Spousal Support

Spousal support, or alimony, is paid by one spouse to the other after the parties separate.

Understanding spousal support

There are several factors that influence whether spousal support is awarded, including the length of the marriage, the income of each party, the earning capacity of each party, and the conduct of each party during the marriage.

If you have questions about how much support you can expect to pay or receive, an experienced family law attorney can advise you. Unlike child support, spousal support is not calculated by a worksheet. The amount paid or received depends, partly, on each party’s reasonable monthly expenses and his or her income.

At New Direction Family Law, we represent individuals throughout Raleigh, Cary and the surrounding communities. We educate individuals about the two types of spousal support they may receive in North Carolina, including:

Post-separation support

This type of temporary support is awarded prior to alimony being awarded. Generally, marital misconduct is not considered at this stage, and is primarily based on the financial needs of the parties.


This type of support is intended to enable the dependent spouse to retain his or her standard of living. It is based, in part, upon the relative needs of the parties and the supporting spouse’s ability to pay support.

How long does spousal support last?

The purpose of post-separation support is to provide temporary financial support to one spouse after the parties separate until a permanent award for alimony is entered or denied.

Alimony is a more permanent type of financial support for a dependent spouse. However, the term “permanent” can be deceiving. It does not mean, generally, that a dependent spouse will be awarded alimony for the rest of his or her life; rather, support is for a definite number of months or years. Judges have great discretion in determining the length of time and amount of alimony.

Additionally, martial fault, by either or both parties, can have a substantial impact on an award of alimony.

Learn how North Carolina’s spousal support laws could be applied in your situation by scheduling a comprehensive consultation. We can be reached through our online contact form or by calling (919) 719-3470.

Post-separation support

When the court considers awarding post-separation support, it must first determine if there is a “dependent” spouse and a “supporting” spouse. According to North Carolina’s spousal support laws, a dependent spouse is a spouse, “whether husband or wife, who is actually substantially dependent upon the other spouse for his or her maintenance and support or is substantially in need of maintenance and support from the other spouse.” If the court determines that a dependent spouse exists, the court must then determine whether there is a “supporting” spouse. Meaning that the supporting spouse has provided financial support for some or all the length of the marriage.

The dependent spouse must prove that his or her own financial resources are not adequate to support his or her reasonable monthly expenses. The next step is to show that the supporting spouse has the financial resources to pay post-separation support. The court will review the dependent spouse’s “reasonable needs,” and look at the parties’ needs in light of their accustomed standard of living, their incomes, their income-earning ability, their necessary expenses, and the amount of debt of the parties. The goal of both post-separation support and alimony is to provide financial assistance that allows the dependent spouse to maintain the standard of living that he or she has become accustomed during the marriage. However, it is important to note that the reality is that many times, two households cannot maintain the same standard of living that the parties enjoyed during the marriage.

In determining whether to award post-separation support and the amount of post-separation support, the court may take into account any acts of marital misconduct committed by the dependent spouse on or before the date of separation. This evidence may only be presented if the supporting spouse first presents evidence of marital fault by the dependent spouse. If the supporting spouse does not present such evidence, the award, if any, is based only upon the financial circumstances of each party.

Finally, the court must find that the supporting spouse has the ability to pay post-separation support. In some cases, the court may find that the dependent spouse is in need of support, but the supporting spouse does not have the ability to pay any support.

The duration of the award is in the discretion of the judge and will terminate at a date certain or at the time an award for alimony is entered.


When determining whether to award alimony, the process is much like awarding post-separation support. The court will first determine if there is a dependent spouse and a supporting spouse. Once the court determines that a dependent spouse and a supporting spouse exist, the court takes into consideration many factors to determine whether alimony should be awarded, the amount of alimony awarded and the length of time alimony is awarded.

The court has wide discretion in awarding alimony and considers all relevant factors. These factors include, but are not limited to, length of marriage, income of parties, income-earning abilities of parties, ages of parties, physical and emotional health of parties, accustomed standard of living during the marriage, contributions of a spouse as a homemaker during the marriage, and marital misconduct of both parties before and on the date of separation.

There are many types of marital misconduct that a judge may consider. They include abandonment, maliciously turning the other spouse out of doors, cruel or barbarous treatment that endangers the life of the other spouse, excessive use of alcohol or drugs that renders the conduct of the other spouse intolerable and makes life burdensome, and illicit sexual behavior.

It is important to note that if the dependent spouse has committed “illicit sexual behavior” before or on the date of separation, then this is a complete bar to receiving alimony. However, if both spouses have committed illicit sexual acts during the marriage, then the acts of the dependent spouse are no longer a bar to alimony.

If a spouse has committed illicit sexual behavior and admits such to the other spouse and they resume the marital relationship or sexual relations, the court may find that the misconduct was forgiven or “condoned” by the other spouse. However, the misconduct is only considered forgiven if the offending spouse does not engage in misconduct again.

Alimony terminates at a date that the judge orders, upon death of either the dependent spouse or the supporting spouse, upon remarriage of the dependent spouse, or upon the dependent spouse continuously or habitually cohabitating with another individual in a marriage-like relationship.