Child support is an agreed-upon or court-ordered payment from one parent to the other that is used for the upkeep and care of children. In North Carolina, child support payments are typically owed until the latter of the child turning 18 or graduating high school. Child support is often settled by agreement, but sometimes a hearing is required. To ensure that you are either paying or receiving the proper amount of child support, you need the assistance of knowledgeable legal counsel.
Amount of Support and Child Support Guidelines
While the amount of child support that a custodial parent is entitled to receive depends on a number of factors, this amount is typically calculated using the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines. North Carolina publishes and periodically updates these guidelines which provide a presumption for the amount of child support to be paid from one parent to the other. This amount is dependent on a number of factors, including each parent’s income, the number of overnights each parent has with the child and the cost of health insurance paid for the child. These numbers are then plugged into the child support formula established by the guidelines to determine the proper amount of child support. There is no consideration to gender as the guidelines only consider economic factors, and while males have historically been the primary party subject to paying child support, this is changing as more women stay in the workforce and advance professionally.
When the Guidelines Don’t Apply
In cases in which the parents' combined income is more than $30,000 per month ($360,000 per year), the supporting parent's child support obligation is not solely determined by using the guidelines. In that scenario, the court is to award child support in such amount as to meet the reasonable needs of the child for health, education, and maintenance, while considering the estates, earnings, conditions, accustomed standard of living of the child and the parties, the child care and homemaker contributions of each party, and other facts of the case.
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Even if the parties do not earn in excess of $30,000 per month, it is still possible pursuant to North Carolina General Statute § 50-13.4 for a judge to deviate from the child support guidelines in cases where the guidelines do not provide an amount that the child reasonably needs.
Modifying Child Support
Pursuant to North Carolina General Statute § 50-13.7, a party can successfully modify or vacate an existing child support order if they can show changed circumstances since the entry of the original order. This modification can either increase or decrease the moving parent’s obligation to pay support. The Child Support Guidelines provide that if the previous order was entered at least three years prior to the motion to modify and a current application of the guidelines would result in a fifteen percent difference, either upward or downward, in the child support obligation, such factors constitute a presumptive change in circumstances that allows the child support award to be modified.
Enforcing Child Support
Not all child support payments are made pursuant to a court order. If you are paying child support as part of a separation agreement that was not incorporated into a court order, then your mechanism for enforcing those payments is going to be different and may involve either a breach of contract lawsuit against the non-paying party or the initiation of a child support action.
In the event that child support payments are made pursuant to a court order, the requirement to pay is an order of the court that is more easily pursued. When the parent required to pay child support (the obligor parent) fails to pay the full amount of support owed, the other parent can seek to have the obligor parent held in contempt of court. Being held in contempt could subject the violating party to fines, attorneys’ fees incurred by the other party or even jail time. Before a party is held in contempt, a hearing will be held to determine if the obligor parent is actually in violation of the child support order and to determine whether the obligor parent has the ability to comply with the order.
Contact the attorneys at Hill Evans Jordan & Beatty if you need help dealing with a child support issue.
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