Child Support

Custody and the impact on your childrenIt can be daunting to find yourself in the middle of a child support dispute. It’s sometimes hard to decide on a number that provides for your children while being fair to each other. At Averett Family Law, we know it can be even harder to understand the child support process. You have questions and we’re here to help.

How is Child Support Set?

Child support obligations in North Carolina are usually established as part of a court order. These orders can come from civil cases between the parents, or from IV-D (“Four-D”) cases brought by the county Department of Social Services. Child support can also be established as part of a written agreement between the parents.

North Carolina uses child support Guidelines to determine the right amount. The Guideline formula uses each parent’s income, the custody schedule, and certain child-related costs. If the court decides support should have been paid in the past, an additional amount might be added to catch up the missed payments. Keep in mind that since custody is only one part of the support formula, joint custody doesn’t always mean no child support. The bigger the difference in your incomes and costs, the more likely someone will have to pay child support.

Even though the court is normally required to use the Guideline formula, it can deviate and set a different amount if the Guidelines produce an unfair result. Parties are usually also free to set their own amount if they can reach an agreement.

What happens if child support payments stop?

There aren’t many situations where the obligation to pay child support disappears automatically. Even if a parent is injured, laid-off, or disabled, the child support obligation stays in effect until a court orders otherwise.

In North Carolina (and in most states), the steps to enforce a child support obligation depend on how it was established. For instance, if child support was part of a written agreement, you would need to sue for breach of contract. On the other hand, if the support was part of a court order, you would need to file a motion for contempt of court.

Can child support be raised or lowered?

Yes. Child support obligations are based on the parents’ particular circumstances. Since circumstances can change, North Carolina law allows child support to be modified when appropriate. Instead of starting over and establishing a new amount, modification changes the current obligation to fit new circumstances.

The process for changing a child support obligation depends on how it was established. If the child support obligation is in a court order, one parent would need to file a motion to modify and ask for a hearing. If it was set in a written contract, the parent would need to negotiate a new agreement. Either way, the original amount stays in place until a new order or agreement takes effect.

How long does child support last?

It depends on your child’s age and school status. Generally:
• If your child has graduates high school before age 18, child support terminates at 18;
• If your child is in high school at the age of 18, child support terminates at graduation; and
• If your child is still in high school at age 20, child support terminates at 20.

Remember, child support is a complicated process, and consulting a family law attorney can help you avoid mistakes and pitfalls.