Child Support Laws in North Dakota

Learn how to calculate child support in North Dakota, when child support ends, and how to collect or change support payments.

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Like all states, North Dakota has guidelines that give parents and judges a standard method for calculating child support. The actual calculation can be complicated, but the state provides some tools to assist you. Still, it will help to understand the basic principles of how the guidelines work and what goes into the calculation.

Who Pays Child Support in North Dakota?

In North Dakota, both parents are legally required to support their children financially. (N.D. Cent. Code § 14-09-08 (2024).)

Usually, the parent who has the kids for less than half of the time during the year (referred to as the "noncustodial parent" or the "obligor") pays child support to the other parent (referred to as the "custodial parent" or the "obligee"). But that doesn't mean parents who receive child support aren't paying their fair share. There's an assumption that custodial parents meet their support obligation by paying directly for the children's daily expenses, such as food, clothing, and housing.

In North Dakota, child support is primarily based on parental income, the number of children to be supported, and the custody arrangements (how much time the children spend with each parent).

What Counts as Income When Calculating Child Support?

Many states use both parents' incomes when calculating child support. But under North Dakota's child support guidelines, only the noncustodial parent's income goes into the calculation. This includes income from any source, including salaries, various benefits (including Social Security, workers' compensation, and unemployment), net self-employment income, gifts and prizes over $1,000 a year, and spousal support (alimony) that's received.

Certain items aren't included in gross income, including public assistance based on need. The guidelines also list allowable deductions to arrive at net income, including:

  • taxes
  • a portion of premium payments for health insurance coverage for the child
  • payments made for a child's actual medical expenses (when similar expenses will continue), and
  • union dues and occupational license fees that are required as a condition of employment.

Also, a noncustodial parent may deduct from net income the cost of supporting another child who's living with that parent.

(N.D. Child Support Guidelines §§ 75-02-04.1-01, 75-02-04.1-05, 75-02-04.1-06 (2024).)

When North Dakota Judges May Impute Income to Parents

Unfortunately, some parents resort to certain tactics to try to avoid their duty to pay child support. Usually, this takes the form of quitting a job or taking low-paying employment. A judge has the authority to impute (assign) income to parents who are voluntarily underemployed or unemployed without a legitimate reason.

When deciding whether to impute income, judges will often look at the parent's work history, level of education, skills, and overall employability in the local business environment.

The guidelines list a number of situations when judges may not impute income, such as when the noncustodial parent has a permanent disability that prevents a certain level of earnings, is receiving certain disability payments, or needs to stay home to care for another child with unusual emotional or physical needs.

(N.D. Child Support Guidelines § 75-02-04.1-07 (2024).)

Adjustments to Child Support

The guidelines include a table that shows the basic child support amount for different income levels and numbers of children being supported. But that amount may be adjusted to account for certain common expenditures. For example, the judge may have the parents split costs related to child care and school activity fees. These expenses are added to the base child support amount. Note that applicable child care expenses are ordinarily those related to a parent's employment, job search, education, or training.

Additionally, a noncustodial parent could be eligible for a reduction in child support if that parent has extended parenting time (visitatio with the child. Extended parenting time means the child spends more than 100 overnights with the noncustodial parent. (N.D. Child Support Guidelines § 75-02-04.1-08.1 (2024).)

When Child Support May Differ From the Guidelines Amount

North Dakota judges will presume that the standard calculation of support is the correct amount. But parents may be able to overcome that presumption if they can prove that a different amount of support would be in the child's best interests and one of the reasons for a deviation (as listed in the guidelines) exist. Those reasons include:

  • there's less need for support because the custodial parent's net income is at least three times higher than the noncustodial parent's
  • the noncustodial parent can pay more support because that parent has net income over $25,000 a month or is receiving additional income from assets
  • a child has greater needs because of age (12 or above), disability, or chronic illness
  • a child has higher educational expenses because of attendance at private school (with the noncustodial parent's written consent)
  • the custodial parent is seeking support for more than six children, and
  • the noncustodial parent has less ability to pay support because of certain health care expenses, additional expenses related to parenting time (such as travel costs when the parents live far apart), the need to maintain two households because of a temporary military duty assignment, or other continued additional expenses that are beyond the parent's control.

(N.D. Child Support Guidelines § 75-02-04.1-09(2) (2024).)

Can Parents Agree on a Child Support Amount?

You and your child's other parent always have the option of agreeing on a child support amount—and most parents do. In fact, courts encourage settlements on the issue of child support and any other aspect of a divorce. But before the judge will approve your agreement, you'll have to present evidence of the noncustodial parent's income and financial circumstances, to show that the amount you've agreed on meets the requirements in the guidelines. That means you won't be able to agree to an amount of support that's lower than the standard calculation unless you can show that you qualify for a deviation (for one of the reasons discussed above).

