Post Separation Support Law North Carolina
It is a well-established tenet of statutory construction that the intent of the General Assembly controls. In re Arthur, 291 N.C. 640, 641, 231 S.E.2d 614, 615 (1977).
In ascertaining this intent, we "assume that the Legislature comprehended the import of the words it employed." State v. Baker, 229 N.C. 73, 77, 48 S.E.2d 61, 65 (1948). G.S. 50-16.1A(4) (1999) defines postseparation support as "spousal support to be paid until the earlier of either the date specified in the order of postseparation support, or an order awarding or denying alimony".
According to this definition, postseparation support ends only by a prescribed date in the order for postseparation support or in an order awarding or denying alimony. See id. This is in contrast to the old law of alimony pendente lite (APL).
The old statute defined APL as "alimony ordered to be paid pending the final judgment of divorce." G.S. 50-16.1(2) (repealed). Accordingly, APL terminated upon a judgment of divorce.
Under the current support scheme, the General Assembly has created a window that may allow postseparation support to continue indefinitely.
This is not the first time that this Court has discussed this potential opening. In addressing the distinction between the APL and postseparation support statutes, this Court stated:
If an effective date of termination for postseparation support payments is specified in neither the postseparation support order, nor in the order awarding or denying alimony, the postseparation support payments may continue indefinitely if the dependent spouse never sues for alimony (or at least until an effective alimony award would have terminated, that is, when the dependent spouse remarried, cohabitated, or died). Wells v. Wells, 132 N.C. App. 401, 414, 512 S.E.2d 468, 476 (1999) (citing Nancy E. LeCroy, Note, Giving Credit Where Credit is Due: North Carolina Recognizes Custodial Obligations as a Factor in Determining Alimony Entitlements, 74 N.C. L. Rev. 2128, 2144 n.105 (1996)).
While not directly addressing the present issue, this Court in Wells recognized that the statute may allow for the indefinite payment of postseparation support. Id.
Under the plain language of G.S. 50-16.1A(4), we now hold that postseparation support may continue despite a judgment of divorce if the postseparation support order does not specify a termination date and there is no court order awarding or denying alimony.