If it’s a Monday night at 9:00 p.m., then I bet you can find me parked on my couch with the channel flipped to Bravo, watching my girl Shannon Beador on the Real Housewives of Orange County. Admittedly, I do not identify with any of the real housewives. Spontaneous trips to a beautiful Caribbean island? Nope. Going shopping at Chanel for my Friday night outfit? Can’t relate. You are more likely to catch me at Target. However, as of late, I’ve noticed that Shannon and I do have something in common: family law.

If you follow the show, you have seen Shannon talk about her separation from her estranged husband, David Beador. Not only has she shared the emotional side of her separation journey, but she has also shared a little about the legal side. In episode two, Shannon goes on an all-expense paid trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and her soon to be ex-husband, David, paid for the trip. Generous, right? Then we find out why. Shannon explains that the reason David paid for the trip was because, “Well, that is the life I am accustom to, at least that is what my attorney tells me.” While it is important to remember this is reality tv, and not reality, Shannon may not be too far off base.

The Reality of Alimony in North Carolina

In North Carolina, Alimony, in part, is defined as follows: payment of a spouse or former spouse, periodically or in a lump sum, for a specified or for an indefinite term. It sounds confusing, I know. To simplify, alimony is financial support from one spouse to the other either in monthly payments or in a lump sum. There are two criteria that need to be met in order for alimony to be granted. First, there needs to be a dependent spouse and a supporting spouse. Meaning, one spouse has to earn more money than the other (the supporting spouse) and the spouse who makes less money relies (or depends) on the other spouse financially (the dependent spouse). Second, the supporting spouse needs to have the ability to pay the dependent spouse. Meaning, after the supporting spouse pays their reasonable needs and expenses, including child support (if applicable), do they have a enough money left over to provide to the dependent spouse to help them meet their deficit. Even though Shannon is a reality television celebrity, her husband makes a substantial income, which is how Shannon became a Real Housewife in the first place. David is an entrepreneur and a business owner, who according to the show, earns more money than Shannon.

So, what does Shannon mean when she says, “the life I am accustomed to”? Among other things, our legislature considers the parties accustomed standard of living when determining an award of alimony. As we have all seen, during Shannon’s marriage to David, their family has gone on lavish trips; it was something that during their marriage they were accustomed to. Now, the Beadors are not your average couple, and the key thing to consider when thinking about their situation compared to yours or someone you know who is going through a divorce, is that second criteria of alimony- the ability to pay. When a family is going through a separation, the family’s income goes from paying for one household to paying for two households. For most families, it can be a difficult financial struggle to make that transition and still have a surplus of funds to maintain a standard living for which the family has grown accustomed.

The Reality of Calculating Alimony

In episode six of RHOOC, Shannon is preparing for court where she plans to seek temporary financial support from David. By the end of the episode, Shannon tells Tamera that the court awarded her a sum of money for monthly support for her and the girls of $30,000 per month. Then, she goes on to tell Tamera that David was “furious!” Remember, while the court may have seen this as fair, David may be worried about the money he needs to provide for his own reasonable needs and expenses too.

In the end, Shannon settles with David for $22,500 in non-taxable family support per month. Why settle? Shannon explains that it is because she feels that is what she and her family “needs.” Not knowing what Shannon’s expenses are, we can assume this amount is the deficit after taking her own income into consideration. While we don’t know the exact details of how they came to the settlement, it is also important to remember that court is not the only way to come to a resolution. For many families, using the methods of collaborative divorce or mediation can help resolve these issues without ever getting the court involved.

In North Carolina, there is no calculator for alimony. Alimony is calculated using someone’s specific and reasonable needs and expenses making alimony obligations unique to each person and each family. To help you figure out your monthly needs and expenses, a good place to start is by using your county’s financial affidavit.

A financial affidavit is essentially a budget. So, if your county does not have such a form for you to complete, find a sample budget online. Work to determine your monthly expenses for things such as your: mortgage, utilities, internet, security bill, mobile phone bill, car payment, health insurance, car insurance, etc. Consider your other monthly expenses like: gas, magazine subscriptions, lunches, entertainment, haircuts, birthday gifts and Christmas gifts. While your routine monthly expenses are necessary to determine your monthly need, it is equally important to consider those annual costs such as tax and registration for your car, Costco or Sam’s memberships or season passes to Carowinds. When you sit down to figure out your budget, it’s a good idea to use a year’s worth of bank statements in order for you to be as accurate as possible. Really think about these numbers and not just what you see on one particular statement. For example, is your gas bill in the summer the same as the winter – if you only use bank statements from June, July, and August, those statements will not account for the increase many of us experience in the winter months. Ask your credit card company for a year-end summary. Don’t forget the gifts you bought for teachers or for kids’ birthday parties!

The Reality of Protecting Yourself

In episode six of RHOOC, Tamera tells her mother about Shannon’s day in court and the amount of financial support the judge awarded her. After her initial shock of hearing $30,000, Tamera’s mom asks, “can he really afford that?” Then, she says, “I have two sons, I would not want them to have to pay that!” I realize that many mothers with a son paying alimony who may have been watching the show were probably thinking the same thing. But let’s clear something up here: not only men pay alimony. In North Carolina that statute reflects only that a “supporting spouse” will pay alimony to a “dependent spouse.” The statute is not gender specific. Lady bosses, listen up! You too are at risk of paying alimony.

If you are thinking about getting married and want to protect yourself in the event of the divorce, you may want to consider a prenuptial agreement. A prenuptial agreement can help you and your soon to be spouse navigate the muddy waters of financial support and can help you save a ton of stress and money in the hopefully unlikely event you divorce. While prenuptial agreements do not sound romantic, neither does divorce court or alimony. It is something every engaged couple should consider. Why would you buy health insurance, car insurance or life insurance if you didn’t think it was important to prepare for the worst or the unlikely? Additionally, if you are already married, you and your spouse can still enter into a postnuptial agreement that may serve a similar purpose.

Regardless of whether you are a Real Housewife, educating and preparing yourself for what may happen in the event of a divorce is important. To read more about alimony, click here, and to learn more about the new tax laws that go into effect, click here. We are here to help. Please contact us at Sodoma Law for more information, or to just chat about RHOOC.