5 Part Series-What Should I Know When Going Through a Separation? (Part 1 Financial Support)

Welcome to my five (5) part series titled "What Should I Know When Going Through a Separation?"  Today, I am discussing financial support.  This means financially supporting not only your children, but also your spouse.  That is, if your spouse does not have the resources to adequately meet his/her needs and you have the means to support him/her.  Probably not what you want to read, but you can save time and money in the future by making sure you do this correctly.

Why Am I Paying My Spouse While We are Separated?

If you meet the statutory definition of supporting spouse under the post-separation support statute, your husband/wife will more than likely meet the statutory definition of dependent spouse.  A supporting spouse is required under NCGS section 50-16.2 to continue to support their spouse if their spouse needs financial support and the supporting spouse can afford to provide the financial support.  

What Happens if I Don't Financially Support My Spouse During the Separation?

Potentially bad things.  Such as having to retroactively pay your spouse everything the Judge determines you should have been paying him/her from the date of separation to the date of divorce, plus attorney's fees.  Why pay attorney's fees when you can just resolve the situation before it develops?  

I'm not saying you should pay to have your spouse live high on the hog during the separation period while you live in squalor, but you want to make sure that at least your spouse's basic living expenses are covered.  Make sure you pay the bills you were paying prior to separation and make sure your spouse has enough for food and basic necessities.  Providing more than the bare minimum is not a bad idea if you can afford it.  This will hopefully help you avoid a standoff at the beginning of the separation, and you will look good in the eyes of the Judge (if it gets that far).

There is also the option of not paying your spouse any money post-separation and obtaining a final divorce decree before a post-separation support action is filed.  If a post-separation support or alimony action is not filed prior to the final divorce decree being entered, then each (or both) are forever lost.  That means if your spouse doesn't file a post-separation support action prior to the entry of the final divorce, then you are off the hook for post-separation support.

What If I Have Children?

North Carolina has done a great job, in my opinion, of simplifying child support (there are always exceptional cases).  The state does this by using the child support guidelines worksheet which factors in the amount of overnights each parent has with the child along with gross monthly income of both parties, among other factors.  

Now, if there is a custody battle and custody has not been determined yet it can make things a little difficult in determining if child support should even be awarded.  That said, each parent knows how much the other parent makes so there should be an idea as to whether or not one parent is in need of support for the child.  

If you end up being a parent that owes child support, you should make payments to the other parent.  Why?  Remember the retroactive payments for post-separation support above?  That's why.  If you owe child support and don't make payments you may have to pay not only retroactive child support, but attorney's fees as well.  Unlike post-separation support and alimony, even if a child support action is filed after a divorce it is still a valid claim and the parent to whom the support is awarded is entitled to payment.

If you have any questions about child support you can find answers here.  

How Do I Make Sure My Payments are Accurately Recorded?

First off, cash payments for household bills, direct PSS payments to spouse, and/or child support payments are about the dumbest thing you can do.  You cannot directly show that you made any support payments by paying cash unless you get a signed receipt from you soon-to-be ex-spouse (good luck with that).

Household bill payments, direct PSS payments to your spouse, and child support payments should all be made by check, credit cards (bill payments), cashier's check, or money order.  Any of the aforementioned payment methods will leave a paper trail which you can use for proof in court, if necessary.

Make sure you have records of what your bills were before you started the separation process in case you have to scale down your lifestyle after the separation period started.  This will also help to show what you and your spouse were spending and were accustomed to during the marriage.  I'm going to get into this further in the separation series, but financial record keeping is extremely helpful.  You will need you and your spouse's financial information at some point, so you might as well organize it as soon as you can.

Next time we will be discussing what to do with marital property, including joint back accounts.