In North Carolina, both parents must provide child support. Generally, however, only the non-custodial parent actually makes payments. The custodial parent remains responsible for child support too, but the law assumes that this parent spends the required amount directly on the child. Under most circumstances, payments continue until the child turns 18. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-13.4 (b).)
The amount of child support primarily depends on the number of children who need support, the income of both parents, and the custody arrangement. You can estimate your fair share by using the state’s child support guidelines, but a court can adjust the amount if the guidelines provide a number that would be inappropriate for the child’s needs or unreasonable for a parent to pay.
While the guidelines provide a baseline for support, the final amount needed for your child may be quite different. In addition to the guidelines’ figure, parents must also share childcare costs and other expenses, like those required for the child’s education. Additionally, a court will order one or both parents to cover the child’s medical insurance.
To use the guidelines, you need to know both parents' gross income. Gross income is all income from any source. This includes your salary, wages, bonuses and commissions from your job, but also any pension or severance pay. It is also money that comes from any capital gains, annuities, or a trust, among other things. If you are unemployed, chances are you still have income for child support purposes in the form of social security, workers’ compensation, unemployment or disability benefits. Gifts, prizes, and alimony received (from a previous spouse) count too.
A court has the authority to impute income to a parent who is voluntarily underemployed or unemployed unless that parent has a good reason for working less or not at all. For example, a parent with a disability will not be held responsible for additional income. Also, a court will not impute income to the parent who is the primary caregiver for a child under three years old.
There are a few benefits that you can leave out of gross income, like general assistance and food benefits. You can also exclude Supplemental Security Income (SSI), any support you already receive for other children, and some employer contributions to benefits like health insurance, among other things. To read more about what you can exclude and when you can make deductions from gross income, see North Carolina’s explanation of the child support guidelines.
You also need to know how much time each parent will spend with the child before you can calculate support. There are a variety of ways to share parenting time, but the guidelines calculate support differently whether you have sole custody (the child lives with only one parent for at least 243 nights during the year), shared or joint custody (the child lives with each parent at least 123 nights during the year), or split custody (where the parents divide the kids between them – mom takes the older child while dad has the younger child, for example).
Once you determine both parents’ incomes and custody, you are ready to use an on-line worksheet that automatically calculates a support payment for you. Remember, however, that this is only an estimate. The cost of childcare, medical, or other expenses will likely increase your share of child support. Also, if a parent’s income is lower than the smallest amount given by the guidelines, or if a parent would be left with less than enough to self-support, then the court can use its discretion to arrive at a fair payment. In any event, a court must approve the final amount.
If you have sole custody, use Worksheet A.
If you have shared custody, use Worksheet B.
For split custody, use Worksheet C.
There is a rebuttable presumption that the amount calculated by the guidelines is appropriate for your child. Sometimes, however, this standard formula fails to meet the child’s needs or perhaps exceeds a parent’s ability to pay. On its own, a court may ask the parents to appear at a hearing to review the amount of support. On the other hand, if you think the amount of support is unfair, you can request a hearing with a judge. The judge will consider your reasons to change the amount of support and on the greater weight of the evidence (meaning, there simply must be enough to tip the scales in favor of something), the judge can adjust the amount of support up or down. (N.C. Gen. Stat. §50-13.4 (c).)
Once a child support order is in place, you can ask the court to modify (change) it, but this will require a different process. You can request a modification, but a court can’t change the amount unless either parent has experienced a change in circumstances.
In other words, your income has increased or decreased enough that it impacts upon the ability to pay child support. If a parent’s income has changed by 15% or more, a court will presume that this is enough to justify a modification. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-13.7.)
Some common reasons for modification are the loss of a job, an injury, or even a new baby. If your current order does not include health insurance for your child, then that would also be a good reason to request a modification to get this benefit secured for your child.
In addition to the links above, North Carolina’s Office of Child Support has many tools to explain the process of establishing, modifying, or enforcing a child support order. If you would like to read the law on child support, see North Carolina General Statutes Section 50-13.4.