Understandably, the issues of child custody and child support often go hand-in-hand. Though divorce may end the marital relationship, it certainly does not end the relationship parents have with their children – or their obligation to support those children. And without question, most parents want to support their children – out of love, and not simply because the law requires it. As with child custody, given our modern trend toward cooperative and collaborative legal negotiation, child support obligations may be determined by the parties based on their needs and lifestyle, or it can be determined by the court based on statutory guidelines.
Regardless of which method you ultimately choose to determine child support amounts for your particular situation, having a basic understanding of how child support generally works can be beneficial – after all, the more understanding you have, the easier it will be to negotiate and settle upon an agreement that works well for everyone involved.
Most often, child support is a monthly payment from the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent to provide for the couple’s children who are in that parent’s custody. Its purpose is to ensure that even though the family is transitioning from one home to two, the children are able, to the greatest degree possible, to maintain their usual routine and standard of living. It is typically a long-standing arrangement, often lasting until the children in question are eighteen years old.
Defining Support in a Parental Agreement
As with issues of child custody, if you believe that you and your spouse are capable of working cooperatively towards a goal together, then addressing it in a separation agreement is an excellent option, as it gives you more leeway to determine what works best for your particular circumstances, and more flexibility to make changes to the agreement as your life situation changes. Choosing to address child support in a separation agreement means that you can ensure that your agreement fits your needs – even if those needs are different than what is normally provided for under the legal guidelines. For example, in a separation agreement, the parties may agree to extend support payments beyond the age of eighteen, address payment of private school or college tuition expenses, or attend to other circumstances that are important to the parties but that might not be provided for by law.
Allowing the Court to Determine Support
If parents are ultimately unable to come to an agreement on child support themselves, they can always ask the court to make the determination. Once the parties have requested the court to make that determination, the court is not bound by any support obligations previously set forth in any separation agreements.
In North Carolina, courts determine child support obligations using the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines. These guidelines were created to help calculate support obligations, and are revised at least every four years to adequately reflect cost-of-living increases. To determine your approximate child support obligation, you can use the calculator provided on our website, and can also download the appropriate child support worksheets utilized for calculating potential obligations. Typically, there are three worksheets used for calculating support under the guidelines:
Generally, when determining a support obligation, the court will look to the income of both parties from all sources. This includes not only the salaries of the respective parties, but also any stock options, IRA accounts, investments or other sources of income. In addition to considering the income of both parties, the court may also consider other factors, including, but not limited to:
Courts will often also consider and add extraordinary expenses, like special child care, extra medical expenses, counseling expenses, or necessary special education expenses, and will allocate those expenses between the parties as the court deems reasonable in its discretion.
Though in the vast majority of cases, courts use the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines in determining support obligations, there are certain situations in which courts will deviate from those guidelines. Some of these circumstances include:
In these cases, courts will make the support determination on the basis of the child’s actual needs and expenses, as opposed to utilizing the formula set forth in the guidelines.
Regardless of how the support obligation is ultimately arrived at, after it has been determined, North Carolina law allows for one spouse to pay the support directly to the other at the required times, if both parties are in agreement. In other instances, however, child support can be paid through the North Carolina Child Support Centralized Collections (NCCSCC), who will then send the child support to the receiving parent through either direct deposit or debit card. Often parents choose to send support payments through NCCSCC in order to have a documented record of all support payments made from one parent to the other in case a dispute should ever arise.
In discussing support, it should also be noted that parents who are in the midst of the divorce process may request temporary support, even if the divorce has not yet been finalized. This makes sense after all, particularly if one spouse has already moved out of the marital home. In these instances, the party needing the support can request a hearing for temporary support, and following a hearing, the court can enter a temporary support order, which will remain in place until a permanent child support order is issued. Requesting temporary support involves a number of steps, it is always a wise decision to seek the help of a trusted attorney in doing so.
 It is important to remember that if you have more than one child, and your child support agreement or order does not allocate the support amounts between the children, then you must seek a modification when one of the children reaches the age of 18 instead of simply stopping the payments, unless the original agreement or order contains an automatic termination date for the obligation. It should also be noted that if your child is 18, but is still attending high school, you cannot seek to terminate your support obligation until the child graduates, otherwise drops/fails our of school, or turns twenty, whichever is first.
If you need to speak with an experienced child support lawyer, please contact Adkins Law to arrange a consultation.