Spousal Support in North Carolina: Who is required to pay and for how long?

Two of the most common questions we hear when we meet with a potential client are “How will I support myself through this divorce?” OR “Will I be required to pay support to my ex?”

The domestic law statutes in North Carolina provide for dependent spouses to receive spousal support initially upon their marital separation as well as after their final divorce.  Here we describe the different types of spousal support that a dependent spouse can receive or that a supporting spouse may be required to provide.

Who will receive Spousal Support?

Generally, in a marriage, there is a supporting spouse and a dependent spouse. The dependent spouse is one who is substantially dependent upon the other spouse for his or her maintenance and support. A judge will determine if the spouse is dependent and the burden of proving dependency is placed on the spouse asserting the claim for alimony.

What Types of Spousal Support are Available?

The two types of spousal support are Post-Separation Support and Alimony. The main distinction is the purpose of the support and the duration.

Post-Separation Support

Post-Separation Support (PSS) is temporary in nature and its purpose is to assist the dependent spouse during the transition of a divorce.  PSS is “primarily designed to function as a means of securing temporary support for a dependent spouse in an expedited manner.” (Wells v. Wells, 132 N.C.App. 401, 410, 512 S.E.2d 468, 474.) Since PSS is temporary in nature, it will have an end date. The law requires many factors to be considered when determining PSS.  The goal of PSS is to help the dependent spouse with the reasonable needs and expenses that are incurred immediately following the parties’ separation so long as the supporting spouse has the ability to pay. Judges will apply the relevant factors to determine the amount and duration of post-separation support. An Order for PSS can be enforced by the Court, including finding someone in contempt which allows the Judge to send a person to jail for not paying.  However, since PSS is temporary in nature, an Order granting PSS cannot be appealed. A dependent spouse also has a claim to seek an award of attorney’s fees from the supporting spouse for fees related to a PSS claim.


Alimony is a more long-term form of spousal support determined based on the length and actual standard of living during the marriage. The amount of alimony may be more than a prior award for PSS if the standard of living during the marriage was higher than the post-separation expenses of the dependent spouse that was used to determine the PSS award.  An award of alimony will have a set date for the last payment to be made and is typically paid on a monthly basis. An award of alimony may also provide for additional support to be paid to the dependent spouse if the supporting spouse receives bonuses in addition to regular recurring income.

There are also defenses to a claim for alimony, including several types of marital misconduct or waiver by contract. For example, with respect to marital misconduct, adultery committed by the dependent spouse during the marriage is an absolute bar to receiving alimony.   An Order for alimony is immediately appealable as it affects a substantial right, and the Order for Alimony can also be modifiable upon the filing of a proper motion with the Court. Like PSS, a dependent spouse also has a claim for attorney’s fees.

Each award of either PSS or Alimony is highly unique and dependent on the application and degree of multiple factors. Judges will have varying preferences when applying the factors to determine an award of spousal support. A detailed affidavit of financial standing must be filed with the Court to determine one’s financial need or ability to pay spousal support.  The experienced attorneys at Skufca Law are knowledgeable about how North Carolina judges consider spousal support claims.  We will help you navigate the Courts to reach the best outcome whether you are eligible to receive an award of spousal support or required to pay spousal support.

Contact us today at 704-376-3030 and let us help you obtain the best outcome for your future.