the marriage, the state considers this marital misconduct. In addition, cruel treatment that threatens the life of a spouse or makes their life intolerable will also be considered misconduct and will usually factor into the court’s decision on alimony payments.

Adultery and Other Personal Behavior

Personal misconduct often refers to alcohol and drug abuse, adultery, and other criminal acts that cause the spouse’s separation. Consequently, the court can use this personal misconduct to determine alimony.

For example, the court may not award alimony to the dependent spouse if they committed adultery during the marriage, regardless of their financial needs. Yet, if the supporting spouse committed adultery, they will most likely be ordered to pay the other spouse alimony. However, if both parties committed adultery, the final decision about alimony will be left to the court.

Reckless Money Management

If a spouse spends marital money recklessly or hides, destroys, or wastes marital assets, this is referred to as financial misconduct. Typically, these acts are done without the knowledge of the other spouse. However, if the court finds that a spouse took part in financial misconduct, it will often factor in this misconduct when figuring out alimony payments.

Modifying an Alimony Order

In general, unless the dependent spouse received a lump sum, most alimony orders will terminate on the date ordered by the court or at the time the recipient of this alimony meets the court’s requirements for financial independence. For instance, if alimony was awarded while the dependent spouse is in school, the alimony would end once they graduated. 

Yet, if permanent alimony was awarded, or there was a change of circumstances that make the current temporary alimony inappropriate before the court’s end date, then either spouse can ask the court to review this order or modify it. For example, if a dependent spouse started working and no longer needs alimony, then an order may be filed by the other spouse to stop these alimony payments.

Our North Carolina Alimony Attorneys Can Help

Alimony in a divorce matter is impacted by the circumstances of your marriage and each party’s financial status. Getting experienced legal counsel from Schulz Stephenson Law can help you navigate the intricacies of how alimony is awarded during your divorce proceedings. Contact us today if you would like to schedule a confidential consultation with an experienced and compassionate North Carolina divorce attorney.

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