One of the other causes of stress during a divorce is a dispute over child support. Who pays support? How much? When? Does the amount increase or decrease due to a promotion or job loss? What happens if support is paid late or not at all? It can hard to decide on an amount of child support that provides for your children while being fair to each other. In a best case scenario, parents will discuss child support and come to a fair agreement. When that doesn’t happen, you may end up in court. At Averett Family Law, we know it can be hard to understand the child support process. You have questions and we’re here to help.

How Is Child Support Determined in NC?

In North Carolina, if the parents agree to an amount and schedule, then child support can be established as part of a written agreement between the parents. If not, child support obligations 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.

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How much is child support?

North Carolina has Guidelines to determine the right amount. The Guideline formula looks at:

  • Each parent’s income
  • The custody schedule
  • Certain child-related costs
  • Any prior payment owed (catch-up 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.

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.

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What Happens If Payments Stop?

Unless a child has reached adulthood, the obligation to pay child support will generally remain in place. Even if a parent is injured, laid-off, or disabled, the child support must be paid until a court orders otherwise.

In North Carolina (and in most states), the steps to enforce a child support obligation depend on whether it was set up via a written agreement or court order. 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.

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Can the Amount 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, for example, a promotion or job loss. Instead of starting over and establishing a new amount, a 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 was set via 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 or amend the original with both parties signing. 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 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;
  • 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.

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