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Alcohol Abuse and Alimony

Can you be awarded alimony when your spouse abuses alcohol to the point that your life has become unbearable? Like all issues in the legal field, it depends.

What Does the Law Say?

North Carolina General Statute § 50-16.3A states that, upon the court determining that one party is the supporting spouse and the other party a dependent spouse, the court will evaluate sixteen factors to determine the amount, duration, and manner of payment of alimony.

The sixteen factors the court will consider are: (1) marital misconduct of either spouse; (2) the earning capacity of each spouse; (3) the physical and emotional condition of each party and their ages; (4) the source and amounts of earned and unearned income of each party; (5) the duration of the marriage; (6) contributions to the education of the other spouse; (7) the effect of earnings if one spouse is the custodian of minor children; (8) the standard of living during the marriage; (9) the education level and time needed to train for the spouse seeking alimony to acquire employment to meet their reasonable needs; (10) the assets and liabilities of the spouses and the debt service requirement of the spouses; (11) any property brought to the marriage, (12) contributions as a homemaker; (13) the needs of the spouses; (14) the tax consequences of an alimony award; (15) all factors relating to the economic circumstances of each party; and (16) if any income received was previously considered by the court in equitable distribution.

What is the Definition of Marital Misconduct?

North Carolina General Statute § 50-16.1A defines marital misconduct as one of nine different acts that occur after the date of marriage but before the date of separation. For this blog, we will focus on the excessive use of alcohol or drugs. To rise to the level of marital misconduct, the use of alcohol or drugs must render the other spouse’s life burdensome and condition intolerable.

The court evaluates the facts and circumstances of each case when determining if the use of alcohol or drugs reaches that level. These indignities must be repeated or continued for a period of time in order to appear to be done willfully, intentionally, or consciously as to annoy the affected spouse rendering their life burdensome and condition intolerable. In fact, this conduct must continue and cause problems for quite some time. Isolated instances of drinking will not likely rise to the level of the indignities.

The NC Supreme Court, in Miller v. Miller, 78 N.C. 102, 107-108 (N.C. 1878), held that the conduct of the offending spouse must rise to a level that would seriously annoy a person of ordinary good sense and temper. The court will consider the status of the parties, social position, refinement, intelligence, temperament, state of health, habits, feelings, and the character and nature of the acts of excessive use of alcohol.

Who Qualifies for Alimony?

If your spouse is consuming alcohol or using drugs in excess and that spouse’s consumption is severely affecting your ability to function as a couple, a family, or as an individual, and you have not provoked the other spouse’s behavior, a family law attorney can tell if you are entitled to alimony under N.C.G.S. § 50-16.1A and N.C.G.S. § 50-16.3A. Remember, occasionally drinking to excess may not be enough. The court is required to evaluate these issues on a case-by-case basis.

Note: This blog was originally published on April 12, 2021.