The termination of alimony largely depends on the terms set forth regarding duration, and whether the alimony award is put in an unincorporated separation agreement (contract) or a court order (judgment, consent order, or incorporated separation agreement).
Alimony that is provided for in a court order, whether this is awarded in an order pursuant to trial, a consent order, or a separation agreement that has been approved by the court and incorporated into a divorce decree or other order is court ordered alimony. Thus even if you agree to alimony in a consensual, contractual separation agreement, if that separation agreement is later incorporated and made part of a divorce decree, it transforms from a contract to an order. Court ordered alimony, regardless of the terms of the separation agreement, terminates statutorily upon the death of either the supporting or the dependent spouse, and also upon the remarriage or cohabitation of the dependent spouse. N.C.G.S. 50-16.9(b). So, when there is an order for alimony in place, alimony terminates upon (1) death of either spouse, (2) remarriage of dependent spouse, OR (3) cohabitation of dependent spouse.
Cohabitation is statutorily defined as … “cohabitation means the act of two adults dwelling together continuously and habitually in a private heterosexual relationship, even if this relationship is not solemnized by marriage, or a private homosexual relationship. Cohabitation is evidenced by the voluntary mutual assumption of those marital rights, duties, and obligations which are usually manifested by married people, and which include, but are not necessarily dependent on, sexual relations.” To determine whether a couple has voluntarily assumed the rights, duties, and obligations of married people, the trial court must consider the totality of the circumstances. The primary policy in making cohabitation, not just remarriage, grounds for termination is the economic impact on the dependent spouse. It would not be fair, in other words, for a dependent spouse to be in and continue in a relationship where he or she may enjoy an economic impact from the relationship (i.e. new romantic interest contributes income) without the status of being married. A supporting spouse cannot automatically cease paying alimony due to the dependent spouse’s cohabitation or remarriage without a court order terminating the alimony.
Examples of when a court has found that NO cohabitation exists:
The courts seem to hold that parties are cohabitating when they are in a (1) mutually exclusive dating and sexual relationship; (2) consistently, if not exclusively spend overnights together, or have a residence together; (3) hold themselves out in the same ways as a married couple would; (4) go on dates, travel together, keep clothes and toiletries at each other’s homes, and provide care (if applicable) for each other’s children; and (5) mix finances and contribute financially to each other, pay bills and contribute to household expenses together, and maintain joint bank accounts.
When, on the other hand, an unincorporated separation agreement is involved, the terms of termination of alimony provided for in the contract dictate. Thus if no term in the unincorporated separation agreement provides for termination of alimony, it may continue indefinitely. A contractual support obligation of alimony in an unincorporated separation agreement, for example, that provided that alimony should be paid to the dependent spouse to support her while she obtained a college degree continued even after the death of the supporting spouse. The death of the supporting spouse did not end his obligation to support the dependent spouse until she graduated from college and his estate was required to provide the alimony payments to the dependent spouse. See White v. Graham, 72 N.C. App. 436, 325 S.E. 2d 497 (1985).
To contrast against court ordered alimony, while cohabitation will result in the termination of a support order entered by a court, either as the result of a trial or by entry of a consent order, cohabitation will not terminate a support obligation arising from an unincorporated separation agreement unless so specified in the contract. See Jones v. Jones, 144 N.C. App. 595, 548 S.E. 2d 565 (2001).
Unless provided otherwise in a separation agreement, however, reconciliation between parties who remain married may terminate an obligation to pay alimony, even if contracted for in an unincorporated separation agreement. Reconciliation, or the resumption of marital relations, is defined as the voluntary renewal of the husband and wife relationship, as shown by the totality of the circumstances. N.C.G.S. 52-10.2. To reconcile, there must typically be substantial objective indicia of cohabitation. Reconciliation did not occur, for example, in a case where the husband and wife spend four hours a day, six days per week together, in the former marital home, having dinner together, visiting with the minor children, and having occasional sex together because the husband and wife maintained separate residences, did not share chores or household responsibilities, did not hold themselves out as husband and wife, did not indicate to others that their problems had been resolved, and did not indicate that they desired to terminate their separation. Fletcher v. Fletcher, 123 N.C. App. 744, 474 S.E. 2d 802 (1996). The Court of Appeals has held, on the other hand, that reconciliation has occurred when the husband and wife lived together for four months following the execution of a separation agreement, had sexual relations, filed a joint tax return, and held themselves out as husband and wife. See Schultz v. Schultz, 107 N.C. App. 366, 420 S.E.2d 186 (1992).
