Couples who go through a divorce negotiate what they would like regarding spousal support, child custody, visitation rights and an equitable share of any property distribution. Through a process of discussion and compromise, couples can arrive at a divorce agreement that reasonably satisfies each party. 

It is important for divorcing couples to understand that the court determines whether to grant spousal support. Courts also determine the amount of support, as well as which spouse must pay support.

Why does the court provide spousal support?

The system of spousal support, formerly called alimony, prevents a hardship when there is a marital pattern of financial inequity between divorcing spouses. Spousal support does not automatically apply to every divorce case. 

Either spouse may be the primary earning member of a family while the other spouse has voluntarily accepted low wages or no employment. For example, one spouse may stay home to raise the family’s children, or a spouse may have forfeited his or her education while working to put the other spouse through graduate school. The divorcing couple’s income and living standard at the time of divorce influence the amount of spousal support.

What types of spousal support exist?

The divorcing spouses may agree on a single lump-sum support payment in cash or in the form of an IRA. In other cases, courts may award spousal support for a set period so that the less financially stable spouse may find decent employment or obtain a marketable skill through education or job training. In exchange for granting a larger share of divorce assets to the supporting spouse, the court may award permanent spousal support to the dependent spouse.

When do courts allow post-divorce modification of spousal support?

North Carolina courts set a high standard for granting a spousal support modification. For example, if the supporting spouse quits a job to plead poverty, the court may not be impressed. If the dependent spouse can prove the supporting spouse hid assets during the original support determination, the court may grant an increase to the dependent spouse.

If either person receives a large inheritance or monetary windfall, the court may modify the original spousal support agreement. A supporting spouse may receive a modification if he or she becomes disabled and permanently unable to work.

It is not impossible to obtain a modification. People’s lives change after divorce. One or both former spouses may have a legitimate reason to seek a spousal support modification.