Getting Post-Separation Support Doesn’t Guarantee Alimony

North Carolina divorces generally require couples to be separated for one year before filing for divorce. Separation does not mean separate bedrooms. The separation means separate residences. Oftentimes, separation places an additional financial burden on the spouses. In marriages with a financial imbalance, one spouse depends on the other. In these cases, a dependent spouse can petition for post-separation support.

What Is Post-Separation Support?

Often shortened to PSS or called temporary alimony, post-separation support in North Carolina helps a dependent spouse meet their living expenses during the separation period. PSS is a court order that usually requires monthly payments (or a lump sum) by the supportive spouse. PSS will continue until the divorce is finalized, alimony awarded or denied, or the couple decides to resume the marriage. Changing circumstances could be grounds for PSS modification. Awarding support is at the discretion of the judge.

When deciding whether to award temporary support and how much, the judge examines the following:

  • Standard of living established during the marriage
  • Income of both spouses
  • Both spouses’ income-earning abilities
  • Debt payment obligations
  • Reasonable living expenses
  • Other legal obligations (such as child support from another marriage)

PSS is not awarded if the petitioning spouse is able to meet their own financial needs or if the supporting spouse is unable to pay. During separation, child custody, child support, and visitation can all be agreed upon or also taken to a family court for a judge’s ruling.

PSS does not automatically continue after the divorce becomes final, no matter the need of the dependent spouse. Alimony – support provided post-divorce – is a separate court order. Spouses agree on the amount, or a petition is filed in court for a judge to make the final call.

Additional Considerations for Alimony Awards

Family court judges set a higher bar when deciding whether to award alimony. Alimony, or spousal support, is generally of much longer duration than PSS and thereby more carefully considered. Marital misconduct such as infidelity plays a smaller role in whether PSS is granted but weighs heavily in alimony petitions. A judge may deny a dependent spouse alimony if they were unfaithful no matter their financial situation. If the supporting spouse was unfaithful, the dependent spouse will be awarded spousal support. If both parties cheated, the court uses its discretion on whether to grant alimony.

Factors affecting an alimony award in North Carolina include the following:

  • Marital misconduct of either of the spouses
  • Earnings and earning capacity of each spouse
  • Age and the physical, mental, and emotional condition of each spouse
  • Length of the marriage
  • Contributions by one spouse to the education or increased earning power of the other
  • Standard of living the couple established during the marriage
  • Time required for the dependent spouse to receive education and find employment to meet their economic needs
  • Assets and liabilities of each spouse

Marital misconduct is not limited to infidelity. Cruel treatment, abandonment, and excessive drug or alcohol use are among the other behaviors included in state law.

Unlike child support, North Carolina does not have state guidelines that a judge must use to decide the amount of alimony to award. Whether support is awarded, for how long, and at what amount are all at the court’s discretion. Alimony will terminate before the court order originally states if the dependent spouse remarries or lives with someone or if either spouse dies.

Support payments are no longer considered taxable income for the receiver. The supporting former spouse no longer can deduct support payments from their taxes. This is true for all divorces finalized on or after Jan. 1, 2019.

Answers to Your Questions About Spousal Support

If you and your spouse are thinking about separation, you may have questions about whether you may qualify for PSS or to pay support. The complexities of North Carolina law mean every case is different. To better understand your situation, talk with an attorney experienced in spousal support and divorce.

At Jetton & Meredith, PLLC, we have extensive and varied experience in all family law matters. Our deep familiarity with the Mecklenburg County court system can help you better navigate the various processes that are required for your case.

If you are in Charlotte or the surrounding area, schedule a consultation about your separation or divorce case. Call us at (704) 931-5535 or reach out using our online form.