Alimony on a court desk. Divorce and separation concept

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Ask Carolyn: My Soon-to-Be Ex Would Rather Get Alimony Than Work!

Carolyn Woodruff, J.D., C.P.A, C.V.A.

Dear Carolyn,

I work and make a good income.  During our marriage, my wife worked for a while, but stopped when we had children.  She has and maintains a CPA license.  We have a 15-year-old with some discipline problems and ADHD.  We are divorcing, and I think she should go back to work.  She wants alimony.  Who is right?  Does she need to work, or can she just continue to be a leech?

– Anti-Leech

Dear Anti-Leech,

I certainly understand the frustration you are facing. I’ll give you some tips for preparing your case, particularly regarding whether the court should impute income to your ex-wife.  You will want to study carefully the case of Nicks v. Nicks from the North Carolina Court of Appeals in June 2015, which discusses the topic of imputation of income.  You have an excellent case that your wife should apply for and obtain employment as a CPA. The only issue you raise is whether your child’s situation justifies your wife staying home. The North Carolina Child Support Guidelines by analogy indicate that the judge cannot impute to a parent staying home with a child under three.

In Nicks, the couple was married 26 years and had four children, with only one still a minor. The child was in the tenth grade, and the mother expressed concern for the child’s mental well-being. The wife was a physician, and she had recently worked, but the clinic closed. Before the clinic closed, the wife was making $8000 per month. The trial court imputed $8000 per month income to wife, and wife appealed to the North Carolina Court of Appeals. The husband had $19,000 of disability income per month as a disabled physician, which ended at his age 65. The wife needed around $11,000 per month for her needs, according to the trial court. The Court of Appeals remanded (sent back) the case to the trial court to determine if physician wife was suppressing her income in “bad faith” as defined by the Works decision from 2011.

In Works, the Court of Appeals indicated the income could be imputed if a party has depressed her/his income in “bad faith.” “Bad faith” is defined as “shirking the duty of self-support.” A spouse refusal to seek or to accept gainful employment is “bad faith.”

After consideration of Works, the Court of Appeals in Nicks remanded (sent back for further findings) to the trial court regarding whether the wife in Nicks was acting in “bad faith.”

Good luck with getting your wife back to work as a CPA.


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Note that the answers in “Ask Carolyn” are intended to provide general legal information, and the answers are not specific legal advice for your situation.  The column also uses hypothetical questions.  A subtle fact in your unique case may determine the legal advice you need in your unique case.  Also, please note that you are not creating an attorney-client relationship with Carolyn J. Woodruff by writing or having your question answered by “Ask Carolyn.”

This blog is an excerpt from Ask Carolyn 2, now available on Amazon