Spousal Support, Child Support, and Kelly Clarkson

The details of Kelly Clarkson’s divorce have dominated news articles with reports of Clarkson’s court ordered obligations to pay her ex-husband, Brandon Blackstone, staggering amounts of spousal support and child support. Initially, Clarkson was ordered to pay Blackstock, $195,601.00 per month: $150,000.00 per month related to spousal support and $45,601.00 per month in child support. Recently, Clarkson and Blackstock’s divorce proceedings were finalized requiring Clarkson to continue paying Blackstock $45,601.00 per month in child support and lowering Clarkson’s spousal support obligation to $115,000.00 per month to be paid until January, 31, 2024. It is difficult to comprehend a six-figure per month support obligation, however, it is important to remember that support obligations are determined based on the parties’ incomes and accustomed standards of living.

As a family law attorney in North Carolina, I get a lot of questions about post-separation support, alimony, and child support in the context of a divorce. Understanding familial support obligations can make an incredible difference in a person’s confidence and ability to leave an unhealthy marriage, so it is vital to understand how your income can be impacted as a result of divorce.

Spousal Support

North Carolina recognizes two types of spousal support, post-separation support and alimony.

Post-separation support is temporary and considered rehabilitative in that it is designed to enable a financially dependent spouse to meet his or her reasonable needs pending an award of alimony. Typically, post-separation support is short term and terminates upon an award or denial of alimony or upon the entry of a Judgment of Divorce in the event a claim for alimony is not pending. Post-separation support can also be awarded retroactively to the date of separation to account for the financial burdens experienced pending the entry of the post separation award.

Alimony is a more long term form of spousal support meant to enable a party to continue the standard of living established during the marriage and is paid for a period of time correlated to the duration of the parties’ marriage. Typically, in North Carolina courts, alimony is awarded for half the length of the marriage, however, there are several factors that can affect the amount and duration of an award for alimony.

To be awarded spousal support, either in the form of post separation support or alimony, a party must first present evidence showing he or she is financially dependent on the other spouse. This means you must actually require financial support from the other party to meet your reasonable needs and expenses. This is determined by affidavits submitted by each party evidencing each party’s income and projected annual expenses. To be successful, the dependent spouse’s income must be deficient to cover the costs of his or her reasonable expenses and the supporting spouse must have a surplus of income after accounting for his or her reasonable expenses.

Once it is established that one party is financially dependent upon the other, the court, at its discretion, determines the appropriate amount and duration of the alimony award. As mentioned above, many factors contribute to the court’s assessment of an equitable alimony award.

Many clients who have experienced adultery in their marriage have many questions related to how infidelity affects divorce proceedings. In my experience as a family law attorney, adultery has the potential to impact an award for alimony more than any other potential claim arising in a divorce proceeding.

Adultery, described as illicit sexual behavior, is defined by N.C. General Statute § 14-27.20(4) as an “act of sexual or deviate intercourse, deviate sexual acts, or sexual acts…that were voluntarily engaged in with someone other than the person’s spouse.”

If a Judge determines that a dependent spouse, and only the dependent spouse, committed illicit sexual behavior prior to the parties’ separation, the dependent spouse is statutorily barred from receiving alimony. Even if the supporting spouse committed other statutorily defined acts of marital misconduct, N.C. General Statute § 50-16.3A(a), states that a court shall not award alimony to a dependent spouse who committed illicit sexual behavior. On the other hand, if the Judge determines that a supporting spouse, and only the supporting spouse, has committed illicit sexual behavior, alimony is statutorily required so long as the supporting spouse has a surplus of income compared to his or her reasonable expenses. If both spouses committed illicit sexual behavior, it is in the Judge’s discretion to determine the most equitable outcome considering all the circumstances presented to the court.

While many states utilize a calculator to determine alimony based upon a percentage of the supporting spouse’s income, in North Carolina there is NO specific calculator used for determining spousal support. This is beneficial as the court takes a more in depth look at the full picture of the parties’ finances, however, fully analyzing the income and expenses of the parties make the process more complex and subjective than most may expect.

Child Support

In North Carolina, both parents have a duty to provide financial support to their minor child(ren), even after divorce. Child support is generally governed by the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines. These guidelines outline the court’s method of calculating an award of child support and the factors affecting the same.

There are multiple approaches to calculating child support depending upon the party’s custodial arrangement. The North Carolina Child Support Guidelines provide for these differing methods through three worksheets built to account for the day-to-day financial needs of the minor child(ren).

  • Worksheet A is utilized when one party has primary custody of the minor child(ren). Primary physical custody, according to the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines, means the minor children spend 123 or less overnights with the parent obligated to pay child support.
  • Worksheet B is used when the parties share joint custody of the minor child(ren), meaning each parent has overnight custodial time with the minor children for more than 123 overnights per year.
  • Worksheet C calculates child support in the event split custody schedule. Split custody is an arrangement awarding each parent primary custody of at least one of the parties’ minor children. For example, the parties have two minor children: Jane and Joe. Jane primarily lives with Parent B and spends less than 123 overnights with Parent A while Joe primarily lives with Parent A and spends less than 123 overnights with Parent B.

The guidelines are intended to provide adequate awards of child support, equitable to both parents and the minor child(ren), by considering the parents’ earnings, income, and other circumstances related to a parent’s ability to pay. North Carolina’s child support guidelines are based on the concept that a child should receive the same proportion of parental income he or she would have received if the child’s parents lived together and is based on economic data estimating the average total household spending for minor children. To that end, the court determine child support obligations based on the gross income of both parties, from all sources, considering any payments related to healthcare coverage premiums, work-related child-care expenses, and other extraordinary expenses paid for the benefit of the minor child.

Get an idea of what your child support obligation may look like by using Sodoma Law’s Child Support Calculator.

Whether you are a supporting spouse defending a claim for support or a dependent spouse entitled to an award of support, it is important to understand all the factors relevant to determining equitable support obligations. There are many factors that can potentially complicate the calculation of a party’s obligations of financial support. Often clients are concerned a party may be purposefully decreasing their income to evade his or her financial obligations or that a party has abnormal sources of income making it difficult to ascertain the party’s realistic ability to pay. Unlike celebrities, most do not see a six-figure amount in support payments but knowing what you are entitled to or what you may be required to pay is important for you and your family’s future. An experienced family law attorney can assist you in navigating the more intricate procedural and equitable aspects related to familial support obligations and allow you to rest easy knowing the most equitable result, pursuant to North Carolina law, has been reached.

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