In a nutshell, if alimony is court order, it will terminate upon (1) death of either party, (2) remarriage of dependent spouse, or (3) cohabitation of dependent spouse. If alimony is in an unincorporated separation agreement, it will terminate upon the terms of that contract, if ever; unless the parties remain married and resume marital relations.
N.C.G.S. § 50-6 is the statute in North Carolina that addresses absolute divorce. N.C.G.S. § 50-6 provides in part that “Marriages may be dissolved and the parties thereto divorced from the bonds of matrimony on the application of either party, if and when the husband and wife have lived separate and apart for one year, and the plaintiff or defendant in the suit for divorce has resided in the State for a period of six months. …a divorce under this section shall not affect the rights of a dependent spouse with respect to alimony which have been asserted in the action or any other pending action. Whether there has been a resumption of marital relations during the period of separation shall be determined pursuant to G.S. 52-10.2. Isolated incidents of sexual intercourse between the parties shall not toll the statutory period required for divorce predicated on separation of one year.”
The requirement that one of the parties to an absolute divorce, the plaintiff or the defendant, must have resided in North Carolina for at least six months before the filing of the divorce action is jurisdictional. Thus without one party having lived in North Carolina for the residency requirement of at least six months before filing for the divorce, the court will not have the jurisdiction to consider the divorce. The residency requirement has been defined as meaning one party is actually domiciled in North Carolina with an actual residence and the intent to remain permanently or for an indefinite period of time. The intent of a party to live in North Carolina at some future time is not enough, nor is it enough that a party have a residence in North Carolina – they must actually be domiciled at that North Carolina residence. The fact that a party is not a citizen of the United States is not required either. A party, for example, that is a German national and not a United States citizen, but that lives in North Carolina and intends to remains in North Carolina with no desire or intent to return to Germany, is a resident of North Carolina within the meaning of N.C.G.S. § 50-6.
The requirement that the parties live separate and apart for one year is jurisdictional. Thus if the parties have not actually lived separate and apart for at least one year, the court lacks the jurisdiction to consider the divorce. Living separate and apart meaning actually, physically living separate and apart; not in different rooms within the same residence. The parties must live in different residences for at least one year, and at least one party must intend for the separation to remain permanent.
North Carolina also requires that the divorce complaint be verified. This means that the party filing the action certifies and signs that they have read and understand the complaint, and intend to file the complaint. This is a jurisdictional requirement. Thus if a divorce complaint is not verified by the plaintiff, the court will lack the ability to consider the divorce. The complaint must be verified at the time of filing; it is not sufficient to obtain verification of the complaint before the complaint and summons are served on the defendant. When the plaintiff fails to verify the complaint, the trial court never obtains jurisdiction over the divorce action, and a divorce order entered in the action is void.
So how do I get an absolute divorce from my spouse? As long as you have lived in North Carolina for at least six months with the intent of remaining in North Carolina, and have lived separate and apart with the intent of remaining separate and apart from your spouse for at least a period of one year, you may file a verified complaint seeking an absolute divorce from your spouse. Once the verified complaint is filed, it must be served on your spouse and they have the opportunity to respond. The defendant may respond, and the parties may request that the court enter an judgment of divorce, or if the defendant does not respond, the plaintiff may file a motion for summary judgment with the court and provide the court with a proposed judgment of divorce. The court then may enter the judgment of divorce, and the parties will legally be divorced.
