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How Long Do You Have to Pay Alimony in North Carolina?

Paying Alimony

When a marriage ends, spouses might leave with different financial situations. While both might support the household, one spouse might have contributed more money, while the other added value in different ways. The latter might find it tough to meet their monthly expenses after divorce, and spousal support could help them make up the difference.

Spousal support payments, or alimony payments, flow from the supporting spouse to the spouse who requires assistance, known as the dependent spouse. But the length of payments can vary widely from one case to the next, and there’s no absolute formula in North Carolina to know what to expect. This uncertainty is why working with an experienced family law attorney is so important.

When Is Alimony Awarded?

Paying Alimony

To get an idea of how long payments could last, you’ll have to understand why a judge orders alimony. For support to be an option, the dependent spouse must meet three conditions:

  • There was no illicit sexual behavior by the dependent spouse
  • They need help meeting their own needs and maintaining the standard of living that existed during the marriage
  • Their supporting spouse has the ability to pay support

If all three conditions are met, a judge can approve support, then determine the amount the supporting spouse will pay the other. Age and health, the ability to earn money, and the length of the marriage are some of the factors that play into the amount of the payments.

How Does Marital Misconduct Affect Alimony?

Misconduct during marriage can also have a large impact on the decision. North Carolina law requires alimony from a supporting spouse guilty of infidelity, known as illicit sexual behavior, and bars a cheating dependent spouse from receiving alimony. Behavior other than unfaithfulness, like abuse, abandonment, or cruelty, can affect the alimony decision, but are not an absolute bar.

RELATED: Who Gets Alimony in North Carolina and Why?

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How Long Can Alimony Obligations Last?

Paying Alimony

From temporary help to adjust to a new start, or permanent alimony to foster the former quality of life, how long a supporting spouse pays alimony depends on the individual case. Additionally, the length of the marriage plays a large role in how long the alimony payments last, but a judge can weigh other factors. These factors include: 

Postseparation Support

Postseparation support is like temporary alimony. The postseparation support decision is different from alimony and is designed to take place shortly after the parties separate. This decision is different from alimony because it is usually based solely on economic factors and is designed to be a band-aid until a final decision is made on alimony. 

Ongoing Orders With Permanent Alimony

A judge might decide not to set an end date to alimony, opting for permanent alimony. Payments can go on indefinitely after a long marriage with circumstances that leave a spouse without the ability to maintain their standard of living. Circumstances such as when a dependent spouse traded a chance at building a career in exchange for maintaining the household and bringing up the kids can leave an ongoing need to receive alimony. Permanent alimony can be terminated later down the road if circumstances change.

Monthly Alimony for a Set Period

The most common form of alimony is monthly payments at a set amount for a set period of time. Evaluating alimony claims can be difficult because North Carolina does not have any laws, rules, or decisions that set the length of time for alimony. It is up to the judge’s discretion, based upon the circumstances of the case.

Fixed Payments With Lump-Sum Alimony

When the court determines a lump sum alimony award is in order, the supporting spouse will have to pay a fixed amount to the dependent spouse. This payment can happen once or over time until the amount is met, with money or transferring property acceptable means to pay alimony in this circumstance. A judge can order this form of payment if they foresee potential issues with ongoing, permanent alimony payments. 

Does That Mean Alimony Can Never Change or End Otherwise?

Paying Alimony

Ongoing and permanent alimony orders still aren’t immune to alteration. When the situation changes, a judge could change terms or terminate payments.

Changes That Can Lead to Modifying Alimony

When alimony payments are set on a timeframe, changes could occur when factors undergo a big shift. If the supporting spouse loses their ability to pay alimony, or the dependent spouse becomes self-sufficient, alimony payments could change. After considering new information, the courts will make the final decision, issuing a court order with updated terms.

Situations That Warrant Terminating Alimony

Alimony, whether with a set end date or without, can meet the requirements for early termination. This mean there are certain cases where the states does away with the requirement to pay alimony:

  • One of the spouses passes away
  • The divorced spouses resume their marriage
  • The dependent spouse remarries or romantically cohabits with another adult

Myers Law Firm Can Help Understand Alimony in Your Case

Alimony decisions in divorce aren’t as simple as crunching numbers. It’s hard to know on your own how long alimony payments will last. That’s why it’s so important to find experienced legal help. 

Myers Law Firm has over 60 years of combined experience helping both supporting and dependent spouses in alimony cases. We can help you build a case for payments and schedules that amount to a fair level of financial assistance. Call (888) 376-2889 or complete this brief form to learn your legal options during this difficult time. 


N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-16.1A (1995). 

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-16.2A (1995). 

North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission. (2019, June). North Carolina Divorce Packet. https://www.nccourts.gov/assets/inline-files/NC-Divorce-Packet-Aug-2019.pdf

North Carolina Judicial Branch. Separation and Divorce. https://www.nccourts.gov/help-topics/divorce/separation-and-divorce#alimony-7481

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

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