Having a child is a major milestone in one’s life. It’s a moment that brings joy, pride – and expense. A middle-income family will spend about $233,610 to raise a child to age 17, according to a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture study.
The two biggest expenses, housing and food, account for nearly half of this amount. And, of course, this doesn’t include the cost of sending a child to college. Meeting these financial needs is even more difficult if you’re a single parent.
This post will address some of the issues that arise in the context of child support in North Carolina. But no article can fully cover the multitude of questions that you may have as a parent. You should speak with a Wilmington child support attorney to help you along the way.
Broadly speaking, there are two main ways to establish child support in North Carolina: privately or through the courts.
Many parents will enter into an agreement to determine monthly child support. This often happens when a married couple separates. There are certain requirements to draft an appropriate agreement. A Wilmington child support attorney can assist in negotiating, drafting, and executing an agreement.
If a child support claim is later asserted, a court will rely on an agreement and not the guidelines. It is presumed that the amount agreed upon is reasonable to meet the child’s needs. Parents must be mindful, however, that a judge is not bound by private agreements.
Courts are obligated to look after the best interests of the child. The amount established by private agreement can be set aside by a court in certain cases. Also, parents generally cannot waive the right to child support.
This allows a court to step in when no child support has been established. When a judge is deciding child support, he or she usually does so according to the North Carolina child support guidelines.
Child support in most North Carolina cases is calculated according to a set of presumptive guidelines. These rules are intended to provide a reasonable and appropriate amount of support for the child or children. Section 50-13.4 of the North Carolina General Statutes requires the guidelines to be reviewed at least every four years.
The purpose of this review is to ensure that the application of the child support guidelines results in appropriate orders. North Carolina’s child support guidelines apply to temporary and permanent orders, as well as to retroactive support.
The guidelines take several factors into consideration. Both parents’ gross incomes from any source, including self-employment, are used in the calculation. Although the definition of “income” is broad, benefits from certain public assistance programs are excluded.
A court may consider potential, instead of actual, income if a parent is attempting to avoid paying child support. This usually occurs in the case of unemployment or unemployment and assumes a parent has the ability to work. The number of children the parents have, including children from other relationships, figures into the calculation.
The child support guidelines also account for the number of overnights each parent has with the child or children. Primary and joint custody arrangements between the parents will determine which of three worksheets to use. If a parent is already paying child support in another matter, that will also be considered.
A parent should document expenses for a child’s health care, health insurance, and reasonable child care. These costs are taken into consideration by the judge. Other extraordinary expenses for the child are also covered by the child support guidelines.
There are limits to the use of the child support guidelines in North Carolina. For example, the guidelines do not apply if the parents’ combined adjusted gross income is greater than $25,000 per month. In such cases, a court should order an amount that will meet a child’s:
Because the child support guidelines are presumptive, either parent can request a deviation. This happens when the application of the guidelines would not meet or would exceed, the reasonable needs of the child. When the use of the guidelines is otherwise unjust or inappropriate, a court may also deviate from them.
Several factors will be taken into consideration to determine whether to grant the request to deviate. A Wilmington child support attorney will be familiar with the paperwork and arguments necessary to make this request.
As stated above, many factors are used in figuring out child support. Knowing all of the relevant information is essential to argue your case. For example, the other parent may be claiming an unusually large amount for child care expenses. Naturally, you will want evidence concerning these and other costs for the child.
One of the greatest sources of disagreement between parents is over income. One parent may claim that the other is not earning what he or she is actually able to. Or a parent may allege that the other parent is falsely claiming to be unemployed.
Financial affidavits determine both parents’ incomes and expenses. To support information in the affidavits, they exchange certain documents. You may also need to use discovery or subpoenas to obtain information from the other parent or from third parties. Wilmington child support attorneys can help you with this stage of your child support case.
In most cases, child support will end once a child reaches age 18. However, the obligation will continue if the child is still in high school and making progress towards graduation. This exception ends once the child reaches 20 years of age. Child support may also end if the child emancipates.
In addition, payments will continue if a parent is in arrears at the time the support obligation would otherwise terminate. Under N.C.G.S. § 50-13.4, child support payments shall continue in the same amount due under the previous court order. Parents often ask about child support after high school, for instance, during college.
Although North Carolina courts cannot order a parent to pay college costs, the parents themselves may agree to this. A separation agreement or consent order may provide for the payment of such expenses. Wilmington child support lawyers can help with the proper drafting of these documents.
The child support guidelines also address motions to modify previous orders. To modify a child support order in North Carolina, there must be a significant change in circumstances. A court compares the amount in the old order to the amount that would currently result from the guidelines. If the difference is at least 15%, and the prior order is three years or older, a significant change in circumstances might happen.
There are many reasons a parent will ask to modify a child support order. There could be a job loss, reduction in hours, a decrease (or increase) in income, or even unemployment. A child may also age out of child support, while other children are still eligible for it. Still another basis for a modification is a change in the custody arrangement between the parents.
Depending on the child’s age, a parent may now have daycare expenses that were not present before. Health insurance premiums can increase, or you may now have more children. These and innumerable other reasons may support an increase or decrease in a parent’s child support obligation. Talk to a Wilmington child support attorney if you believe a child support order should (or should not) be modified.
If the other parent stops paying child support, the result can be financial hardship and stress. Fortunately, numerous remedies are available under North Carolina law to assist you. The type of remedy depends on whether child support is required pursuant to an agreement or court order.
If the separation agreement does not corporate as part of a court order, then it is still a contract. Not paying as required by such an agreement may give rise to a claim for a breach of contract. Bear in mind that North Carolina’s statute of limitations may restrict your ability to take court action. You will, therefore, want to address non-payment as soon as possible.
Other remedies exist when child support is part of a court order (including with incorporated separation agreements). When a parent violates a court order by not paying child support, contempt may be an option.
Contempt of court is a frequent method for judges to address violations of child support orders. There are two types of contempt: civil and criminal. Civil contempt is to enforce payment of support. On the other hand, criminal contempt is to punish non-payment. The line between civil and criminal contempt is often blurry, but the two serve distinct purposes. Contempt is a complicated legal process, and you should consult a Wilmington child support attorney about it.
Contempt is not the only possible solution. North Carolina Child Support Enforcement is a government agency that can help collect unpaid child support. Private attorneys may also assist parents in this process. Enforcement actions other than contempt include the following:
Parents frequently clash over child custody. This occurs whether there is an order for custody, a formal agreement, or an informal agreement. If you’re experiencing a custody battle, you may want to withhold child support as a leveraging tool. Conversely, if you have not received child support, you may want to deny visitation as payback to the other parent. However, child support is for the benefit of the child and judges will not look favorably upon these actions. You should seek the counsel of a Wilmington child support attorney if you are having problems with support or custody.
Section 50-13.6 of the North Carolina General Statutes allows a court to award attorney’s fees in child support cases. This includes motions to modify previous child support orders. Attorney’s fees are also available in civil contempt actions to enforce support orders. Finally, separation agreements may allow for attorney’s fees in the event of breaches.
Parents may wish to avoid court and agree to child support on their own terms. Although judges have the power to set these agreements aside, they are usually less costly and time-consuming than court. But no two child support cases are alike, and the parents may disagree as to how much a child needs. It is for these situations that they created child support guidelines.
If faced with court, you may be in for the long haul. There are numerous statutes and court decisions that may be relevant to your case. Additionally, there are rules of civil procedure and local rules. Even if your case settles, drafting an appropriate agreement requires legal skill and experience.
Regardless of your situation, you should consider discussing it with an experienced Wilmington child support attorney.
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