Williams v. Williams

Decision Date01 February 1980
Docket NumberNo. 88,88
Citation299 N.C. 174,261 S.E.2d 849
PartiesLucy Blount WILLIAMS v. Alfred WILLIAMS, III.
CourtNorth Carolina Supreme Court

Gulley, Barrow & Boxley by Jack P. Gulley, Raleigh, for plaintiff-appellant.

Hunter & Wharton by John V. Hunter III, Raleigh, for defendant-appellee.

CARLTON, Justice.


On 23 August 1977 plaintiff filed a complaint seeking, Inter alia, a divorce from bed and board, temporary alimony, permanent alimony, counsel fees and suit money, custody of the one minor child of the parties, and child support.

Prior to trial, the parties stipulated that defendant had abandoned plaintiff, one of the statutory grounds for allowing alimony under G.S. 50-16.2. The parties also agreed that plaintiff should have the care, custody and control of the minor son and that defendant should have reasonable and liberal visitation rights.

At hearing, testimony of the plaintiff tended to show that she and defendant were married in 1947; that she and defendant have three adult children and one minor child; that her husband's initial support to the family was not adequate and her father sent her $100.00 each month and later raised this to $200.00 which was paid from stock owned by her; that her husband's contributions to household and family expenses did increase gradually over the years, and 7 or 8 years prior to suit reached $800.00 a month plus payment of the mortgage, gasoline and utility bills; and that she had repeatedly asked defendant for more money to run the household throughout the marriage but he had refused.

She further testified that the family home was built in 1963 with $60,000.00 of her money and that she had spent in addition some $15,000.00 of her own money for improvements.

Plaintiff also testified that she is a junior college graduate with no experience in business; that her own average income over the past three years has been around $21,000.00, mostly from stocks; that she had a savings account balance of $123,000.00 in May of 1977 and transferred $50,000.00 of this to bonds approximately ten days prior to trial; that though she does not recall doing so, she has apparently co-signed several financial documents with defendant; that she knows little about her financial transactions as defendant has always handled them for her and at one time was paid by her family to do so; that for several years now she has contributed approximately $3,000.00 out of her savings each month for family expenses; and that the monthly expenses for herself and her minor child total $6,754.00.

Testimony of the defendant tended to show that he is president of Alfred Williams and Company of Raleigh and owns 270 of the 600 shares of stock outstanding; that in 1976 he paid $48,000.00 for a furnished condominium in Pinehurst but had the deed recorded in the name of T. F. Ellis and did not include that property on his financial statement; that he paid $4,500.00 for the lot for the marital home some three years before construction and title to the lot was conveyed in the entireties; that in addition to the $60,000.00 paid by his wife, he borrowed an additional $30,000.00 to complete the house; that his financial statement for 1976 shows a net worth of $870,000.00; that his wife did co-sign a personal guarantee for a substantial loan to Williams Investment Corporation, a business owned by him, plaintiff and their children; that he receives income from various rental properties in Raleigh and makes monthly payments on various financial transactions.

The parties introduced into evidence various exhibits regarding their financial status.

On 8 May 1978, the trial court entered three separate orders finding and concluding, Inter alia, that plaintiff had a net worth in May, 1977, of $754,000.00 which had increased to $761,975.00 by the time of trial, and defendant had a net worth at time of trial of $870,165.00; that plaintiff had an annual gross income of approximately $22,000.00 in interest and dividends and defendant had a gross income of $116,660.00 in 1977 with an after-tax income of $61,702.00; that plaintiff's reasonable monthly expenses for maintaining the household in which she is presently living "in a manner commensurate with the standard of living usually enjoyed by the parties" was $3,500.00 per month; that for the past 16 years, the plaintiff had contributed over $2,500.00 per month toward the maintenance of the household and at the time of trial and for several years prior thereto, the defendant's contributions to the maintenance of the household had been $800.00 per month plus mortgage, utility and other payments of $634.00 per month.

The trial court concluded that plaintiff was the dependent spouse and defendant was the supporting spouse. It went on to award plaintiff alimony of $1,000.00 per month, possession of the home, mortgage, tax and utility payments, payment of insurance coverage on the home, and payment of certain medical expenses. The court also found that the husband had the means to pay such alimony. The trial court based its conclusions expressly on the evidence in the case without regard to any presumption that the husband was the supporting spouse.

Plaintiff was also awarded $4,500.00 per year for private school expenses of the minor child, an additional $450.00 per month child support, $3,000.00 for each of her two attorneys and $2,500.00 for suit expenses.

We note that the award here was for permanent alimony. No Pendente lite hearing was held as defendant had contributed $800.00 per month plus house payments and other expenses during pendency of the action. Plaintiff was granted a divorce from defendant A mensa et thoro.

From the judgments, defendant appealed to the Court of Appeals. That court held, Inter alia :

(1) The trial court erred in awarding alimony to plaintiff because "(t)he evidence completely fails to support the trial court's finding that plaintiff is substantially dependent upon the defendant or in need of maintenance and support from him."

(2) The trial court further erred in awarding counsel fees because "there is no evidence that plaintiff is a dependent spouse."