Approximately nine percent (9%) of all existing wills are invalid for one reason or another. If you die without a valid will, you die intestate, and lose control over what happens to your property. This usually also results in your estate paying a lot more to settle your affairs, which leaves less assets for your heirs. Generally estates settle much faster when you have a valid will that names people, charities, or other institutions that you want to inherit your property.
What kind of wills are there and how do I know if it is valid? Most commonly, to have a valid will, people have a formal will drawn up and executed. This consists of a typed will that specifies where your property goes, who will settle your estate, who will care for your children if they are minors, and who will administer any trusts the will may establish. Wills may also be handwritten (holographic wills) or oral. Handwritten and oral wills are not always valid and may only be considered valid in certain circumstances.
If you are married and die intestate, your property will go to your spouse and any children that you have. Each state, including North Carolina, has a specific formula to determine what percentage your spouse and children receive. If you have children from different relationships, they may be entitled to inherit as well, which may lead to an outcome you would not necessarily favor.
If you are not married, your relatives will inherit your property. In these cases, what you may have intended to go to close friends, charities, or an educational institution, may end up going to a distant relative that you may have never had a relationship with. If you die without a will and have no relatives, your estate will likely escheat to the state where you live. Thus only unmarried people without children and without property can justify not making a will; otherwise, you need to have a will in place.
About half of Americans die intestate. Many of these people leave large estates and have minor children. To have a valid will in North Carolina, you need to execute the will with two witnesses and a notary. If you need to have a will drafted, or have an estate planning attorney review your will to ensure that it is valid, contact Adkins Law to schedule a free estate planning consultation.
The history of spousal support (and child support), also called alimony or maintenance, can be traced back to the Code of Hammurabi, a Babylonian code of law dated back to 1754 BC, that declares that a man must provide sustenance to a woman who has borne him children. The Code provides that “If a man wishes to separate from a woman who has borne him children, or from his wife who has borne him children, then he shall give that wife her dowry, and a part of the usufruct of a field, garden, and property, so that she can rear her children. When she has brought up her children, a portion of all that is given to the children, equal as that of one son, shall be given to her. She may then marry the man of her heart.”
A similar law can be traced back to the Code of Justinian, which is the codification of Roman law ordered early in the 6th century by Justinian I, who was an Eastern Roman emperor in Constantinople. The Code of Justinian essentially provided that a gift of dowry or a prenuptial donation be held in escrow by the husband for the support of the wife in the event the marriage failed due to no fault of the wife. The law provided that there were five reasons a man could divorce his wife: i. Treason against the government; ii. She plotted against him; iii. Adultery (If there were no children, husband would keep the prenuptial donation and 1/3 of any property that wife possessed. If there were children, the prenuptial donation and property would be held for them when they became adults); iv. She bathed with strangers, or attended banquets, circuses, theaters, etc. against his wishes; or v. Wife remains away from home without husband’s knowledge or permission, unless she was visiting her parents. A wife, on the other hand, could divorce her husband for the following six reasons: i. Treason against the government; ii. He attempted to kill her or not warn her of a murder attempt by others; iii. He seeks to delivery her to another man for the purpose of committing adultery; iv. He accuses her of adultery but fails to prove her case; v. He entertained another woman in his wife’s home or he is frequently with another woman and refuses to stop after being warned by wife’s kinsmen; or vi. Husband is convicted of adultery (If there are children, wife retains prenuptial donation as alimony and gets portion to husband’s property to preserve for ownership of their children. If there are no children, portion of husband’s property to wife and portion of husband’s property to the government).
In the United States, modern alimony traces its roots back to feudal times in England where title and control of a woman’s property vested with her husband upon their marriage. In exchange for taking and controlling her property, the husband became responsible for support the wife for the rest of her life. This obligation to provide support continued even if the parties divorced, unless the divorce was the fault of the wife. If the wife’s bad conduct or infidelity was the cause of the divorce, the wife would not be entitled to support from the husband. Over time, the law evolved to require the wife to prove that husband’s misconduct or infidelity was the cause of the divorce, and thus entitle her to alimony.
