Does a Divorce in North Carolina Go by the Number of Years Married for the Wife to Ask for Alimony?

By Heather Frances J.D.

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In North Carolina, the length of your marriage strongly influences whether or not the judge will award alimony. Your spouse is more likely to receive alimony if you were married for many years. However, a North Carolina judge will only order alimony if your spouse needs it and you have the ability to pay it.

Ability to Pay

In North Carolina, alimony cannot be awarded unless one spouse has a need for alimony and the other spouse has the ability to pay it. Even if one spouse needs alimony, if the other spouse is not able to pay, the court cannot award it. The amount of alimony, as well as the duration and manner of payment, are in the court’s discretion, but the court must consider all relevant factors before making a decision. This allows the court to consider each case on its own facts, using statutory factors as a guide.

Marital Misconduct

Though North Carolina has no-fault grounds for divorce, fault is relevant during the court’s consideration of alimony factors since one of the factors the court must consider is marital misconduct, and such misconduct may weigh heavily on the court’s decision. Misconduct may include things like infidelity, abandonment and excessive use of drugs or alcohol. Infidelity is especially important since the dependent spouse cannot receive alimony if she had an adulterous relationship, unless her spouse also had an adulterous relationship. If the supporting spouse had an adulterous relationship but the dependent spouse did not, North Carolina law requires the court to award alimony to the dependent spouse.

Other Factors

In addition to marital misconduct, the court must consider other factors, including the earning capacity of each spouse, the duration of the marriage and contributions made by one spouse to the education or career of the other spouse. The two most important factors are the duration of the marriage and the spouses’ incomes. Often, a court will not award alimony if the spouses make roughly equivalent incomes. In North Carolina, there is no rule about how long a couple must be married before alimony is awarded, but spouses in marriages of 10 years or less typically do not receive alimony for longer than half the length of the marriage.

Types of Alimony

If your judge decides to award alimony, he can award different types. Rehabilitative alimony may be awarded if the dependent spouse needs education or training to become self-supporting, and it is the most common type of alimony in North Carolina. Permanent alimony is periodic payments typically awarded for the remainder of the dependent spouse’s life, unless she remarries, begins living with a new partner or resumes marital relations with the supporting spouse, or the supporting spouse dies. Temporary alimony is designed to help the dependent spouse get re-established. If periodic payments are impractical, the court can award alimony in a lump sum rather than periodic payments.