The Alimony Crap Shoot, Part II: Length of Alimony

Alimony can be awarded for a specified time or for an indefinite period, to be determined in the discretion of the Court.  There are no hard and fast rules for determining the period as the alimony statute does not provide term guidelines.

For years, attorneys in North Carolina have used the “One for Two Rule of Thumb,” indicating that alimony should be paid approximately one year for every two years of marriage.  Unfortunately, there is absolutely no statutory nor case law authority for this proposition.  Family court judges have reminded attorneys regarding this fallacy.   However, the length of marriage remains a very important factor.  A three-year marriage may end up with short term post-separation support and no alimony, while a 30-year marriage could result in anything from 10 years to indefinitely.

However, recently, judges have appeared to pay more heed to the parties’ ages and retirement prospects to determine the alimony period.  Even a long-term marriage may result in a relatively short-term alimony obligation if the supporting spouse is a few years from full retirement age and his or her income will drop sharply.

Some statutory factors the Court uses to determine the length of time alimony is awarded include:

  • Marital misconduct of either spouse
  • Relative earnings and earning capacities of the spouses
  • Ages and physical, mental, and emotional conditions of the spouses
  • Marriage duration
  • Relative education of the spouses and the time necessary to enable the spouse seeking alimony to acquire sufficient education, training, and employment to meet his or her reasonable economic needs

Court orders and agreements provide for alimony termination upon the following occurrences: death of payor or payee, remarriage of payee, cohabitation (as defined in NCGS 50-16.9), and the date specified.  Since an alimony judgment cannot be overturned on appeal if the judge has a reasonable basis for the term of the award, it’s wise to try to come to an agreement regarding alimony through negotiation or mediation. It’s always best to discuss a potential alimony issue with an experienced attorney before agreeing to anything and to have the attorney draft the Agreement.  

Next Time:  Part III: How Much, How Long, and Fault Factors.

Contact the experienced family law attorneys at Weaver, Bennett & Bland, P.A. to discuss your specific legal matters