Requirements to Establish Alimony: Supporting Spouse and Dependent Spouse

Court-ordered alimony is only available from a “supporting spouse” to a “dependent spouse,” meaning only a dependent spouse may receive alimony.  North Carolina law defines a dependent spouse as “a husband or wife, who is actually substantially dependent upon the other spouse for his or her maintenance and support or is substantially in need of maintenance and support from the other.”  Thus, to be a dependent spouse means that you do not make enough money to pay your expenses and live the type of lifestyle to which you were accustomed while married, and you depend on your spouse to pay for those expenses. This dependency requirement is the first element needed to establish a claim for alimony.  

Even after one of the spouses is determined to be a dependent spouse, then an additional analysis must be made to evaluate whether the other spouse qualifies as a supporting spouse. The alimony statute defines a supporting spouse as a spouse “… upon whom the other spouse is actually substantially dependent for maintenance and support or from whom such spouse is substantially in need of maintenance and support.”  Establishing the dependent status of one spouse does not automatically establish the supporting status of the other spouse, and vice versa.

Even after it can be determined that there is a supporting spouse, the court will need to evaluate if the supporting spouse actually has the ability to pay spousal support.  It is generally calculated by subtracting the cost of the supporting spouse’s reasonable needs from his/her income. The amount left over is potentially available to be paid to the dependent spouse as spousal support.

It is up to a judge determine whether there is a dependent spouse and a supporting spouse.  So long as the facts of the particular case justify it, both husbands and wives have an equal right to receive alimony (as well as post-separation support).