When married couples in North Carolina decide to end their marriages, spousal support might be one of the issues that need to be resolved. Either spouse can request spousal support at the time the divorce petition or answer is filed. However, asking for spousal support does not necessarily mean that the court will order it. Instead, judges must consider multiple factors before issuing a spousal support order.
Factors judges consider when determining whether to award spousal support
Unlike child support, there are no specific guidelines for spousal support. Spousal support is meant to help a lower-earning spouse become financially independent and is designed to be temporary when it is ordered. When a divorcing spouse asks for spousal support, the court will consider the following factors:
- The length of the marriage
- The incomes of each spouse and their potential earning ability
- The ability of the higher-earning spouse to afford spousal support payments
- Whether the lower-earning spouse could secure better employment through training or education
- Whether one spouse engaged in misconduct during the marriage
- The health and age of both spouses
- Any child support that the payor spouse is ordered to pay
- Separate property that each spouse brought into the marriage
- Contributions that each spouse made to the household during the marriage
If the court determines that a spousal support award should be ordered, the spouse who is ordered to pay must adhere to the court’s order. If he or she fails to make the ordered spousal support payments, he or she can be held in contempt of court and face sanctions.
Requesting a modification
When a person who is ordered to pay spousal support undergoes a change in their financial circumstances that makes it difficult to continue with their ordered payments, they should not simply stop paying. Instead, they can file a motion to modify the spousal support order. While the matter is pending, they should continue paying since the arrearage will not go away. It’s important to note that spousal support arrearages cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.
An individual who needs help understanding their divorce case should reach out to an attorney. A family law professional may explain how to request spousal support or file for a modification.