Understanding Child Support in North Carolina
When a marriage ends in North Carolina, or when unmarried people who have a child separate, both parents are responsible for providing support to their child or children.
However, the court generally assumes that the parent who has sole or primary physical custody of the child (the “custodial parent”) is paying child support “by default” — meaning that the custodial parent is most likely spending the required amount of financial support directly on the child as long as that parent is providing adequate day-to-day care.
The parent that the child or children spend less time with than the other parent (referred to in child support terminology as “non-custodial”), on the other hand, must usually pay child support in the form of cash, check, electronic payments, or income withholding under a structure determined either by the court or by mutual agreement between the parents. These monthly payments will usually continue until the child turns 18 and has graduated from high school, whichever is later, but in no event past age 20.
If you’re currently going through a divorce or you need to modify existing child support, you should contact the attorneys at Myers Law Firm right away. We have years of experience working with clients who are going through difficult times, and we’ll treat you with compassion and understanding as we fight to protect your rights during any family law negotiations and legal proceedings.
How Is North Carolina Child Support Calculated?
In most cases, a court in North Carolina will set child support according to a strict mathematical calculation established in the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines. This calculation takes several different factors into account, including:
- The parents’ gross monthly incomes
- Pre-existing child support obligations or other dependent children for whom either parent is responsible
- Any work-related daycare or childcare expenses paid by the parents
- Health insurance premiums paid by either parent for the child
- “Extraordinary expenses” paid on behalf of a child, which can include things like expenses for visitation-related travel or private school tuition
However, you and your attorney can argue for a change from the guidelines — either for more or less support — if you can establish that the guidelines don’t apply to your situation or aren’t reasonable because of your unique set of circumstances. For example, necessary expenses or a child’s special education needs might provide a valid reason for the court to set support at a different amount than described by the guidelines.
In addition, as of January 2023, the basic child support schedule established in the guideline doesn’t apply if you and your separated spouse’s combined gross income is more than $480,000 per year ($40,000 per month). In these cases, the court will exercise its judgment and set support at an amount that meets the child’s reasonable needs.
Local court rules establish how you’ll need to prove your income and the child’s monthly needs and expenses for child support purposes. In Mecklenburg County, both parents must file a financial affidavit using a specific form.
Mecklenburg County also requires additional documentation to verify the figures in the financial affidavit, such as pay stubs, bank statements, tax returns, and receipts, so you should start saving any documentation of your income and expenses if you’re going through divorce proceedings or think that divorce may be a possibility.
Are Child Support Payments Fixed Forever?
Regardless of how child support is initially set, the court always has the authority to modify the current child support order based on a Motion for Modification that can be filed by either parent.
If the court established the amount of child support by order in your case, you and your attorney will need to produce evidence of a substantial change in circumstances to successfully petition for a child support modification.
For example, if the child’s needs have changed and created an increased burden, or if either parent’s financial situation changed significantly, a judge might decide to modify the amount of court-ordered child support. Under the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines, the passage of three years and a 15% or more change in the amount of support is considered a substantial change.
If you and your former spouse established the amount of support through a mutual agreement, though, the court may decide to change the amount of support in this situation even without a change in circumstances.
However, the court will start with the presumption that the amount you agreed to is fair, and you and your attorney have the burden to produce evidence which shows that the amount of support in the agreement is unreasonable.
This means that if you agreed to a child support amount that turned out not to be fair and reasonable, you should contact an experienced attorney right away. They may be able to show the court that your current agreement doesn’t meet your child’s needs and help you successfully petition for a change.
How Can I Stop Child Support Payments? Is There a “Secret”?
One popular internet article about child support (which was not written by an attorney) is titled “Stop Paying Child Support: The Secret You Need to Know” This title is very misleading. There is no “secret” that will let you avoid child support payments. Trying to find a workaround or shortcut to stop paying court-ordered child support can lead to financial and even criminal consequences. The law treats the child support obligation as one of the most important obligations a parent has and will enforce the requirement to provide support for a child.
If the court has set child support and ordered you to make payments, you must make those payments. Stopping child support payments while a court order for child support is still in place can lead to extremely serious trouble.
If you don’t pay child support as ordered by the court, you could face serious consequences that might include:
- Wage garnishment
- Debt collection
- Negative items on your credit report
- Liens on your property and eventual seizure of property
- Suspension of your driver’s license, recreational licenses, and professional licenses
- Fines and penalties
- Being arrested, held in jail, and sentenced to prison
In certain situations, it is possible to petition the court to terminate your child support obligation so you can cease child support payments or terminate child support withholding. Those situations include:
- You can prove the child is not biologically related to you
- Your child turned 18 and graduated from high school
- Your child reaches the age of 20 (even if they are still in high school)
- Your child enlisted in the military and is not a full-time student
- Your child no longer lives with the parent who receives the child support payments
- The child for whom support is ordered lives with you most of the time
- You got back together with the parent who receives support and the two of you are now living together
- The other parent agrees to stop the child support payments
- Your child gets married
- Your child was deported
- A court legally emancipated your child
- Your child dies
Even in the situations listed, you must pay child support until you successfully petition to terminate the child support order. You should never stop making child support payments if a court order for child support is still in place.
Contact Myers Law Firm for Help With Child Support
At Myers Law Firm, we understand that the end of a marriage or relationship is never an easy time for either party, so we approach every case with compassion and understanding to search for solutions. While we excel at respectful negotiation and will work to find common ground with the other side, we are ready to stand up in court and fight for your rights with an aggressive approach if that’s what it takes.
The attorneys at Myers Law Firm have experience handling all the major family law issues that surround the end of a marriage, including alimony, child custody, child support, property division, and divorce. We’re here if you need help. To get in touch with us, call our offices at 888-376-2889 or fill out our online contact form.
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.