North Carolina Child Support
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North Carolina has established a set of uniform guidelines that are used to determine how much child support a non-custodial parent must pay. Whether child support and child custody are contested and determined by the court, or whether support and custody issues are determined by parents as part of a separation or divorce agreement, there is a presumption that these guidelines apply.
Obtaining Child Support in North Carolina
Child support is available to any custodial parent in the state of North Carolina, and courts will formally establish the right to support with a child support order. A child support order is typically issued in conjunction with a divorce agreement; as part of a determination of paternity; or as a result of a separate action brought solely for the purposes of obtaining support.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services provides assistance to parents seeking a child support order. Child Support Enforcement Centers and child support agents are located throughout North Carolina and can be found using the information provided on the Department's website.
The assistance available at support centers is generally limited to paternity actions, locating absentee parents, or obtaining and enforcing support orders. Further, support agents represent only children, not the legal interests of parents. As such, parents who are in the process of a divorce or who are contemplating divorce, who need assistance determining custody issues, or who are involved in more complex support cases are advised to consult with a divorce and family law attorney.
Calculating Child Support in North Carolina
Standard guidelines exist in North Carolina that are used to determine how much support a non-custodial parent is obligated to pay for the care of his or her child. Although parents are free to create their own child support agreement as part of negotiating an out-of-court divorce settlement, the presumption is that the child support guidelines apply and there must be a compelling reason for a judge to issue an order that deviates from the guidelines.
According to the North Carolina child support guidelines, the income of both parents together is used to determine the basic monthly support amount due to the children. As such, the first step in determining support is to add up the combined parental income, including money earned from wages, businesses and military benefits. Taxes and existing support obligations from prior children or spouses are subtracted to determine the monthly income that is actually available to the parents.
Once the combined parental income has been calculated, a table is used to determine how much a couple at that particular income level should be spending on their childrens' support each month. This table is called the Proposed Schedule of Basic Child Support Obligations, and for each income level it specifies how much the parents should spend for one, two, three, four, fix or six kids. This amount is the basic support obligation.
Each parent must pay a percentage of the basic support obligation equal to the percentage of income the parent contributes to the combined total family income. A parent who earns 40 percent of the total combined income, therefore, would be responsible for 40 percent of the basic support costs for the child.
The paying parent is also responsible for paying a share of childcare and medical/health costs. However, a percentage of the total support obligation may be deducted to account for time that the non-custodial parent spends with the child.
Enforcing Child Support
In most cases, when a child support order is issued in North Carolina, wage attachment is part of that order. This means that the paying parent will have the child support payments deducted automatically from each paycheck before it leaves his employer. This helps to ensure that child support is paid as required.
When a parent does fail to pay child support according to the court order, there are a number of different methods used to obtain payment. The North Carolina Child Support Enforcement Office provides enforcement assistance, helping custodial parents to enforce child support orders. Services provided by CSE include locating missing parents, seizing tax returns to collect missed payments, and reporting delinquencies to credit bureaus. Other penalties for non-payment may include criminal charges, a loss of driver's license or professional license, or a contempt citation from the judge who issued the original support order.
Modifying Child Support
Over time, the support obligations of parents or the needs of the children may change. As such, support orders will be reviewed every three years upon request. At such time, a change may be made if there is more than a 15 percent difference between the existing support order and the current child support guidelines at the time of review.
Modification requests may also be made more frequently than every three years in the event that the needs of the child or the financial situation of either parent changes.
While North Carolina provides services to assist parents in simple child support cases, these services are limited. Parents who need assistance in working out a custody agreement or who wish to ensure their legal rights are protected are advised to contact an experienced family and divorce attorney for advice.