When making decisions regarding alimony issues, courts in North Carolina have to consider whether or not to award alimony in the first place. After deciding that it should award alimony, which some might refer to as spousal support, the court will then have to decide what amount the spouse who is going to pay alimony should contribute each month to the other spouse.
With respect to the first question, how a court handles alimony is largely left to the discretion of the court. There are some very narrow circumstances in which a court will either be required to award alimony or will be under an obligation not to do so, but in the vast majority of cases, a court will look to a number of factors to help it decide whether or not alimony is appropriate. It is ultimately up to the judge how to apply these factors to the unique circumstances of the couple appearing in court before him or her.
These factors include things like the ability of each spouse to earn an income, how much support each spouse needs and whether or not the spouse has a lot of assets and relatively little amount of debt encumbering those assets. The court will also consider whether one spouse helped the other spouse increase his or her income potential, for example, by staying home with children or even working full time while the other spouse gets an advanced degree. The logic is that if a spouse helped his or her partner get in to a better paying profession, then that spouse should get some benefit from that support. There are other factors that may be considered as well.
What thought process goes in to an alimony award can be complicated and largely dependent on the discretion of the judge deciding the case. In the end, however, what is important is that a fair result is reached that both provides sufficient support to the receiving spouse without overburdening the paying spouse.