Remarriage and Child Support North Carolina

Learn how getting remarried might affect your child support obligation.

By , Retired Judge
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You live in North Carolina and are divorced. A child support order is in effect. You've met someone new and are now thinking about remarrying. But here's the question, will remarriage affect your child support? This article will address how a second marriage may affect child support orders.

Overview of Child Support in North Carolina

In North Carolina, the Conference of Chief District Judges establishes statewide guidelines for computing parents' child support obligations. The purpose of the guidelines is to ensure that child support payments will meet the child's health, education and maintenance needs. In calculating child support under the guidelines, the courts consider several factors, including:

  • the parties' income
  • costs of medical insurance for the children, and
  • work-related childcare expenses.

Once the court reviews the parties' financial documentation and considers any other relevant circumstances, it applies the guidelines and computes the child support amount.

Income May Be Imputed

If a parent deliberately reduces his or her income available for support by, for example, quitting a job, courts can and will intervene. In that situation, the court can attribute or "impute" income to the parent. The court will look at the person's earning capacity, and can use that figure to determine the parent's child support obligation.

The Guidelines Aren't Appropriate in Every Case

North Carolina law starts with the presumption that the guidelines are appropriate for calculating child support. However, if a parent believes that using the guidelines in his or her case would not be fair, that parent can ask the court to deviate from the guidelines. In this case, the court will hear evidence to determine whether applying the guidelines either wouldn't meet the child's reasonable needs, or would exceed those needs considering each parent's ability to provide support. If the court finds that this is the case, or if it finds that applying the guidelines would otherwise be unjust or inappropriate, it may then deviate from them.

Modification of a Child Support Order

If you want to change an existing child support order, you must file a motion (written request) with the court. However, in order for you to succeed, you must be acting in good faith, and you must be able to prove asubstantial change in circumstances. The burden is on you to prove such a change by a "preponderance of the evidence," meaning the argument in favor of your request must have greater weight than the argument against it.

Proving Changed Circumstances

So what constitutes a substantial change in circumstances? Be aware that the court will only consider changes in circumstances since the most recent support order. Therefore, if you have two or more past support orders, only the last one is relevant.

There are various scenarios that can reflect changed circumstances. Some of the most common are:

  • a substantial increase or decrease in the child's needs
  • a substantial and involuntary decrease in the paying parent's income, even if the child's needs have not changed, and
  • a difference of 15% or more between the support amount under the last order and the support amount that the paying parent would owe under the guidelines, based on the parties' current income and expenses.

It's important to note that the last item listed only applies to support orders at least three years old. But this particular item is very significant, because that 15% difference triggers a presumption that a substantial change of circumstances exists. In other words, in that situation, if you are the party opposing the request for a change of the support order, the burden is now on you to prove that an adjustment is not justified.

But what about remarriage? Does it qualify as a substantial change of circumstances that would impact a child support award?

Remarriage May Affect a Child Support Order

Notice the heading says "may" and not "will". The reason is that remarriage, on its own, doesn't usually have an effect on child support. Your new spouse normally has no legal obligation to support your children from a prior relationship. (Although in North Carolina, such a support obligation may arise if you take the child into your home, and your new spouse basically assumes a parental role.)

Courts Are Taking New Children Into Consideration

In the past, under what is known as common law, having a new child wouldn't have been a valid reason for changing a support order. And in North Carolina, the birth of another child, without more, isn't considered enough of a change in circumstances to modify a child support obligation. This means that a new child may be a factor, but some of the other elements of changed circumstances, such as the ones referenced above, must also be present before a court will modify child support.

However, in calculating child support, the guidelines do allow a deduction from a parent's gross income for natural or adopted children currently residing with that parent.

A New Spouse's Income Might Be Relevant

If a new spouse normally has no obligation to support your children from past relationships, why should his or her income be relevant in a child support modification request? Because your new spouse is probably contributing to household expenses, such as the mortgage or rent, utilities, and groceries. As a result, you're spending less of your individual income on household costs, leaving more of your income available for your children's support.

This article is only meant to give you a general idea of the issues involved with the topic of remarriage and child support in North Carolina. If you find yourself in this situation, be sure to consult a qualified family law attorney with any questions you may have.

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