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Separation Agreement or Consent Order

When a couple divorces, the non-custodial parent makes ongoing, court-ordered payments to the parent who has custody of the child. These payments help cover the child’s reasonable needs and expenses. The parties work out a child support payment amount in a separation agreement or consent order, or the court orders an amount after a trial. 

Child Support Overview

In North Carolina, the courts determine the amount of child support based on a formula that looks at three primary factors: 

  1. The gross monthly income of both parents
  2. The custody schedule
  3. The number of children  

If a party wishes to modify a child support order, they can file a motion with the court at any time. However, understanding the conditions that qualify for filing a child support modification are important, and we’ll discuss seven common scenarios in this article. 

In addition, the child support modification process is complex, so we’ll also explain why you should consider hiring an attorney and how Myers Law Firm can help you and your loved ones with a child support case.

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Seven Common Reasons Parents Request a Child Support Modification 

To start the process, if you’re trying to increase or decrease child support, you must provide enough evidence to justify the change. 

If child support is part of a marital settlement agreement, the court can modify the child support order if the court finds that the amount in the agreement is unreasonable. However, if the child support order is based on a court order, the child support amount can’t be changed unless you prove that there has been a substantial change in circumstances.

RELATED: What to Do When the Other Parent Won’t Pay Child Support

What counts as a “substantial change”? Below are seven common scenarios that may qualify for a child support modification. 

1. The passage of three years since the entry of the prior order and a 15% or more change in the amount of child support 

In North Carolina, courts use a set of legal guidelines called the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines to set child support. If your existing order is at least three years old, and if an application of the Guidelines to your current situation would change your child support by 15% or more, this is considered an automatic substantial change of circumstances. 

2. Your child’s needs suddenly change 

If your child unexpectedly needs additional care for a medical or educational reason, this could be grounds to increase child support. On the other hand, a child no longer requiring daycare services could lower the amount of child support owed. If your child’s needs suddenly change for some reason, it may be time to reassess child support payments. 

3. A significant involuntary decrease in a parent’s income, even if the child’s needs have not changed

A loss of a job or mandatory reduction in hours at work can be a good reason to reevaluate child support payments. 

4. A voluntary reduction in a parent’s income and a child’s needs decreasing 

If one parent takes a lower paying job, quits, gets fired, chooses to take fewer hours, or otherwise reduces their income by choice, this is not grounds for changing child support unless the child’s needs have also decreased at the same time. In situations like this, the parent requesting a change must show: 

  • A reduced ability to pay 
  • That the decrease in income was not due to bad faith 
  • That the child’s needs have also decreased 

If you can’t prove all these circumstances, you probably won’t succeed in trying to modify your child support agreement. 

5. Your child begins receiving public assistance  

Receiving public assistance creates a debt to the State of North Carolina, which makes the State an interested party with standing to request a modification in child support payments. 

6. A change in the physical custody of a child 

If you’re the parent requesting the modification and your child moves in or out of your home, this may count as a significant change in circumstances. 

7. The end of a parent’s obligation for one or more of the children who are included in the child support order 

In the case of multiple children, when one child is no longer eligible for support (for example, when he or she turns 18), a request to modify the payment amount for the remaining children is valid. 

Not all changes in income count as a substantial change in circumstances, though. Here are some common situations that do not provide grounds for a child support modification: 

  • A Chapter 11 petition for bankruptcy 
  • An increase in a parent’s financial responsibility for children who aren’t part of the child support agreement in question 
  • A substantial voluntary decrease in the income of either parent 
  • A substantial increase in the custodial parent’s income 

A Family Law Attorney Can Help You Modify Child Support—Here’s How 

Modifications to child support look deceptively easy. In theory, all you need to do is file a form and appear in court. 

In reality, the process can be complicated and challenging. For example: 

  • You’ll have to provide proof of a substantial change in circumstances. 
  • You and the other parent may disagree, and the other parent may fight tooth and nail — possibly with help from a lawyer — against your attempt to modify child support. 
  • The child support modification process can be time-consuming; in fact, sometimes it can last as long as the original child support case.  

Because of these potential complications, you may want to consider hiring an attorney to act as your advocate in the child support modification process. An experienced and dedicated family law attorney will help navigate the legal complexities, save you time and frustration, and stand up for your rights in court. 

Need to Modify Your Child Support Payments in North Carolina? Myers Law Firm Is Here to Help 

At Myers Law Firm, we know that child support disputes are hard on everyone involved. If you need to modify your child support payments, the experienced family law attorneys of Myers Law Firm are ready to stand up for you and protect your rights.  

We understand that child support is a complicated and important issue to you, so we’ll move quickly to learn about your situation and find a legal solution that meets your unique needs. To schedule your initial consultation today, please call our Charlotte office toll-free at 1-888-376-ATTY (2889) or contact us using our online contact form. 


Definitions, Article 1, Chapter 50, N.C. General Statutes. § 50-16.1A. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.ncleg.net/EnactedLegislation/Statutes/PDF/BySection/Chapter_50/GS_50-16.1A.pdf

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

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