The law in North Carolina before 1995 reflected this common law principal: that a dependent spouse seeking alimony must prove that the supporting spouse, whether husband or wife, committed marital fault before a court could consider their request for financial support. Additionally, then, regardless of whether the supporting spouse cheated, infidelity on behalf of the dependent spouse, before or after the date of separation, was a complete bar to receiving support.
The current spousal support laws of postseparation support (temporary alimony) and alimony in North Carolina were enacted in 1995. The current laws have diminished the role of marital fault in spousal support and focus more on economic need. Postseparation support is support that a dependent spouse is entitled to if the court determines that the dependent spouse’s resources are not adequate to meet his or her reasonable needs, and the support spouse has the ability to pay. While a court may consider marital misconduct in making a determination of postseparation support, the impact of any marital misconduct on a potential postseparation support award is within the discretion of the judge. Infidelity, for example, does not automatically serve as a bar for a dependent spouse seeking postseparation support; rather it is a factor for a judge to consider in determining whether to grant an award of postseparation support. An award of postseparation support will continue until: i. the date specified in the postseparation support order; ii. the entry of an order awarding or denying alimony; iii. the dismissal of an alimony claim; iv. the entry of a judgment of absolute divorce if no claim of alimony is pending at the time the judgment of absolute divorce is entered; or v. modification of an order for postseparation support. It is important to understand that postseparation support is primarily designed to function as a means of securing temporary support for a dependent spouse in an expedited manner.
The current alimony laws in North Carolina replaced a fault-based approach in making an award of alimony with a needs-based approach. With the exception of illicit sexual behavior, marital misconduct is one of many factors a judge may consider in determining whether alimony should be awarded, the amount of alimony, and the duration of the alimony award. As mentioned above, fault does control an award of alimony when there has been illicit sexual behavior. North Carolina defines illicit sexual behavior as acts of sexual or deviate sexual intercourse, deviate sexual acts, or sexual crimes voluntarily engaged in by a spouse with someone other than the other spouse. In at least one case, by way of example, penetration of a vagina by a finger was determined to be an act of illicit sexual behavior. See Romulus v. Romulus, 215 N.C. App. 495 (2011).
Illicit sexual behavior impacts alimony in North Carolina as follows:
Thus while the law is shifting away from fault in determining alimony, in North Carolina, illicit sexual behavior may serve as a bar or guarantee of an award of alimony. If you need to speak with an experienced spousal support attorney, contact Adkins Law to arrange a consultation.
In North Carolina, infidelity is one of the nine acts of marital misconduct defined under N.C.G.S. § 50-16.1A listed as “illicit sexual behavior.” North Carolina defines illicit sexual behavior as “acts of sexual or deviate sexual intercourse, deviate sexual acts, or sexual acts defined in G.S. 14-27.20(4) [criminal sexual offenses], voluntarily engaged in by a spouse with someone other than the other spouse.”
What effect does cheating have on my marriage and separation? Cheating may serve to either guarantee or bar alimony for a spouse. In North Carolina, to have a claim for alimony, there must be a dependent / supporting relationship. This means that one spouse must be a dependent spouse, meaning they are “…actually substantially dependent upon the other spouse for his or her maintenance and support or is substantially in need of maintenance and support from the other spouse.” The other spouse must be a supporting spouse, meaning they are “... a spouse, whether husband or wife, upon whom the other spouse is actually substantially dependent for maintenance and support or from whom such spouse is substantially in need of maintenance and support.”
Without a dependent / supporting relationship, a court cannot make an award of alimony. The burden of proving dependency is on the spouse asserting the claim for alimony. It is important to note that even if a spouse is dependent, that dependent spouse is not entitled to an award of alimony if the other spouse does not have the ability to pay. A dependent wife, for example, would likely not be entitled to an award of alimony from a husband in bankruptcy whom does not have the ability to pay any amount of alimony at the time of the alimony hearing. See Bodie v. Bodie, 221 N.C. App. 29, 727 S.E. 2d 11 (2012).