(3) The trial court erred in awarding plaintiff $2,500.00 for suit expenses because plaintiff is not a dependent spouse and because G.S. 50-16.4 makes no mention of such "expenses."

So saying, the Court of Appeals reversed the orders for alimony, counsel fees and suit expenses and further vacated and remanded the child support award because no findings were present in the record as to actual past expenditures for the child.

Judge Erwin dissented, agreeing with all portions of the majority opinion except that reversing the award of alimony. He would hold that plaintiff was the dependent spouse because the findings of the trial judge were supported by competent evidence.


On appeal to this Court, plaintiff first contends that the Court of Appeals erroneously reversed the trial court's findings that she is a dependent spouse within the meaning of our alimony statutes. We agree with Judge Erwin's dissent that the trial court's findings were supported by competent evidence, and we also think the trial court properly interpreted our statutory and case law in this portion of its order. We therefore reverse the Court of Appeals.

Alimony is defined by G.S. 50-16.1(1) as "payment for the Support and maintenance of a spouse, either in lump sum or on a continuing basis, ordered in an action for divorce, whether absolute or from bed and board, or an action for alimony without divorce." (Emphasis added.) While the word "permanent" is not included, the stated definition obviously contemplates what is commonly referred to as "permanent alimony." See R. Lee, North Carolina Family Law § 135 (Manuscript ed. 1980).

G.S. 50-16.2 provides that only a "dependent spouse" is entitled to alimony when one of the ten enumerated grounds in that statute is present. Here, defendant stipulated that he had abandoned the plaintiff as contemplated by G.S. 50-16.2(4). The crucial question to determine entitlement to alimony, therefore, revolves around the meaning intended by the statutory term "dependent spouse."

G.S. 50-16.1(3) defines "dependent spouse" to mean a spouse, "whether husband or wife, (1) who is Actually substantially dependent upon the other spouse for his or her maintenance and support Or (2) is Substantially in need of maintenance and support from the other spouse." (Numbered parentheses and emphasis added.)

Conversely, G.S. 50-16.1(4) defines "supporting spouse" to mean a spouse, "whether husband or wife, (1) upon whom the other spouse is actually substantially dependent or (2) from whom such other spouse is substantially in need of maintenance and support. A husband is deemed to be the supporting spouse unless he is incapable of supporting his wife." (Numbered parentheses added.)

The legislature has not spelled out what is precisely meant by the terms "actually substantially dependent," "substantially in need of," and "maintenance and support." However, when construing the words of a statute, the intent of the legislature controls. State v. Fulcher, 294 N.C. 503, 243 S.E.2d 338 (1978); State v. Hart, 287 N.C. 76, 213 S.E.2d 291 (1975). Where the language of a statute is clear and unambiguous, there is no room for judicial construction and the courts must give it plain and definite meaning, State ex. rel. Utilities Commission v. Edmisten, 291 N.C. 451, 232 S.E.2d 184 (1977); Peele v. Finch, 284 N.C. 375, 200 S.E.2d 635 (1973), keeping in mind that nontechnical statutory words are to be construed in accordance with their common and ordinary meaning. Lafayette Transportation Service, Inc. v. County of Robeson, 283 N.C. 494, 196 S.E.2d 770 (1973); In re McLean Trucking Company, 281 N.C. 242, 188 S.E.2d 452 (1972).

Accordingly, we think the legislative intent in use of the phrase "actually substantially dependent" is clear. This term obviously implies that the spouse seeking alimony...

To continue reading

Request your trial
127 cases
  • City of National City v. Wiener, S020887
    • United States
    • California Supreme Court
    • 29 Octubre 1992
    ...603, 555 P.2d 903, 905-906; Peters v. New York City Housing Authority (1954) 307 N.Y. 519, 121 N.E.2d 529, 531; Williams v. Williams (1980) 299 N.C. 174, 261 S.E.2d 849, 859; Murie v. Cavalier County (1938) 68 N.D. 242, 278 N.W. 243, 246; Greenhills Home Own. Corp. v. Village of Greenhills ......
  • State v. Fletcher
    • United States
    • North Carolina Supreme Court
    • 8 Diciembre 2017
    ...of the relevant statutory provision, the minor in question is required to have engaged in sexual activity. See Williams v. Williams , 299 N.C. 174, 180, 261 S.E.2d 849, 854 (1980) (stating that, "[w]here the language of a statute is clear and unambiguous, there is no room for judicial const......
  • Ray v. N.C. Dep't of Transp.
    • United States
    • North Carolina Supreme Court
    • 14 Junio 2012
    ...there is no room for judicial construction and the courts must give it plain and definite meaning....” Williams v. Williams, 299 N.C. 174, 180, 261 S.E.2d 849, 854 (1980) (citations omitted). The text of the amendment leaves nothing to implication. “[T]hat which is expressed makes that whic......
  • Marks v. Marks
    • United States
    • North Carolina Supreme Court
    • 6 Mayo 1986
    ...defendant's spousal support obligations. Only a "dependent spouse" is entitled to alimony. See generally Williams v. Williams, 299 N.C. 174, 261 S.E.2d 849 (1980); N.C.G.S. §§ 50-16.1(3) and -16.2 (1984). We conclude, therefore, that the trial court did not err in terminating defendant's ob......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT