If a court determines that there is a dependent spouse and a supporting spouse, the court can order an alimony award, so long as the award is equitable, after considering the relevant factors of the case. Although a court has wide discretion in determining the amount and duration of an alimony award, North Carolina law provides sixteen different factors that the court is to consider. Some of these factors, which are set forth at North Carolina General Statute § 50-16.3A., include:
- The marital misconduct of either of the spouses
- The relative earnings and earning capacities of the spouses
- The ages and the physical, mental, and emotional conditions of the spouses
- The amount and sources of earned and unearned income of both spouses
- The duration of the marriage
- The contribution by one spouse to the education, training, or increased earning power of the other spouse
- The standard of living of the spouses established during the marriage
- The relative education of the spouses and the time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the spouse seeking alimony to find employment to meet his or her reasonable needs
- The relative assets and liabilities of the spouses
- The property brought to the marriage by either spouse
- The contribution of a spouse as homemaker
- The relative needs of the spouses
- The federal, State and local tax ramifications of the alimony award
- Any other factor relating to the economic circumstances of the parties that the court finds to be just and proper.
Most of those factors are fairly self-explanatory, but a few deserve special attention. Marital misconduct, which is mentioned in the first factor named above, is a term that covers a wide range of behaviors. Marital misconduct includes cheating, abandonment of the other spouse, excessive drug and/or alcohol use, cruel and barbarous treatment endangering the life of the other spouse, Indignities rendering the condition of the other spouse intolerable and life burdensome, and reckless spending of the income of either party, or the destruction, waste, diversion, or concealment of assets. Behavior that rises to the level of marital misconduct is to be considered by the court in ruling on an alimony award.
Unlike a child support claim, there is not a set of guidelines that dictate the proper amount of alimony in a given situation; and therefore, the duration and amount of an alimony award are completely in the discretion of the court. While a few jurisdictions have enacted guidelines that use a formula to determine the proper amount and duration of this award, neither North Carolina or Guilford County have enacted such a formula. However, even without any set guidelines, an alimony award is primarily based around economic factors, specifically the parties’ respective incomes and expenses as well as the marital standard of living.