If one spouse earns less than the other spouse, or has a lower income than the other, he or she may ask the court to order the payment of alimony. The parties can agree on the terms of alimony to be paid, or not paid, in a separation agreement. If there is no agreement, the court will determine whether a party receives alimony or spousal support, and if so, the amount and for how long. Unlike child support, the law offers no formula or guideline to determine the amount of alimony to be paid in North Carolina. The judge reviews the incomes and expenses of the parties to arrive at a figure that is fair based on the unique circumstances of each case.

Fault is not a required element for alimony entitlement or the defense against paying alimony. The ruling on alimony can be based solely on the parties’ finances. However, unlike a divorce, which is granted after a year of separation on a “no fault” basis, the parties in an alimony case can use marital fault, now called “marital misconduct” to either defend against paying it or assert a claim for it. If one of the parties engages in “illicit sexual behavior” with someone other than his or her spouse before they separate, it can determine whether there is an obligation to pay alimony or whether the other party loses the right to seek alimony. NC Gen. Stat. 50-16.1A. But there are other variables and defenses related to illicit sexual behavior and other allegations of marital fault, such as abandonment. Temporary alimony is called post-separation support (PSS), and it is frequently addressed at the beginning of a lawsuit. Because PSS is temporary, it ends when the court makes a ruling on alimony.

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