Family Law

Child Support

Calculating child support is not always as simple as punching numbers in a calculator.

In most cases, a child support agreement is calculated using the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines and Worksheets. Under the current version (effective Jan. 1, 2019), these guidelines apply to all families where the combined gross (pre-tax) income of the parents is $360,000 a year or $30,000 a month. The guidelines carefully walk through what counts as income and what doesn’t. If you and the other parent are salaried employees of a company owned by someone other than you, calculating income is pretty straightforward. If you own a business, receive income from sources other than your employment or receive government benefits, it gets a little tricky. You should review the income definition carefully before attempting to use a child support calculator.

In some cases, the guidelines might not apply. It’s possible that the calculated child support amount is too low to meet your children’s actual needs and expenses or that the amount is more than the children’s reasonable needs and expenses. In these cases, you can ask the court to deviate from the guidelines and to perform a more thorough accounting of the actual needs and expenses and the other parent’s ability to contribute to those expenses. Because there is always a possibility that you might need a deviation, or the court might order one on its own, we ask all parents to complete a full Financial Affidavit setting forth all of your children’s needs and expenses, including their share of your fixed monthly expenses like house payments. 

When the combined gross income of the parents is more than $30,000 a month, the guidelines do not apply. When you fall into this high-income bracket, we conduct a similar detailed analysis of the children’s reasonable needs and expenses to calculate a child support obligation. Although this is not technically a deviation, because we will still need to analyze and consider all of your children’s needs and expenses, you will need to complete the Financial Affidavit

You May Be Wondering...

Q & A

How long is child support paid?

Child support in North Carolina is paid until a child turns 18 UNLESS:

  • If a child becomes emancipated before their 18th birthday, child support stops; OR
  • If a child is still in school when they turn 18, support continues until they graduate, stop going to school on a regular basis or fail to make satisfactory academic progress, or reaches the age of 20 whichever occurs first. (See N.C. Gen. Stat. Sec. 50-13.4)

Even though the statute defines when support stops, it will not automatically terminate if you are paying under a court order. If your child support obligation is in a court order, then you must file a Motion to Terminate the obligation with the court as soon as the event referenced above occurs. If you need assistance with preparing or filing this Motion, please see our Customized Legal Services Menu for how we can help. 

What about college?
See our video answer.

Unfortunately, as set out above, child support in North Carolina does not extend past age 18 or high school graduation.  The payment of college expenses is completely voluntary on the part of the parents.  If you and the other parent agree to cover these expenses, it is very important that your obligation be carefully set out in a private support agreement.

What about car expenses and car insurance?
The Guidelines do not consider expenses like those related to driving; they are not considered to be necessary expenses.  Similar to college expenses, discussed above, payment of car related expenses is completely voluntary.  If you and the other parent agree to cover these expenses, again it is critical that the obligation be carefully set out in a private support agreement.

What if something happens or changes?
Child support is never truly permanent and can be modified upon a showing of changed circumstances.  (See N.C. Gen. Stat. Sec. 50-13.7). A substantial change can be shown in many ways, including:

  • An increase or decrease in the child’s needs
  • Involuntary decrease in the income of the parent paying support
  • If the child support order is at least 3 years old and there is a change of 15% or more pursuant to the applicable Guidelines

We’re often asked, what if the other parent now is making more money? An increase in the payor’s income alone is not enough to modify a child support obligation; there must be grounds for an increase separate and apart from the upward change in income.

It’s very important that you request a modification of support as soon as you know that a change has occurred because any adjustment to the amount paid cannot be made by the court prior to the date a Motion for Modification is filed. If you find yourself needing a change in your child support amount, please reach out to us quickly so we can help you get the process started.

What if they don't pay me?

There’s nothing more stressful than not receiving child support that you are dependent on. The process for making the other parent pay is determined by what kind of document the obligation is in – either a court order or a private agreement. 

If the obligation is in a court order, the road is easier to navigate, and you have easy access to the courts. As soon as the other parent misses a payment, you need to file a Motion for Contempt with the court. Under the remedy of contempt, the Court has broad authority to enforce the support order including incarceration and the payment of attorney’s fees. (See N.C. Gen. Stat. Sec 50-13.4, N.C. Gen. Stat. Sec. 5A-11 and N.C. Gen. Stat. Sec. 5A-21). While the court system is there to enforce the order, there are some very specific rules and procedures that must be followed in order for all options to be available to you. If you need assistance getting your support order enforced, we’re here to get you started and can handle the entire process if you’d rather have one less thing to worry about.

If the obligation is in a private contract, the road is definitely longer and more complicated. You’ll need to file a brand-new lawsuit seeking an order for specific performance and possibly a judgment for money owed. This really can feel like you’re starting from scratch, and unfortunately it can take months for the matter to be heard. If you find yourself facing this path, we encourage you to reach out to us, so we can help you navigate the process and get to a resolution quickly.

How do the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines work?
The guidelines use three worksheets to calculate the child support amount. Each is based in part on a residential schedule and the sharing of expenses. 

  • Worksheet A is used when one parent has primary residential custody (defined as at least 243 nights a year) of all of the children at issue.
  • Worksheet B is used in two situations: 1). when the parents share custody of all of the children at issue AND there is a true sharing of expenses between the parents and 2). when one parent has primary custody of one child, but the parents share custody of one or more other children. The first situation is by far the most common scenario for use of Worksheet B. Shared custody is defined as the child living with each parent for at least 123 nights a year AND each parent assumes financial responsibility for the child when they are in that parent’s care. This requirement for a true sharing of expenses is often what makes application of Worksheet B tricky. Because it requires constant communication between the parents and regular reimbursement for expenses between parents it is easier to calculate child support obligations using Worksheet A regardless of the custodial schedule.
  • Worksheet C is used when primary custody of two or more children is split between the parents. In our experience, Worksheet C is rarely used.

For each worksheet, the information needed is the same. You’ll need to know the following information:

  • Gross Income of Both Parents – Remember, getting this number right can be complicated depending on the employment situation and source of income for both parents. Please read the definition included in the Guidelines carefully.
  • Support Obligations for Other Children – If you or the other parent has a support obligation for children other than those you are calculating support for, you’ll need to include that amount on the worksheet.
  • Work-Related Child Care Costs – If you or the other parent incur any reasonable child care costs due to your employment or job search, those are included on the worksheet.
  • Health Insurance and Health Care Costs – The amount paid by a parent to provide health insurance (including medical and dental) is included on the worksheet.
  • Other Extraordinary Expenses – The Guidelines refer to two specific categories of expenses that are included here: 1). special or private schools necessary to meet a child’s educational needs and 2). transportation expenses for implementing the custody schedule. Although there are no other expenses specifically referenced, the courts have recognized expenses like ice-skating lessons when a child has been very actively involved in that activity during the marriage. Deciding what goes in this column can be very difficult, so please use our coaching services to help you in deciding what expenses can be included.

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