In our humble opinion, alimony is the wild west of family law and is in need of significant statutory reform. Statutes and case law offer little guidance at all as to how much alimony to award and for how long. There is a long list of factors found in Section 50-16.3A, N.C.G.S. that govern an award of alimony, but this list of factors is silent as to any amount to be awarded or any duration, instead leaving this completely to the discretion of the judge. The statute states that the court shall award alimony if it finds “that an award of alimony is equitable after considering all relevant factors.” While this leaves an admirable amount of flexibility to the court in awarding alimony, the lack of any further guidance can result in wildly differing awards (or non-awards) of alimony in similar cases.
In addition to being left primarily to the discretion of the trial court, Alimony is also one of the most difficult parts of a case to settle for emotional reasons. The payor of alimony (the one making the payment) is often furious at the idea of sending monthly checks to his or her former spouse for years or even decades after the parties have separated. With recent tax changes, those payments are no longer a taxable event, which is to say you don’t get to take a deduction for alimony payments. This means the person receiving the payment gets the payment tax free and the person making the payment gets no tax deduction for the payment.
On top of all the other reasons alimony can be a difficult claim to resolve, alimony is often the most financially impactful part of a given case. The difference of only a few hundred dollars a month is instantly magnified as that payment is repeated hundreds of times over the course of the award. In order to address alimony claims appropriately, we focus on determining actual incomes, potential/imputed incomes, actual need and potential employability; and work hand in hand with clients to get the best possible outcome.
There are so many legal/ technical issues with alimony related to entitlement, amount, duration, enforcement, termination, and modification that it is not efficient to attempt to outline them in this forum. A full analysis of a potential alimony claim requires a complete understanding of the finances of the parties as well as information about conduct during the marriage and the potential earning capacity of the parties. Even then, it is extremely challenging to anticipate what a court might award. It is for all these reasons that you need an experienced attorney to litigate a potential claim of alimony.