Under North Carolina law, a child has the right to support from both parents. To enforce that right, the state has instituted guidelines intended to provide adequate child support awards that are fair to the child and to both parents. Of course, the guidelines can only work if parents are transparent about their finances, providing accurate information on their sources of income. The law also gives judges the discretion to deviate from the guidelines, issuing an order for more or less than the amount the guidelines would impose. For these reasons, it is important to have a knowledgeable and assertive attorney managing your child support dispute. Whether you are paying or receiving child support, the court’s order will have a profound impact on your financial situation. At the Carolina Law Group, we are determined to protect your rights and fight for an outcome favorable to you and your children.
Most child support disputes arise during or after a divorce, but unmarried mothers can seek support from a father as long as paternity has been established. As stated earlier, the right to child support is the right of the child, not the parent. However, as a practical matter, payments of support go from one parent to the other, not to the child. In most cases, a high-earning spouse will pay some amount to the low-earning or dependent spouse, based upon several factors the guidelines take into account:
In addition to basic child support, the family law court also considers childcare costs, healthcare costs, and other expenses such as private school tuition and costs of transporting the children back and forth between the parents’ residences.
A judge may deviate from the guidelines if there is convincing evidence that the guideline amount is insufficient or exceeds the needs of support. A judge must provide a written explanation for any deviation.
If the parents have worked out their child support issues with a valid, unincorporated separation agreement, the court must use that agreement rather than the guidelines as the basis of its child support order unless evidence shows the amount in the agreement is unreasonable.
A court may order a supporting parent to make payments before the permanent child support order is issued. The basis for the amount can be either:
However, if the parents have executed a valid, unincorporated separation agreement that covered child support for that period of time, the court will impose the amount the agreement calls for.
In cases where the parents’ combined adjusted gross income exceeds $300,000 per year, the court does not use the guidelines to determine basic child support. The court sets a support amount calculated to maintain the child at the standard of living the child enjoyed during the parents’ marriage.
Child support orders can be changed upon a motion to the court and a showing of a substantial change in circumstances since the order was issued. For example, a supporting parent may experience an economic reversal, such as unemployment. Your children may require additional support for their education, enrichment or health reasons. The parent requesting the modification must make a motion to the court, and the other parent is permitted to oppose the modification.
In many cases, parents are able to reach a settlement, but in no case should they rely on an informal agreement. Because the original child support order remains in force until it is changed — or the child reaches 18, the age of majority in North Carolina — the parents should present their agreement to the court to get a new order.
If a supporting parent refuses to pay child support, there are many enforcement means available to the other parent. Courts have the power to garnish wages, seize bank accounts, intercept tax refunds, suspend professional and driver licenses, and even incarcerate parents whose payments are delinquent.
Our firm provides assertive representation in post-divorce actions for modification and enforcement to protect your financial rights and the welfare of your children.
A fair child support order is vitally important to your financial security and your children’s welfare. The experienced attorneys at the Carolina Law Group in New Bern, Havelock, and Morehead City take determined steps to ensure fair child support outcomes. Call us at 252-672-2059 or contact us online to schedule a consultation with an accomplished family lawyer.