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Child Support in North Carolina

When two people have a child, they are both primarily liable for the support of that child as long as that child is a minor and not otherwise emancipated. North Carolina, like many other states, has guidelines for the calculation of child support. The North Carolina Guidelines “apply as a rebuttable presumption in all legal proceedings involving the child support obligation of a parent.”

The idea is that if you know both parents’ gross incomes and a couple of other key pieces of information, child support calculations should be straight forward. You just put the numbers in the chart and out comes the child support amount. A child support calculator can be found here. Of course, it’s not always that simple. For example, before you can determine what the amount of child support should be, you need to know which worksheet to use (there are 3 to choose from). Or, how do you determine gross income if one of the parents owns a business? Or is paid in cash and doesn’t report all of his or her income?

Additionally, there is only a “rebuttable presumption” that the Guidelines apply. That means that in some cases, the amount of child support will vary from that calculated under the Guidelines. The two most common scenarios for variation are:

1) Court deviates – In cases involving extremely low or extremely high incomes, the court can deviate from the Guidelines. Or, if the court for some other reason finds that the Guidelines would either not meet or would exceed the support required for the child(ren), the court may deviate.

2) The parties set their own amount – If the parties can agree on an amount of child support, they are free to do so regardless of what the Guideline amount would be. If the parties include this amount in a Separation Agreement, there is a presumption that this amount meets the reasonable needs of the child, and that presumption must be overcome before the court can award a different amount.

In order to modify a judicially-ordered amount of child support, the party seeking modification must show a substantial change of circumstances. The Guidelines state that a substantial change of circumstances will be presumed if the order was entered more than 3 years ago, and the new amount would be either 15% more or 15% less than the previous amount. Events such as losing a job or changing jobs can also constitute a change of circumstances. If one of the parents has another child, the amount of support required for that child will be taken into consideration in determining the new child support amount, but the birth of the child, on its own, is not a change of circumstances which warrants modification.

N.C.G.S. 50-13.4 states that child support terminates when the child is emancipated, or upon the later of the child turning 18 or graduating from high school or other specified events.