Adultery in North Carolina - Does Cheating Affect Alimony?

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Unfortunately, not all marriages work out. While marriages tend to fail for many different reasons, one of the single most common causes is adultery by one or both spouses. In many states, adultery is considered a ground for seeking an “at fault” divorce, and a spouse’s adultery can also affect the amount of alimony available to the non-adulterous spouse.

As many spouses know, cheating often has consequences. Aside from the effect of cheating on the marriage itself, cheating may affect the divorce process and any alimony awards received by the spouses. Each state varies on how exactly adultery will affect an alimony award, and so this article is intended to clarify that issue for the state of North Carolina.

The Nature of Divorce in North Carolina

Before discussing whether adultery or cheating would affect an award of alimony or spousal support, the nature of divorce in North Carolina must be examined. North Carolina is a no-fault divorce state. Once spouses live separately for the statutorily defined period of time, either spouse can seek a divorce regardless of the fault of either party in causing the separation.1 Under current North Carolina law, a spouse’s adultery will not affect the divorce judgment.

About North Carolina Alimony Rules

Under North Carolina’s alimony laws, either spouse may request alimony. Prior to awarding alimony, the Court must find that a spouse is eligible to receive alimony. Only spouses who were financially dependent during the marriage may receive alimony.

Once the court determines that a spouse is eligible for spousal support, the court must set the amount and duration of that alimony award. The primary focus of the court in awarding alimony is fairness. More specifically, however, North Carolina requires courts to consider sixteen other factors in awarding alimony. The most important of these factors are:

  • The marital misconduct of either spouse;
  • Each spouse’s earning capacity;
  • Each spouse’s age and health;
  • Each spouse’s income;
  • The post-divorce child custody and support arrangements;
  • The standard of living during the marriage;
  • The property owned by each spouse;
  • The financial needs of each spouse; and
  • Any other relevant economic factor.2

The Effect of Adultery and Other For-Cause Grounds for Divorce on Alimony

North Carolina’s alimony law explicitly allows a spouse’s adultery to be considered in multiple different circumstances. First, a spouse’s adultery can affect that spouse’s eligibility to receive alimony. An adulterous dependent spouse cannot receive alimony under North Carolina. Also, if a supporting spouse committed alimony, the dependent spouse must automatically be awarded alimony. Second, a spouse’s adultery may also be considered in determining the amount and duration of alimony awards. 

The Verdict:

While many states do allow a spouse’s adultery to be considered in the award of alimony, North Carolina goes a step further. Not only can a spouse’s adultery affect every aspect of the alimony process, North Carolina law actively seeks to punish adulterous spouses with increased alimony payments. While financial eligibility is still important in the alimony process, a spouse’s infidelity tends to move the pendulum in North Carolina.

If your spouse has been cheating on you and you plan to sue for divorce, you should consider contacting a local divorce attorney for assistance. Divorces involving adultery claims tend to be very messy lawsuits and will be very difficult to litigate on your own. Your rights can be best protected by proactively protecting your ability to succeed in your divorce litigation.

Note: This is not legal advice. Please consult a lawyer for your specific situation.

Resources:

  1. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-6.
  2. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-16.3A.