At one point over the last twenty years of doing this kind of work, I heard someone refer to alimony as “ali-money.” I can understand why. The truest statement about alimony is that most everyone wants it and absolutely no one wants to pay it.
One of the many questions about alimony that I field is the “how long” one. “how long will I have to pay?” or “How long will I get it?” Easy questions, not always easy to answer.
The reason the “how long” questions are not easy to answer is because there is no statutory guidance. There is no rule, for example, that says for every year of marriage there is six months of alimony.
The only rule about the duration of alimony under North Carolina family law statutes is that the duration is in the discretion of the judge. That means that two judges applying the same North Carolina alimony law to very similar cases may, in their separate application of their “discretion” come up with two very different decisions about how long alimony should be paid.
Assume for a moment, the following facts as an illustration:
Husband makes $100,000 per year.
Wife makes $20,000 per year and has no real prospects of increasing her income..
Twenty year marriage and both are in their early 40’s.
No marital fault.
Wife needs $2000 per month to maintain a reasonable and accustomed standard of living.
Husband can pay $2000.
Let’s leave out tax consequences for now but assume that this same case is for trail in Wake County and in Orange County.
A judge in Wake County family court might look at this and think ten years at $2000 per months is reasonable. A judge in orange County might look at this and think that $2000 for there years is reasonable. Both judges are equally “right” because there is no objective right duration.
So what should you do? How can you figure out a reasonable duration to pay or expect? The answer is in consulting with an attorney who has practiced in the county your case is in, in front of the judge who is possibly going to hear your case.
Scott Allen is a divorce attorney in Raleigh, NC with over twenty years of experience in all areas of family law litigation and settlement. He can be reached at 919.863.4183.