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Montgomery Family Law
Divorce & Family Law > Child Support

North Carolina Child Support

In North Carolina, both parents have a legal obligation to support their minor child. Child support is a claim that either parent can bring to court at any time prior to the time that the child support obligation would end under the law. Generally, the child support obligation lasts until the child reaches the age of majority (age 18) or is otherwise emancipated. However, child support can last until age 20 if a child has not yet graduated from high school, so long as the child is making satisfactory progress toward graduation.

In the vast majority of cases, the amount of child support that a court will order to be paid is determined by the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines. In this sense, North Carolina child support “laws” are most essentially defined by the Child Support Guidelines. The purpose of child support is to meet the “reasonable needs” of the child. North Carolina General Statute §50-13.4 (c) states that: “Payments ordered for the support of a minor child shall be in such amount as to meet the reasonable needs of the child for health, education, and maintenance. . .

The North Carolina Child Support Guidelines provide a rebuttable presumption of the reasonable monthly amount of child support. This means that the child support amount recommended by the Guidelines is assumed by the judge to be reasonable, unless the judge is convinced otherwise by substantial evidence that the recommended amount is not reasonable. If you believe that the child support amount recommended by the Guidelines would be unreasonable, your attorney must specifically request sufficiently in advance of trial (at least 10 days) that the court deviate from the Guidelines. The Guidelines will be deviated from only if the court is convinced “by the greater weight of the evidence” that the support amount recommended by the Guidelines is insufficient to meet the child’s needs, would actually exceed the needs of the child, or is otherwise inequitable, considering the reasonable needs of the child and the abilities of each parent to provide support.

According to the Child Support Guidelines, the recommended child support payment amount will be different for each family, based on factors such as each parent’s income and the proportion of the payee’s income (party receiving support) in relation to the parents’ combined income. The amount owed from one parent to the other as child support is also affected by which parent is paying for child-related costs (such as health insurance and afterschool care) and the specific amounts each parent pays for these items. While both parents share the duty to support their minor child, this support obligation is apportioned according to each party’s resources and not automatically equally divided. Typically, the two most crucial factors affecting the child support amount that will be recommended by the Child Support Guidelines are the relative incomes of each parent and the number of overnights that each parent has with the child, according to the established child custody schedule.

North Carolina Child Support Calculation: Parents’ Incomes

North Carolina courts require documents and records to assist in the calculation of child support. Under the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines, child support calculations are based on the parents' current gross incomes. However, if a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, the court may consider earning capacity (i.e., potential income) when computing child support. This means that the court can assume an income amount for the purpose of calculating child support, even when the parent is not actually earning this income. In other words, the court can determine that the parent should be earning a certain income and base the child support amount on the income that the parent should be earning. However, before making this determination, the court must first make a specific finding that the parent is acting in “bad faith” by remaining unemployed or underemployed.  The court has relatively broad discretion to determine if there has been “bad faith” in a particular case. A common example of “bad faith” would be quitting a job without a good reason close to the time of the child support hearing.

The Child Support Guidelines do not apply above a certain income amount, if one or both parents have “high incomes” (defined as combined income of the parents exceeding $300,000 per year). In these “high income” child support cases, the court has much broader discretion to determine the appropriate amount of child support to be paid to meet the reasonable needs of the child. In these cases, the Child Support Guidelines worksheet formulas and support schedules are not presumed to be reasonable and are not required to be followed.      

North Carolina Child Support Calculation Documents

In Wake County, every party to a Family Court action in which child support is an issue has the duty to provide “Initial Disclosures” regarding their income and expenses related to the child’s needs.  At the time a complaint for child support is filed, the plaintiff should gather his or her financial documents, provide Initial Disclosures, and file his or her Certification of Initial Disclosures with the court within fifteen (15) days after the defendant is officially served with the complaint for child support. For Initial Disclosures, both parties will be required to provide three (3) months’ worth of pay stubs, income tax returns for the last two (2) years, among a list of other financial disclosure documents that may be applicable. Sanctions may be imposed for failure to comply with these rules on the motion of a party or by the court on its own motion.

How Long Does Child Support Last?

A parent’s obligation to pay child support continues until the child reaches age 18 (unless the child is emancipated prior to reaching age 18). However, if the child is still in high school when her or she reaches age 18, child support will continue after age 18 and until the child graduates. However, the court may order that child support terminate prior to the child graduating from high school if it determines that the child is not making satisfactory progress toward graduation. A child support obligation absolutely terminates at age 20, even if the child has not yet graduated from high school.

A party by written agreement (or consent court order) may obligate himself or herself to make child support payments in an agreed upon amount beyond age 18 and after child support would have otherwise terminated. For example, a parent may agree to pay for college education expenses. There is no mandatory legal obligation for a parent to pay for college education expenses or other expenses of an adult child after child support terminates. However, if a parent voluntarily agrees to make such payments, the court will fully enforce this agreement and obligation, so long as the written agreement (or consent court order) is properly drafted and executed.

How Can Child Support Be Modified?

If there is an existing child support order in place, either parent can petition the court to change its existing order of child support by showing that circumstances affecting the reasonable needs of the child have substantially changed since the time that the order was first entered. The North Carolina Child Support Guidelines presume that there has been a substantial change of circumstances if it has been at least three years since the entry of the current child support order and the amount of child support ordered under the existing order has changed by at least 15% .   

North Carolina Child Support Tax Calculation

Child support is not taxable as income to the receiving parent and is not a tax deduction for the paying parent (unlike alimony payments).

The North Carolina Child Support Guidelines assume that the parent who receives child support is the parent that is entitled to claim the tax exemptions for that child. According to the IRS code, the federal tax exemptions for each child go to the parent who has the child the majority of the time. In most cases, the parent that is receiving child support is the parent that has the child the majority of the time. However, in cases of 50/50 custody there may be circumstances where the parent receiving child support is not the parent entitled under the IRS code to claim the tax exemptions. In these cases, one should consider asking the court to deviate from the Child Support Guidelines. These tax exemptions can be claimed by either parent if both parents agree. If the parents are able to agree on child support terms, often they will agree to alternate claiming the tax exemptions for each child from year to year.

How To Calculate Your North Carolina Child Support Obligation?

To calculate approximate child support payments in North Carolina, use the child support Worksheet* that best describes your child custody situation.

Child Support Worksheet A (Primary Custody)

Use this worksheet when one parent has primary physical custody of all of the children for whom support is being determined. Primary physical custody is defined under the Guidelines as having each child stay with the parent at least 243 overnights per year.

Child Support Worksheet B (Joint/Shared Custody)

Use this worksheet when: (a) Parents share custody of all the children for whom support is being determined, or (b) One parent has primary physical custody of one or more of the children and the parents share custody of another child. Parents share custody of a child if the child lives with each parent for at least 123 overnights during the year.

Child Support Worksheet C (Split Custody)

Use this worksheet when primary physical custody of two or more children is split between the parents so that one parent has primary physical custody of one child and the other parent has primary physical custody of the other child

How To Get Started

Montgomery Family Law is seasoned in child support law in North Carolina. If a child support agreement can be reached through negotiation (including through mediation) we are well-equipped to create a fair and enforceable child support settlement agreement. If necessary, we are also skilled and aggressive at litigating child support with the North Carolina courts. We know how to apply the nuances of North Carolina child support laws and argue effectively to ensure that a fair and appropriate child support amount is entered by the court.

Contact us today for assistance at 919-816-9002.