(N.D. Child Support Guidelines §75-02-04.1-12 (2024).)

When Does Child Support End in North Dakota?

Child support ends when a child reaches the age of majority, which is 18 in North Dakota. But there's an exception if the child is still attending in high school and lives with the custodial parent. In that situation, support will continue until the end of the month when the child graduates or turns 19. (N.D. Cent. Code §14-09-08.2(1) (2024).)

Parents may agree to extend child support past these legal limits—for example, to continue supporting a child who's attending college. To avoid misunderstandings down the road, it's a good idea to put that agreement in writing and submit it to the court so that a judge can approve it and make it part of an official court order.

How to Apply for Child Support in North Dakota

When parents are getting divorced or legally separated, child support is handled as part of the divorce process. You can request child support when you file your divorce papers.

If you aren't married to your child's other parent, you may apply for child support on the North Dakota Child Support (NDCS) website. You can apply online or print out an application and mail it back to the NDCS office.

Collecting and Enforcing Child Support in North Dakota

All child support payments in North Dakota must be made through the North Dakota State Disbursement Unit (SDU). When this office receives the payment, it will send it to the parent who's receiving the child support.

When the noncustodial parent is employed, the law requires that child support payments be made through "income withholding" (unless the parent can show an acceptable reason not to do so). The employer will deduct the support amount from the parent's salary and forward it to the SDU. (N.D. Cent. Code §14-09-09.24 (2024).)

If you're having trouble collecting child support, you can request enforcement services from the NDCS. The type of enforcement help you'll receive depends on whether you're signed up for full or limited services. If you're receiving limited service, the only enforcement NDCS will pursue is income withholding if that's not already in place.

If you have full services, enforcement can take the form of:

  • income withholding
  • intercepting tax refunds
  • intercepting lottery and certain gaming winnings
  • reporting to credit bureaus
  • suspending driver's and professional licenses
  • denying passports, and
  • freezing and taking certain assets.

You also have the option of going back to court to request help enforcing the order. Typically, you'll file a motion (written legal request) asking the judge to find that the obligor parent is in contempt of court—which could lead to a fine or even jail time.

Be aware that you must still follow your custody and visitation order, even if your co-parent isn't keeping up with child support payments. On the flip side, if you're the one paying child support, you may not stop those payments because the other parent is withholding visitation.

How to Request a Change in Child Support

If you want to change your current child support payments, there are a few options open to you. Your success in getting approval for a change (modification) depends on how long it's been since the current support order went into effect, and how the existing child support amount compares to the current child support guidelines.

  • NDCS periodic reviews. If the NDCS is enforcing the support order, that office will automatically review the existing support order at certain intervals. The office will then seek a change if child support would be different under the current guidelines and the parents' current financial circumstances.
  • Modification after a year or more. If a child support order has been in effect for at least a year before a parent files a modification motion, the judge will change the amount of support in line with the current support guidelines—unless the other parent can show that there's an acceptable reason for a deviation (as explained above).
  • Requests to modify recent orders. If the existing support order has been in place for less than a year, a parent who's seeking a modification must prove that there's been a material change of circumstances since the order was issued.

(N.D. Cent. Code §14-09-08.4 (2024).)

Does Remarriage Affect Child Support in North Dakota?

In and of itself, a parent's remarriage won't affect the amount of child support. For example, a new spouse's income won't ordinarily be considered in child support calculations. But be aware that there's an exception—a judge could take the new spouse's income and financial circumstances into account when the custodial parent has a significant amount of control over them—such as when the new spouse works for a business that the custodial parent runs. (N.D. Child Support Guidelines § 75-02-04.1-08 (2024).)

Children in the custodial parent's new family might also play a role in the amount of support that parent owes for children from the previous relationship. As explained above, the guidelines allow noncustodial parents to deduct from income the cost of supporting other children who are living with them. That deduction would usually come into play when those parents seek a modification because they're now supporting new children with their new spouses.

Although stepparents don't usually have a legal responsibility to support their stepchildren, it's worth pointing out that North Dakota law makes an exception when stepchildren are "received into the stepparent's family." In that situation, stepparents are obligated—to the extent of their ability—to support their stepkids as long as the children are still part of the family. But that doesn't mean that the children's natural parents are off the hook for their own support obligations.

Resources and Help Calculating Child Support

North Dakota provides many child support resources, including:

But because so many elements go into determining child support, some people find it easier to consult with a family law attorney, even if it's only regarding this one issue. This is especially true when when each parent will have a child for an equal amount of overnights each year, when each parent will have physical custody of at least one of the couple's children (known as split custody), or when one parent is seeking a child support order that deviates from the guideline amount.

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