Spousal Support, Child Support, and Kelly Clarkson

Gavel with wedding rings next to it and $100 bills underneath with the words As a family law attorney in North Carolina, I get a lot of questions about what the difference is between post-separation support, alimony, and child support in the context of a divorce. For some, the financial elements of a family law case can be overwhelming. The following is a breakdown of three hot topics that the courts consider when awarding spousal support and child support.

Recently, Kelly Clarkson was ordered to pay her ex-husband, Brandon Blackstock, $195,601 a month in alimony and child support. That amount is broken down as follows: $150,000 per month in alimony (also known as spousal support or spousal maintenance in some states) and $45,601 per month in child support. According to court documents, Blackstock requested nearly double that amount. As the financial piece of Clarkson’s divorce works its way through the Court system, legal proceedings revealed Clarkson’s net worth to be roughly $45 million dollars while Blackstock’s is estimated at about $10 million dollars. Clarkson currently has primary custody of the parties’ minor children.

Spousal Support

North Carolina has two types of spousal support, post-separation support and alimony. Post-separation support is considered “rehabilitative” in nature (think of it as get you back on your feet money) and can begin as early as the date the parties legally separated. Typically, post-separation support is short term, but it may continue through the date of divorce. Post-separation support can also be awarded retroactive to the date of separation if a claim is not made in a timely manner. Although not an official term, you may hear many family law attorneys refer to post-separation support as “temporary alimony”.

Alimony is a more permanent form of spousal support paid for a longer period of time and can only be terminated under very specific scenarios. There are various items taken into consideration when awarding alimony such as:

  1. Is either party financially dependent on the other? Alimony is paid by the supporting spouse to the dependent spouse. A dependent spouse is someone who is defined as being financially dependent on the supporting spouse. For example, if one spouse was a stay-at-home spouse and the other was a working spouse, the stay-at-home spouse would most likely qualify as a dependent spouse for financial support.
  2. Was there illicit sexual behavior by either party during the marriage and before separation? 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 by someone other than the person’s spouse.” If a Judge determines that a dependent spouse has committed illicit sexual behavior prior to the parties’ separation, alimony may not be awarded. Conversely, if the Judge determines that a supporting spouse has committed illicit sexual behavior, alimony will likely be awarded if the supporting spouse is able to pay alimony from his or her income after meeting their own reasonable needs and expenses. If both spouses committed illicit sexual behavior, it is in the Judge’s discretion to make an alimony award.
  3. How much alimony will I receive and how long will it be paid? After the above two options are considered, the Court must then determine how much and how long alimony will be paid. There are many factors outlined in North Carolina General Statutes § 50-16.3A. In North Carolina there is NO specific calculator used for determining spousal support, making the process more complex and subjective than most may expect.

Child Support

North Carolina has two types of child support, temporary support and permanent support. Both parents are expected to provide financial support to their minor child or children even after divorce. Temporary child support is money paid by one spouse to the other from the date the support Complaint/Motion is filed through when a permanent child support order is entered. Permanent child support is generally governed by the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines. These guidelines outline what the courts consider when awarding permanent support. Common questions asked about child support guidelines in North Carolina include:

  1. How are the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines applied? North Carolina adopted guidelines, which were most recently revised March 2020, for calculating child support: Worksheet A (primary custody), Worksheet B (joint custody), and Worksheet C (split custody). The child support guidelines are based on the number of overnights each parent has with the children. What’s the magic number of overnights? 123. If the children spend 123 or less overnights with one parent, a Worksheet A child support calculation is applied. If the children spend 123 or more overnights with one parent, a Worksheet B calculation is applied. If the children are split between homes, a Worksheet C calculation is applied. The amount of child support calculated will vary depending on which worksheet is used. Get an idea of what your child support obligation may look like by using Sodoma Law’s Child Support Calculator.
  2. How does North Carolina define income for determining child support? The court uses the gross income of both parties, from all sources. Gross income is defined as the income received before taxes and other deductions are subtracted from your salary. Sources can include salary, wages, pension or retirement accounts, and benefits. Calculating income correctly is extremely important.
  3. What if the calculated support is not enough? If one parent pays for the children’s healthcare coverage, the parent paying the premium will get credit for those payments in the child support calculation. If there are any extraordinary expenses a parent pays for the children, the parent paying will get credit for those payments in the child support calculation. Extraordinary expenses typically include educational and travel expenses for the children. If done in a timely manner, parents can ask the Court to deviate from the calculated amount if it is insufficient or unaffordable.

In Clarkson’s case, the court calculated and awarded spousal support and child support at the same time. This is not uncommon in North Carolina as the two financial support obligations rely heavily on the same financial documents. It is important to know what the court will be assessing when determining spousal support and child support. Unlike celebrities, most do not see $2.4 million dollar per year 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.

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