The basics of North Carolina alimony

Alimony - sometimes called "spousal support" or "spousal maintenance" - is one of the most hotly debated family law topics. Some see it as draconian and punitive (more so for men, since they are statistically more likely than women to pay alimony), while others view it as an irreplaceable source of income to a spouse who sacrificed his or her own professional development to take care of the family and keep the household running.

Since alimony is a possibility for many North Carolina divorces, no matter which side of the debate you believe is right, you should have at least a cursory understanding of what alimony is and how spousal support determinations are made.

It is also important to note that there are two distinct spousal maintenance categories: post-separation payments and alimony awards. The difference between these two is that post-separation payments are meant to bridge the gap between when the couple separates and the time the divorce is final. After the divorce has been finalized, post-separation awards will either transition into alimony payments or will end altogether.

Post-separation awards

North Carolina's family court judges are guided by a number of statutory guidelines when considering post-separation or alimony payments. Post-separation payments are more limited in scope, and are governed by Section 50-16.2A of the North Carolina General Statutes.

When determining whether to grant post-separation payments, the court looks at:

  • Financial needs of the parties
  • Couple's standard of living during the marriage
  • Income of each party, including salary, dividends, trust allowances or other recurring income sources
  • Debts and obligations of each spouse
  • Amounts necessary for the living expenses of both parties
  • Dependents

Alimony awards

Alimony payments are governed by different statutory provisions and different factors, as set forth in Section 50-16.3A of the North Carolina General Statutes. Judges making post-divorce maintenance awards can either make temporary awards or ones that are permanent in nature, and have wide discretion to grant or deny alimony requests.

After determining that one spouse is a dependent spouse, and one is a supporting spouse, judges decide if an award is equitable under the circumstances. While some other states may base an alimony award solely on economic factors, North Carolina's family court judges can consider a wide array of factors, including:

  • Marital "misconduct" on the part of either spouse
  • Income and earning capacity of the parties
  • Age/health/mental condition/special needs of the parties
  • Duration of the marriage
  • Standard of living in the marriage
  • "Sacrifice" of one spouse to support the other in pursuit of
  • educational, career or personal development goals
  • Assets and liabilities of each party, including marital property and separate property
  • Other factors the court may deem relevant


Knowing how wide the court's discretion is and what sort of information the judge might consider when making a decision about spousal support - either in the form of post-separation payments or an alimony award - can be key to making a persuasive argument. Past results dictate that, statistically speaking, it is also highly beneficial to have an experienced family law attorney at your side to help navigate the North Carolina family court system successfully.

If you need more information about alimony, divorce or any other family-related legal issue, seek the advice of a qualified family attorney in your area.