Alimony in North Carolina

Learn about North Carolina alimony laws and how judges decide the final spousal support award.

North Carolina Alimony

In North Carolina, you’re eligible to file for divorce (also called an “absolute divorce”) after being separated for at least a year and a day. As part of the divorce process, you’ll have several issues to resolve, such as how assets are divided, child support, custody, and spousal support.

In this guide, we’ll break down the ins and outs of how alimony works in North Carolina. Let’s dive in.

Who Qualifies for Alimony in North Carolina?

Dependent spouses may be entitled to receive alimony from supporting spouses in North Carolina. A dependent spouse is financially dependent on their spouse’s support. Contrary to popular belief, dependent and supporting spouses can be either men or women. North Carolina divorce laws are not gender specific. They are gender neutral.

Either spouse can receive alimony if they meet one of two criteria:

  • The spouse can’t meet their own reasonable financial needs without the other spouse’s income or assets.
  • The spouse can’t maintain the standard of living they enjoyed during the marriage without the other spouse’s income or assets.

A judge will review several factors and decide if alimony is warranted. It’s important to note that alimony is not automatic, and if you’re the requesting spouse, you’ll need to prove that you can meet the criteria in state statutes.

Read More: How to File For Divorce in North Carolina

What Types of Alimony are There in North Carolina?

There are two types of alimony in North Carolina:

Post-separation Support

This temporary support is intended to support a spouse while the court evaluates their alimony claim. It is often awarded while a divorce is in progress. When a final decree is issued, terms of alimony awards may change.

To receive post-separation support, the requesting spouse must show:

  • The spouses were lawfully married under North Carolina law
  • The spouse requesting support is dependent on the other
  • The supporting spouse can pay support
  • The requesting spouse doesn’t have the resources to meet current living needs.

Post-separation support stops if a judge grants alimony and can also end when any of the following occur:

  • The date specified in the post-separation support order passes
  • The judge dismisses the alimony claim
  • The court enters a judgment of absolute divorce when no alimony claim is pending
  • The dependent spouse gets remarried or moves in with a new significant other (cohabitation)
  • Either spouse dies

In addition to direct financial support, post-separation support may also take the form of continued health insurance coverage under the supporting spouse’s current plan or include payment of attorney fees and costs for the dependent spouse.


After a divorce is decided or when post-separation support is no longer active, a judge may award a spouse alimony, but not in all cases.

Temporary alimony helps the dependent spouse re-establish their lifestyle after the marriage ends. Some other states recognize a similar form of support called rehabilitative alimony, but the State of North Carolina does not recognize this.

Permanent alimony is a predetermined payment made to the dependent spouse for the remainder of the spouse’s life unless one of the factors for termination of alimony is met. This type of alimony is often awarded in long-term marriages where a dependent spouse can’t enter the workforce due to advanced age or has health issues that impact their ability to be self-supporting.

Factors the Court Considers When Deciding Alimony

By law (North Carolina General Statute 50-16.3A), the court must consider several factors in making an alimony award. These factors include:

  • the marital misconduct of either of the spouses
  • the earnings and earning capacity of each spouse
  • the age and the physical, mental, and emotional condition of each spouse
  • the amount and sources of earned and unearned income of each spouse, including, but not limited to, earnings, dividends, and benefits such as medical, retirement, insurance, social security, or others
  • how long the marriage lasted
  • any contribution by one spouse to the education, training, or increased earning power of the other
  • the extent to which one spouse’s earning capacity, expenses, or financial obligations will be affected by that spouse’s custody of the children
  • the standard of living the couple established during the marriage
  • the education of each spouse and the time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the spouse seeking alimony to find employment to meet their reasonable economic needs
  • the assets and liabilities of each spouse and the relative debt service requirements of each spouse, including legal obligations of support
  • the property each spouse brought to the marriage
  • either spouse’s contribution to the marriage as a homemaker
  • the relative needs of the spouses
  • the tax consequences of the alimony award
  • whether either party’s income was considered in dividing the couple’s property
  • any other factor relating to the economic circumstances of the spouses that the court finds to be just and proper.

A judge considers custodial status when determining alimony payments. That means alimony calculations are affected by whether or not the receiving spouse has custody of the children, and custodial spouses may receive higher alimony payments.

