Marital misconduct is unacceptable behavior committed by a spouse during a marriage in North Carolina. A spouse may use marital misconduct as a reason for a legal separation and for postseparation support -- which is awarded during proceedings and before a final alimony order. Marital misconduct may also influence the court's decisions with regard to alimony.
Behavior Toward Spouse
Marital misconduct in North Carolina includes a person's negative behavior toward or abandonment of his spouse. If a person throws his spouse out of the family home permanently or prevents her from returning -- by changing the door locks, for example -- he's guilty of marital misconduct. A person who treats his spouse cruelly to the extent of endangering her life has committed marital misconduct. Any indignity one spouse forces on another spouse is marital misconduct if the indignity makes her condition intolerable and her life difficult. If a person refuses to provide for his spouse but has the means to do so, his behavior constitutes marital misconduct -- again, if it makes her life difficult and her condition intolerable. For example, if a husband earns enough money to pay household utility bills but refuses to, and his wife has to live in a house with no heat or lights, he's committed marital misconduct. However, if the husband doesn't have the money to pay the bills, it's not misconduct.
North Carolina law defines some types of personal behaviors as marital misconduct; these behaviors affect the other spouse but don't involve her directly. This includes adultery, separation caused by the criminal act of one spouse -- a spouse in jail for theft, for example -- and the use of drugs and alcohol in a way that makes the other spouse's condition intolerable. For example, a spouse addicted to heroin is guilty of marital misconduct because his habit causes behavior that makes his spouse's life miserable.
A spouse who spends the couple's money recklessly or who wastes, destroys or hides assets is committing marital misconduct. For example, if one spouse is spending money on unnecessary items and living beyond the couple's means without the other spouse's knowledge, she may be guilty of marital misconduct. A spouse who tries to hide financial accounts during the divorce proceedings or sells assets below value without the other spouse's permission is committing marital misconduct.
A divorcing spouse has the right to ask a jury or judge to decide whether martial misconduct occurred. If a spouse is found guilty, the judge considers the marital misconduct when deciding support awards to the other spouse. A paying spouse's marital misconduct may confirm a postseparation award or alimony in cases where the receiving spouse wouldn't otherwise be entitled to it.
On the other hand, a financially dependent spouse may have a postseparation or alimony award reduced or denied because of her marital misconduct. A spouse who committed adultery loses her right to a postseparation award and alimony unless her spouse also committed adultery or forgave her. The dependent spouse is still entitled to support, however, if the couple resumed their marital relationship after the adultery occurred. Resuming the marital relationship -- having physical relations or going back to living as husband and wife -- shows a spouse's adultery was either forgiven or condoned by the other spouse.
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