A finding of adultery on behalf of a party asserting a claim for alimony renders a dependency determination moot. Thus, a dependent spouse who has cheated is barred from receiving alimony; the court will not make a determination of whether the spouse is actually dependent.
An actually substantially dependent spouse means that the spouse seeking an award of alimony must actually be dependent upon the other spouse to maintain the standard of living to which that spouse became accustomed to during the last several years before separation. The spouse must actually be unable to maintain the accustomed standard of living from his or her own means.
Examples of cases where a spouse has not been found to be dependent:
Examples of cases where a spouse has been found to be dependent:
The Supreme Court in North Carolina has held, however, that just because one spouse is dependent, it does not automatically mean that the other spouse is support. See Williams. Also see Barrett v. Barrett, 140 N.C. App. 369, 536 S.E. 2d 642 (2000). A surplus of income over expenses is sufficient in and of itself to warrant a determination that a spouse is supporting. See Bodie.
If a supporting spouse is determined to have cheated, the marital misconduct must have occurred during the marriage and prior to the date of separation. A court may consider incidents of post-separation marital misconduct only to the extent that it may corroborate evidence supporting other evidence that the marital misconduct occurred during the period of marriage and before the date of separation. The date of separation is the date that the parties actually began to live separate and apart with the intention of at least one party that the physical separation be permanent. See Romulus v. Romulus, 215 N.C. App. 495, 715 S.E. 2d 308 (2011). Parties must not only physically separate with the intent of at least one party to remain separate and apart, they must physically separate in a manner that indicates the cessation of cohabitation. A husband, for example, that came and went during the period of separation but continued to receive mail and maintain belongings at the marital residence and that, while he occasionally slept at his office, he returned home to do chores and take the children to activities was determined to not have separated from his wife. The parties were determined to not have legally separated. See Romulus.
What counts as an act of illicit sexual behavior? As stated above, North Carolina defines illicit sexual behavior as acts of sexual or deviate sexual intercourse, deviate sexual acts, or sexual acts defined by N.C.G.S. § 14-27.20(4), voluntarily engaged in by a spouse with someone other than the other spouse. In determining whether to award alimony, any act of illicit sexual behavior by either party that has been condoned by the other party shall not be considered by the court.
A spouse can prove that the other spouse engaged in illicit sexual behavior in a number of ways. Admission on behalf of the offending party is a very common manner of establishing proof. The term “sexual relations”, however, is not part of the statutory definition for illicit sexual behavior. In one North Carolina case, an admission by one spouse to the other spouse that he engaged in sexual relations did not establish illicit sexual behavior. See Romulus.
To establish adultery, a party must show that the offending party had both the opportunity and inclination to engage in sexual intercourse. Wallace v. Wallace, 70 N.C. App. 458, 319 S.E. 2d 680 (1984). This means that without direct proof, a party may establish that sexual intercourse occurred by showing that they wanted to engage in sexual intercourse with another party, and had the actual opportunity to do so. An example would be a spouse who has sent text messages and made phone calls with another party, and has been observed inside the other party’s residence for a period of time. There may not be direct evidence, pictures or video of the sexual intercourse, but circumstantial evidence would show that they had the opportunity and inclination to engaged in sexual intercourse.
What does this mean? In a nutshell, to have a claim for alimony, there must be a dependent / supporting relationship. One party must make substantially more income than the other party and the dependent party must rely on that income to maintain their lifestyle. If the dependent party has had an affair, they are barred from alimony; if a supporting party has had an affair, the dependent party is essentially guaranteed alimony; and if both parties have cheated, it is in the discretion of the court as to whether any award of alimony will be granted.
If you need to speak with a family law attorney regarding spousal support and alimony, please contact Adkins Law to arrange a consultation.