After an award is determined, alimony payments can be made in installments or a single lump-sum payment. In most cases, alimony payments have a set end date, but the judge has the discretion to leave an award open-ended if they feel it is appropriate.

Alimony ends when either spouse dies, the set end date passes, or if the dependent spouse remarries or moves in with a new partner.

The amount and duration can be modified if either spouse experiences life changes.

How Are Alimony Payments Calculated?

North Carolina does not use a formula to calculate alimony payments. Judges have broad discretion based on adhering to a set of factors in North Carolina’s alimony laws.

After a spouse demonstrates a need for alimony and the other spouse is in a position to pay alimony, the court considers these factors, as well as any others that are relevant, to come up with a presumptively just and fair duration and amount.

Modifying Alimony Orders in North Carolina

If either spouse has a significant change in life circumstances, either spouse can petition the court for alimony modification or termination.

The change must be substantial, such as a loss of employment by the supporting spouse, a spouse finishing a job training program earlier than the court expected, health issues, or other similar life events.

Lump sum amounts are non-modifiable, and if you put a non-modification clause in your divorce decree, you will not be able to seek a modification either.

Terminating Alimony in North Carolina

Alimony ends on a specific date set during court proceedings or if:

  • Either spouse dies
  • The spouses resume marital relations
  • The dependent spouse remarries
  • The dependent spouse cohabits with another adult in a romantic relationship.

Alimony and Taxes

If the judge finalized your divorce before December 31, 2018, maintenance payments are tax-deductible to the payer and taxable income to the recipient.

For any divorce concluded after December 31, 2018, under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, spousal maintenance payments are no longer a tax-deductible expense for the payor spouse, and the recipient will no longer pay taxes on the payments.

North Carolina Alimony FAQs

How is an alimony award enforced?

When a spouse falls behind in alimony payments, this debt is known as alimony arrears. In those cases, North Carolina law provides several remedies that allow recipient spouses to collect the amounts rightfully owed to them. Some of these actions include:

  • You can file a Motion for Contempt or a Motion for Order to Show Cause, telling the court what part of the order is being ignored and asking the judge to hold that person in contempt of court. A contempt of court order can lead to fines, arrest, and jail time.
  • A lump-sum payment for all arrears amounts to the recipient
  • Transfer of a property title to the recipient
  • Payment of attorney fees and court costs
  • Place a lien against the payer’s real or personal property to secure payment
  • Wage garnishment through the payor’s employer
  • Bank accounts levies
  • Credit reporting agency notifications

What is a “simple divorce”?

A simple divorce is an informal term for an absolute divorce in cases where the person filing only wants to be divorced and is not requesting anything else such as property division or spousal support.

Read More: Uncontested Divorce in North Carolina

How long does alimony last in North Carolina?

It depends on several factors. A judge ultimately decides the amount and the duration in a North Carolina family court. In addition to several statutory factors, judges can consider any other relevant factor that may also impact awarding alimony.

Absent any other extreme circumstances, a general rule of thumb is that alimony length usually equals one year of alimony paid for every three years of marriage. For example, a marriage that lasts nine years may result in an alimony award of three years.

Also, remember that alimony can modify or terminate early if certain actions warrant it, such as

remarriage or cohabitation of the receiving spouse or the death of either spouse.

Is marital misconduct a factor related to alimony?

If either spouse took part in marital misconduct during the marriage, the court considers it part of the grounds for alimony in North Carolina. In “at-fault” divorces, the at-fault party can pay more “punitive” alimony if the court determines it.

Marital misconduct can take many forms:

  • Adultery. If both parties cheated on each other during the marriage, the judge can decide whether to order alimony. An exception applies if the cheating was “condoned” or forgiven by the other spouse.
  • Abandonment
  • Cruel treatment which threatens the life of the other spouse
  • Indignities that make conditions and life difficult and intolerable
  • Financial misconduct includes recklessly spending marital money or hiding marital assets.
  • Personal behavior, including alcohol and drug abuse or a criminal act that results in the spouses’ separation (i.e., jail or prison)

In most cases, the court won’t make an award to the dependent spouse if the dependent spouse committed adultery during the marriage, regardless of financial need.

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