As described in this article, Massachusetts has recently revised its alimony laws.
The lawmakers in that state established stricter guidelines as to the length of alimony payments, among other revisions.
Could Massachusetts’s reforms begin a trend towards alimony law reforms across the United States, and more importantly for us, in North Carolina?
Currently, North Carolina has no guidelines that directly tie an alimony award to the length of a marriage. Rather, the alimony statute lists “the duration of the marriage” as one of 16 factors that a court must consider in making an alimony decision. The statute is silent as to the weight of each of the 16 factors.
In practice, North Carolina judges have wide discretion in making alimony decisions. With so many factors to consider and the freedom to give more weight to some factors and devalue others, alimony decisions can vary widely from judge to judge and from county to county.
Many North Carolina judges use a “needs and income” approach to alimony. That means that a judge determines what income is available to the spouses, and then determines the financial needs (not wants) for each party. After that, the judge can use the 16 factors in the statute to settle on a number that they believe is reasonable.
It appears that Massachusetts’s judges have retained some discretion on making alimony decisions under their new laws, but now have stricter boundaries for their decisions.
The question is whether other states, including North Carolina, will follow Massachusetts’s lead and move toward more defined rules for alimony decisions in the future.