When parents divorce or separate, their obligation to emotionally and financially support their children doesn’t end. Although a court may order only one parent to pay child support, both parents have a continuing financial responsibility for the child (or children).
The amount of child-support ordered will depend on the parents’ incomes, the number of children involved, and the parents’ custody arrangement. You can estimate your potential support obligation by using a child support calculator, but that result is not guaranteed. A court can adjust the amount of support down or up if it is in the child’s best interests to do so, or other special circumstances apply.
In most cases, child support payments continue through the child’s 18th birthday or through age 19, if the child is still in high school. With a judge’s approval, parents can agree to continue child support for a longer period to cover a child’s exceptional medical or physical needs or pay for college. See N. D. Cent. Code § 14-09 (2020).
North Dakota’s child support calculator uses the state’s child support guidelines to estimate a parent’s support obligation. The North Dakota Child Support Guidelines are simply a fee schedule, or formula. In addition to the amount determined by the guidelines, the noncustodial parent must also cover the child’s medical insurance if it is reasonable to do so. Otherwise, that cost will be split between the parents or paid by the custodial parent. Parents must also share childcare costs and other expenses, like those required for the child’s education. A judge will likely add these costs to a parent’s child support obligation.
To accurately estimate child support, you’ll need to know the paying parent’s gross and net monthly income. For child support purposes, gross income includes income from all sources. Specifically, a parent’s gross income includes salary, wages, military pay, bonuses, commissions, pension or severance pay.
It is also money that comes from any royalties, dividends, or a trust, among other things. Even if you are unemployed, chances are you still have income for child support purposes in the form of social security, workers’ compensation, unemployment or veterans’ benefits. Gifts and prizes – as long as they are more than $1,000 per year – and spousal support received count as income too.
There are a few benefits that you can leave out of gross income like public assistance, supplemental security income, and food stamps. You can also exclude any support you pay for other children, and on rare occasions, a job benefit that you can’t liquidate (turn into cash) or control.
Once you have calculated the obligor parent’s gross income, you’ll need to account for deductions to determine their net income.“Net income” is a parent's gross income minus taxes, the child’s health care premiums, and costs for medical care. You can also deduct for union dues and some occupational license fees, as well as required retirement contributions and other costs of employment.
North Dakota’s Child Support Department (a division of North Dakota’s Human Services) provides detailed instructions for calculating support and estimating deductions.
Parents can’t shirk their duty to pay support by quitting a job or taking low-paying employment. A court has the authority to impute, or assign, additional income to a parent who is voluntarily underemployed or unemployed unless that parent has a good reason for working less or not at all.
When a judge imputes income to a parent, that parent’s resulting child support obligation increases. For example, a parent who can’t work due to a disability will not be held responsible for additional income. Also, a court will not impute income to a parent if it is in the child’s best interest that this parent stays home.
The amount of time each parent spends with the child will impact the amount of child support due. Typically, only the “noncustodial parent” (parent who spends less than half time with the child) will pay support. The “custodial parent” (parent who is the child’s primary caregiver) remains responsible for child support too, but the law assumes that this parent spends the required amount directly on the child.
There are a variety of ways to share parenting time, and child support calculations differ based on whether you have “sole physical custody” (the child lives with only one parent most of the time), “shared custody” (the child lives part time with each parent), or “split custody” (where the parents divide the kids between them – mom takes the older child while dad has the younger child, for example). You will need to know your custody arrangements before you can calculate child support.
Half the battle is establishing a child support order, the other half is collecting it. A parent can pay child support by cash, check, bank transfer, Venmo, or Zelle. If you’re dealing with a deadbeat parent who refuses to pay, you can request that child support be deducted directly from his or her paycheck. Contact North Dakota’s Child Support Section for more information.
There is a rebuttable presumption—meaning, something will be assumed correct unless proven otherwise—that the amount of child support given by the guidelines is the correct amount. There is an exception, however, where the custodial parent’s income is three times higher than the noncustodial parent’s income. In such a case, a court may adjust the amount of support.
In all other cases, a parent can still have the amount of child support either increased or decreased by showing, with a preponderance of evidence, that deviating from the guidelines would be in the child’s best interest and at least one of the following:
If you’ve experienced some major changes since the child support order was put in place, you can ask for a modification review by North Dakota’s Child Support Section of the Department of Human Services.
To justify a change in less than one year since the order was issued or modified, you must have experienced an unforeseen material change in circumstances like the loss of a job, international relocation, or birth of new baby.
After one year, the standard for review is lower. You can read more about this on North Dakota’s Department of Human Services website.