Child support is the payment by one parent to the other parent or another party for health, education, and maintenance of a child. In North Carolina, anyone who has custody of a child or is seeking custody in a simultaneous proceeding, may file a motion for child support. In most situations, a child support action is brought in conjunction with a divorce case.
The child support obligation begins at birth and is borne by both parents. This obligation generally exists until the child has reached 18 years of graduated from high school, whichever occurs last. If the child is no longer attending school or is not making regular progress toward graduating, the child support obligation may end prior to graduation.
In North Carolina, the amount of child support each parent must pay will be determined by applying the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines (“Guidelines”). The Guidelines provide for a set of calculations based on the income of each parent, other existing child support orders and number of children living with each party. Unless the parents mutually agree to a child support amount or the judge decides that it is inappropriate to use the Guidelines, all child support cases in which the parents’ combined incomes are $360,000 or less per year will be calculate based on the Guidelines.
“Income” for purposes of child support calculations, is the gross income derived from any source. This includes salary, bonuses, commissions, rental income, workers compensation benefits, capital gains, gifts, prizes, and alimony received for anyone outside the current action. Funds received from means-tested public assistance such as SSI are not counted as income.
A parent is not allowed to voluntarily stay unemployed or underemployed in an effort to avoid paying child support. If the judge determines that the parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed due to bad faith or deliberate suppression of income for the purpose of minimizing his or her child support obligation, the judge can impute. This means that the judge can determine the earning capacity of the parent and enter a child support order as if that parent was receiving the income he or she could reasonably be making.
Income must be proven. Each party is required to submit to the judge proof of past and current income, including pay stubs, employer statement and the most recent tax return.
Child Support Calculation
The Guidelines provide for numerous adjustments to income and/or expenses based on health insurance costs, uninsured medical expenses, and other expenses such as special education expenses. Once all of the financial data is compiled, the judge will use one of three Worksheets to calculate the child support obligation of each parent depending upon the custody arrangements. Worksheet A is used when one parent has primary physical custody of all children. Primary physical custody is defined as 243 or more nights per year. Worksheet B is used when the parents have joint physical custody, which is defined as each parent having at least 123 overnights per year and each parent is financially responsible for the child while in his/her care. Worksheet C is used for split custody arrangements whereby each parent has primary physical custody of at least one child.
Using the appropriate worksheet, the judge determines what percentage of the child(ren)’s care is to be paid by each party, although either party can request that the judge deviate from the Guidelines.
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Voluntary Child Support Agreement
To avoid use of the Guidelines and judicial intervention, the parties may voluntarily agree to a child support arrangement. This gives the parties greater flexibility and control, and is usually much less expensive than litigation. Additionally, support by parental agreement can address issues not usually dealt with by the court, such as payment of college tuition.
Although the judge can reject a child support agreement by the parents if he or she deems it not to be in the child’s best interest, the presumption is that any such agreement is reasonable.
Child Support Modification
A child support order may only be modified upon motion of a party. The moving party must demonstrate that there has been a substantial change of circumstances warranting a modification.
An increase or decrease in the needs of the child(ren) always constitutes a substantial change of circumstances justifying a modification of support. The most common scenario, however, is a party’s involuntary reduction of income. In these situations, the outcome is unclear and depends greatly upon the specific facts of the case. Factors such as the party’s ability to pay despite the decrease in income, good-faith effort to increase income, and the amount of the reduction will all be considered.
Conversely, in and of itself, an increase in either parent’s income does not constitute a substantial change of circumstances and does not warrant an increase. However, if the child support order is at least three years old when the motion to modify is filed, and, based on the Guidelines, the parties’ income results in a child support amount that is 15% higher or lower than the current order, that does constitute a change of circumstances.
Do You Have Questions About Child Support in North Carolina?
At the Law Office of Kelli Y. Allen, PPLC, we recognize that the terms of a child support order can determine the shape of your child’s future. Please contact our Charlotte child support lawyer if you’re preparing for divorce or have questions regarding an existing order. We can help you successfully negotiate or modify a reasonable order that safeguards your child’s well-being.
Contact the Law Office of Kelli Y. Allen, PLLC at (704) 870-0340 to schedule a consultation today.