What Is Alimony? What to Know Before Heading to Court

Money in envelope

What you think is alimony is not alimony. Roughly one-half of custodial parents had child support agreements with their ex-spouses in 2017. Many people assume that alimony is grouped together with child support. 

But that is far from the case. When you are preparing to separate from your spouse, you have to understand what distinguishes alimony. 

What is alimony, and why do courts decide on it? What are the differences between alimony and spousal support? What can you modify and abide by alimony agreements? 

Answer these questions and you can create a financially responsible and easy separation process. Here is your quick guide. 

The Essentials of Alimony

Alimony is a form of payment between two ex-spouses. One pays for the other’s expenses, including housing and food. Alimony exists because many people are dependent on their spouses for financial support. 

A divorce court determines the alimony terms. Their intent is to make the financial resources of the divorcing spouses equal to each other. 

Alimony is not an obligation. One spouse must request it, and the other spouse may agree to their request. Divorces between two spouses with comparable financial portfolios do not usually lead to alimony. 

North Carolina Alimony Laws

In order to apply for divorce in the first place, you must be separated from your spouse for 366 days. At least one of you must be a current North Carolina resident. One of you must have lived in the state for at least six months prior to filing for divorce. 

Section 50.16.3A of the North Carolina General Statutes provides the formal legal details for alimony. One person in the divorce must file for alimony before the divorce is final. After the divorce has been finalized, neither party can ask for alimony.

A judge must find that one spouse is dependent on the other. They cannot award alimony to a spouse who committed infidelity or illicit sexual behavior. 

A judge can examine more than a dozen separate factors. They can look at the financial portfolios of the spouses, including tax ramifications. They can assess what the standard of living for each spouse was.

The judge must disclose their reasons behind their alimony determination. The payor of the alimony may pay in a lump sum, periodic payments, and/or through transferring property.  

Related Family Law Concepts to Alimony 

Many people confuse alimony with several other terms. You may have heard of “spousal support.” 

Spousal support comprises temporary payments that one spouse makes to another. The payments are made after the two spouses have separated, but before the divorce is finalized. It lets someone who was dependent on their spouse cover their living expenses. 

Post-separation alimony is another term for spousal support. Someone may pay post-separation alimony, but a judge may decline a formal alimony request. 

Child support comprises ongoing payments that one parent makes to benefit their child. But it is a separate decision that a court makes. One ex-spouse may pay alimony but not child support, or vice versa. The money that a parent receives for child support must go toward the child’s needs. 

Equitable distribution refers to the division of marital assets and debts. Any property that the couple acquired during the marriage must be split between the two parties. A court may impose alimony on top of the equitable distribution. 

Changing Alimony Orders

Alimony is not a permanent arrangement. Once the dependent party achieves financial independence, alimony payments will stop.

A judge may impose a date, requiring the dependent person to find a job and become independent in time. Even if they are not independent, they will lose their alimony payments. 

Alimony also ends if the recipient marries another spouse and becomes dependent on them. They can stop receiving payments after they enter into a “marriage-like relationship” in which their partner supports them.

Alimony payments are otherwise binding unless one person requests modifications to the alimony order. Some orders have clauses clarifying how either party can request a change. 

If there are no clauses, one party can petition a judge. Judges are usually strict about changing alimony.

They will only do so if the financial situation of either party has substantially changed. The person paying the payment may have lost their job, or the receiving party may need more money due to a disability. 

Following Through on the Terms of Divorce

Paying alimony may be inconvenient. Receiving alimony may not cover all of your expenses.

But you should try to abide by the terms as much as possible. If you are paying, you should find multiple income streams to cover the payments you have to make. You should talk to a financial advisor so you can make your payments on time. 

If you are receiving, you should try to limit your expenses. Do not spend too much money on entertainment and non-essential services. Keep a calendar of when you receive your payments so you can plan on paying rent on schedule. 

When in doubt about your legal options, talk to a family law attorney about negotiating alimony. They can advise you of your options and put you in touch with financial professionals. 

So What Is Alimony? 

Many people have questions about alimony. What is alimony? It is payments that one person makes to their ex to support them.

What are the differences between alimony and spousal and child support? Spousal support payments are made before a divorce is finalized. Child support payments help with the child’s needs. 

How do agreements change? The dependent spouse may remarry or become financially independent. One party may appeal to a court after their financial situation has changed. 

Family law helps you. The Law Office of Matthew Charles Suczynski serves the greater Chapel Hill and Durham area. Contact us today. 

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