Realistic Spousal Support Expectations


#1

My wife and I have been married for 15 years. We have two children 9 and 11. Since the birth of our first child, my wife has been a stay at home mom by mutual agreement. She is a teacher by training and holds a Master’s Degree in Education. She has decided that she no longer wants to be married to me and is pushing for separation even though she is still not employed. We are trying to work through a separation agreement as amicably as possible, but the issue of spousal support is a difficult one given the lack of clear standards (yes, I have seen and read the NC criteria multiple times, but it is not very helpful in knowing what is generally considered reasonable in terms of either length or amount).

Right now, I make roughly 80k a year. That is enough to support us as a united household, but not sufficient to set up two households with the same standard of living as we have enjoyed the last few years. We are splitting custody 50-50 but since she is not employed, my child support payments will be over $900 a month. She is requesting $2,000 a month in spousal support for the one year of separation and an additional 8 years beyond. It does state that we can re-evaluate should she have a substantial change in income, but in theory, she could remain unemployed and I would be on the hook for $2,000 a month for 9 years! My total child support and spousal support payments would be just over 60% of my take home pay, which means I would have to reduce my standard of living to far below hers in order to make ends meet. All of this while still trying to provide a safe, comfortable home for our two children, which I will have with me half of the time.

My attorney does not think this is reasonable, but seems to want me to fight for no spousal support after the one year separation since she is employable. I would like to at least build in some protection that my spousal support decreases after the first year regardless of whether or not she obtains a job,
but don’t know how common or reasonable that is.
I guess my question could be boiled down to whether or not a judge, should we go to court or mediation, find her demands reasonable based on our situation? Both the amount and number of years seem excessive to me, but there is no good information out there to help me compare my situation to any reasonable standard. Can anyone help shed some light here?


#2

Determining alimony can be tricky since there is no formula like there is for child support.

Typically alimony duration is for half the length of the marriage however, there is no rule that says this and you can likely negotiate down from 8 years. $2,000/mo. in alimony is not highly unreasonable but it is likely a bit on the high end. You may could expect for a total alimony and child support obligation to be about $2,000/mo.

You need to be careful about decreasing alimony payments as you could be subject to the tax law alimony recapture rule. Check out our alimony recapture calculator.

Spousal support is likely to be determined in mediation. Mediation, with a certified family financial mediator, is often very successful in settling these issues. The mediator makes no decisions but rather you and your spouse would retain control over the final settlement. Your attorney would be with you in the mediation.


Anna Ayscue

Attorney with Rosen Law Firm Cary • Chapel Hill • Durham • Raleigh • Wake Forest

Rosen Online | Unlimited confidential access to a North Carolina attorney for $199/mo - click here

The response posted above is based upon the limited factual information made available and is not intended as a full and complete response to the question. The only reliable manner to obtain complete and adequate legal advice is to consult with an attorney, fully explain your situation, and allow the attorney sufficient opportunity to research the applicable law and facts required to render an accurate opinion. The basic information provided above is intended as a public service only, a full discussion with an attorney should be undertaken before taking any action. The information posted on this forum is available for public viewing and is not intended to create an attorney client relationship with any individual. These answers are provided for informational purposes only, a person should consult with their own individual legal counsel before taking any action that could affect their legal rights or obligations.


#3

My understanding was that alimony payments are no longer tax deductible for the individual paying and also not counted as taxable income for the recipient. Has that not caused a change in the alimony recapture rule? Maybe I am misunderstanding things completely, but it seems like that would be double taxation.
Thanks.


#4

It is correct that alimony is no longer deductible by the payor and not taxable to the recipient for all alimony settlement documents/court orders executed after 12/31/19. The alimony recapture rule applies to alimony resolved prior to 1/1/19.


Anna Ayscue

Attorney with Rosen Law Firm Cary • Chapel Hill • Durham • Raleigh • Wake Forest

Rosen Online | Unlimited confidential access to a North Carolina attorney for $199/mo - click here

The response posted above is based upon the limited factual information made available and is not intended as a full and complete response to the question. The only reliable manner to obtain complete and adequate legal advice is to consult with an attorney, fully explain your situation, and allow the attorney sufficient opportunity to research the applicable law and facts required to render an accurate opinion. The basic information provided above is intended as a public service only, a full discussion with an attorney should be undertaken before taking any action. The information posted on this forum is available for public viewing and is not intended to create an attorney client relationship with any individual. These answers are provided for informational purposes only, a person should consult with their own individual legal counsel before taking any action that could affect their legal rights or obligations.


#5

I understand that the idea is to maintain the dependent spouse’s standard of living as much as possible. But does that really mean at the expense of the paying spouse being able to cover basic expenses? We live in an expensive location in terms of housing. Even moving me and my two kids into a two bedroom, modest townhouse or apartment and scaling back our expenses as much as I can imagine being possible, I calculate that paying $2,000 a month total in child support and spousal support will have me going roughly $300 in the red each month. Meanwhile, my wife while not having worked in many years is well educated, healthy, and employable. She walked out of the marriage. Do I really need to be preparing to slowly go broke by paying out 40-60% or my take home pay each month while also trying to keep my kids fed and taken care of 50% of the time? I am not sure I understand how even $1,000 a month in spousal support seems like a reasonable expectation (on top of $930 in child support), especially not for 9 years. Do I just really need to be preparing to eventually end up broke? I will basically be one medical emergency or car problem away from being broke. Should the expectation be that I work two jobs so that she can maintain her standard of living without working? This just all seems very confusing to me and odd given the fact that I did not abuse my wife or cheat on her; just just decided she wanted out. I want to do right by my wife, especially until she is able to find a job. I guess I am just surprised that the burden will fall so heavily on me even at the expense of me being able to take care of my kids. I know this is more of a venting than a question :). However, I am serious about the question of whether or not a judge or mediator (should we end up there) could end up requiring me to pay more than I am able to pay after showing reasonable monthly expenses. Should I be prepared to be going in the red every month until I am broke or is there some modicum of protection for me?


#6

You are correct that the purpose of alimony is for the dependent spouse to maintain his/her accustomed standard of living from during the marriage. However, the supporting spouse must have the ability to pay.

You, as the supporting spouse, are entitled to reasonable living expenses for yourself. You are not required to deplete your assets or pay out nearly all of your income to your wife. Oftentimes the total of alimony and child support is about half of the supporting spouse’s income.

If you haven’t done so already, check out our Alimony Calculator to see what alimony could look like in your situation.

Also check out our Child Support Calculator.

A helpful tool in your situation is for both you and your wife to fill out financial affidavits. This is a chart of each spouse’s income and every expense. It would show your ability to pay alimony and your wife’s need for alimony. Quite frequently alimony is successfully settled in a mediation with a certified family financial mediator.


Anna Ayscue

Attorney with Rosen Law Firm Cary • Chapel Hill • Durham • Raleigh • Wake Forest

Rosen Online | Unlimited confidential access to a North Carolina attorney for $199/mo - click here

The response posted above is based upon the limited factual information made available and is not intended as a full and complete response to the question. The only reliable manner to obtain complete and adequate legal advice is to consult with an attorney, fully explain your situation, and allow the attorney sufficient opportunity to research the applicable law and facts required to render an accurate opinion. The basic information provided above is intended as a public service only, a full discussion with an attorney should be undertaken before taking any action. The information posted on this forum is available for public viewing and is not intended to create an attorney client relationship with any individual. These answers are provided for informational purposes only, a person should consult with their own individual legal counsel before taking any action that could affect their legal rights or obligations.