Any person, usually a parent, who has custody of a minor child, or who is seeking custody of a minor child in a simultaneous proceeding, can bring an action for support. As a general rule in North Carolina, both parents are primarily and jointly liable for the support of their children. Each parent’s obligation is dependent on his or her relative ability to provide such support. That is to say, if the parents have 50-50 physical custody, then the parent who has a greater income will have a greater support obligation. (Child support obligations take into account the amount of time each parent has physical custody of the children, among other things.) It is possible, in rare circumstances, that grandparents may be liable for the financial support of a grandchild.
The obligation to provide support for a minor child starts at the birth of the child. However, the law does not step in and tell parents how much support to provide for a child until the parents are no longer living in one household and one parent seeks child support from the other. In North Carolina, there is a presumption that the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines apply and are to be used in calculating the respective child support obligations of each parent. These Guidelines are presumed to apply to all child support cases where the parents’ combined income is less than $300,000 annually. If the parents’ combined annual income exceeds $300,000, then the Guidelines do not apply and instead, child support is determined by considering the reasonable needs of the child and the relative ability of each parent to provide support. There may be other unique situations in which the trial court may deviate from the presumptive Guidelines.
Establishing the basic child support obligation in accordance with the Guidelines involves the following factors: (1) the income of the parents; (2) existing child support awards; (3) other children living with a parent; (4) payment of any work-related child care costs; (5) health insurance premium costs; and occasionally (6) extraordinary expenses. The proper child support worksheet to be used will be dictated by the physical custodial residence of the minor child or children. There are three worksheets: A, B, and C. Worksheet A is used when one parent has primary physical custody of all children (more than 243 days per year) while the other parent has visitation rights or secondary physical custody. Worksheet B is used when the parties share physical custody. Under the Guidelines, a parent must have custody at least one-third of the time (123 overnights during the year) to have shared custody under Worksheet B and each parent has financial responsibility for the child while the child is in his or her physical care. Worksheet C applies in split custody situations. Split custody occurs when there is more than one child and each parent has primary physical custody of at least one child.
A child support order may be modified upon a substantial change of circumstances. Some circumstances for modification are, for example, an increase or decrease in one of the parent’s income, a change in physical custody, or increased needs of the child. Child support continues until the earliest of the following to occur: (1) the child attaining the age of 18; (2) the child becoming otherwise emancipated; or (3) if the child is still in high school when he reaches 18, then until he has graduated, otherwise ceases to attend school on a regular basis, fails to make satisfactory academic progress towards graduation, or reaches age 20, whichever comes first. In addition, child support terminates upon the death of the child, the death of the parent ordered to pay support, or upon a court-ordered change of custody. Child support does not terminate because the custodial parent is not following a custody order. Child support is intended to provide for the needs of a minor child and is not intended as a punishment for a disobedient parent.
You should discuss the unique facts of your child support situation with one of our attorneys. Call us to help you.
Robert Ponton began our Family Law practice group in 1980. He and Heidi Bloom are fellows in the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, a national organization composed of the leading family law attorneys throughout the United States. We have unique experience in the valuation of businesses and professional practices.