Separation 101: Primary Wage Earners

Written by Jonathan Breeden

February 10, 2021

When you separate from your spouse, you may feel like you’re beginning a new, better chapter in your life. That is understandable and an excellent way to look at most separations in North Carolina. But state law dictates various details of your financial and childcare situation after separating, so you need to know what to expect.

As the primary wage earner in your former relationship, you will face a different set of challenges than your ex. A qualified North Carolina separation attorney can help dig through the details to ensure you are treated fairly and your children are cared for.

Here are some ways a separation for primary wage earners in North Carolina can move a little smoother:

Make Sure the Separation Is Legal

First, you must confirm that you are separated in the eyes of North Carolina courts. There are two fundamental but straightforward requirements:

  • You and your spouse must live in different homes
  • At least one of you must consider the separation to be permanent

That means you cannot just declare yourself separated and continue to live in the same house. Also, owning a second home does not count — there must be an intent to legally separate.

Figure Out Your Budget

Determining who is leaving and moving to a new place is one of the first things to consider in any separation. In many cases, primary wage earners go and move to a new home or apartment. If that is the case, you need to determine your budget in your new home quickly.

Similarly, you have to keep in mind what the budget will look like for your spouse. It is essential to try and come up with a way to make sure all of the bills — your new bills and your spouse’s bills — are paid with your family’s income. These situations often require some belt-tightening and lifestyle changes because most couples do not have the cash in savings to cover times like this. In our experience, it usually costs at least 40% more for couples to live apart than it does for them to live together.

Your spouse may try to say that you have no right to move out because of the financial hardship it will cause. That is not the case. You do have the right to live separately and pay your bills. The courts are going to allow you to pay your bills at your new home before any post-separation support or alimony is awarded to your stay-at-home or lesser-earning spouse.

Determine Child Support

Before initiating a divorce, your separation agreement can determine details about child support. Your child support arrangement will be based on the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines. When making this arrangement, consider what the courts will factor in: your income, your spouse’s income, healthcare costs, childcare costs, the number of overnights the children have with each parent, and other costs that go into raising children.

If you feel that your spouse is demanding too much in child support simply because you are the primary wage earner, an experienced attorney can make your case for a fair arrangement.

Expect Post-Separation Support

“Post-separation support” is alimony or spousal support that begins during separation before the divorce is finalized. This comes in the form of monetary payments from the higher-earning spouse to the lesser-earning or stay-at-home spouse.

The amount you may have to pay will be based on:

  • Your living expenses
  • Your spouse’s living expenses
  • The amount of money you have leftover after you pay your expenses and child support

If you have a surplus after each month’s expenses and your lesser-earning spouse has a shortfall, the court may order you to pay post-separation support.

Get Help With Your Separation or Divorce

Separations can get complicated fast. For primary wage earners, it can also become costly. Fortunately, a trusted spousal separation attorney from the Breeden Law Office can help mitigate the costs and ensure that you are treated fairly.

To discuss your case with an experienced attorney today, call (919) 661-4970 or fill out our online contact form.


Divorce In North Carolina: What You Need To Know

A book by Jonathan Breeden