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Montgomery Family Law

North Carolina Spousal Support

Understanding Spousal Support in North Carolina

It is not unusual, when a couple gets divorced, for one spouse to need financial assistance while trying to become self-reliant and branch out on his or her own. If the spouse who needs help (the “dependent spouse”) can show a need for financial support, and the other spouse (the “supporting spouse”) can afford to pay support, the court will enter an order for spousal support, which in North Carolina can include “postseparation support” and/or “alimony.” Prior to entering an order for alimony, the court often will first enter an order for “postseparation support,” which is support ordered on a short-term basis, prior to the trial on alimony.  Spousal support is intended to ensure that the dependent spouse can maintain a standard of living as close as possible to the marital lifestyle. This support is intended to be rehabilitative and not punitive. In 1995 North Carolina restructured its laws to place lesser importance on marital misconduct when considering spousal support. Now, marital misconduct is not a necessary element for an award of spousal support.

Types of Spousal Support

In North Carolina, there are two types of spousal support. Alimony is long-term financial support the supporting spouse pays to the dependent spouse. Postseparation support is a temporary form of financial support, paid prior to the trial on alimony. Typically, postseparation support is ordered for a period of twelve months or until the trial on alimony can be scheduled and heard. Claims for postseparation support and alimony are actually two separate legal claims, although they are most often filed together in the same complaint to the court. The spouse that is in need of financial support from the other spouse in order to pay his or her reasonable expenses is entitled to file a claim for postseparation support and/or alimony. In determining an award of support, the judge will review both parties’ incomes, financial needs, earning abilities, and the marital standard of living.

North Carolina Spousal Support Payments

To determine the amount of alimony and how long the alimony payments will last, a judge will look at multiple factors. These factors can include:

  • The length of the marriage;
  • The debts of each spouse;
  • The income and assets of each spouse;
  • The standard of living of the spouses established while married;
  • The spouses’ earning capacities;
  • Any marital misconduct;
  • The contribution of a spouse as homemaker;
  • The ages and the health conditions of the spouses;
  • The contribution by one spouse to the education, training, or increased earning power of the other spouse;
  • The extent to which the earning power, expenses, or financial obligations of a spouse will be affected by reason of serving as the custodian of a minor child;
  • The relative education of the spouses and the time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the spouse seeking alimony to find employment;
  • The property brought to the marriage by either spouse;
  • The relative needs of the spouses;
  • The federal, State, and local tax ramifications of the alimony award;
  • Any other factor relating to the economic circumstances of the parties that the court finds to be just and proper.

(See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-16.3A)

Once the court decides if post-separation support and/or alimony is appropriate, there are different ways to for the payments to change hands. Spousal support, including post-separation support and/or alimony, can be paid in one lump sum, in monthly or quarterly payments or even through a transfer of title. Unless they are paid in one sum, most court orders will direct how long alimony will be paid or, in rare cases, they will say that alimony will last indefinitely.

A spouse may ask the court to modify spousal support based on changed circumstances, such as job loss or medical troubles. The court can also rule to end spousal support if the dependent spouse decides to remarry or cohabitate with someone else. The death of either spouse automatically terminates spousal support payments, including post-separation support and/or alimony.

If you have questions about post-separation support or alimony, please contact us today. We would be happy to answer all of your North Carolina spousal support questions.