During a divorce, many issues are intertwined, and the resolution of one is issue is in many cases, dependent upon the other. This is perhaps nowhere more true than with respect to the issues of child custody and child support. It is only understandable that regardless of the custody arrangement that the parties ultimately choose, parents want to ensure that they can adequately support their children as part of that arrangement. While the law requires that parents continue to support their children following a divorce, the custody arrangement that the parties choose (or that is ordered by the court) may have a significant effect on the amount of support that is to be provided.
Although divorce may end a marriage, parenthood is forever. And regardless of how they may feel toward their ex-spouse, most parents truly want to support their children – out of love, and not simply because it is legally required. As a result, child support is often one of the less contentious issues that couples negotiate during a divorce.
As most parents know, child support is a monthly payment, typically made by the noncustodial parent to the custodial parent to provide for the reasonable needs of the couple’s children. Under North Carolina law, this includes the biological children of the marriage, any children that the couple adopted together, and any children born to a relationship between the parties.
A child support obligation is usually long-lasting, until the children reach the age of eighteen or are otherwise emancipated. As a result, it is more than worthwhile for most couples to truly spend the time thinking through what child support and custody arrangements might work best for your family – and the two are distinctly intertwined. In North Carolina, there are two primary ways that child support can be determined – either in an agreement, which the parents negotiate and enter into together, or by a court, based upon the state statutory guidelines. In this chapter, we’ll discuss both of those options – what they entail, the advantages and disadvantages of each, and how your custody arrangement might affect those determinations.
Addressing Support by Agreement
As with almost all issues the must be resolved during the divorce process, child support can be determined by the parties by agreement. If you and your spouse are capable of communicating effectively and with an open mind, and are committed to working together toward the best resolution of your issues for your family, addressing support obligations in a separation agreement offers many advantages.
Choosing to set the support obligation yourselves provides more leeway to determine what works best for your family and your lifestyle. You can ensure that the agreement fits your family’s unique needs – even if those needs are different than those which are normally provided for under the legal guidelines. For example, in a separation agreement, the parties may decide that they want to extend support payments beyond the age of eighteen, address the obligation to pay for private school or college expenses, make payments on a particular timeline that works best for the parties, or implement any other number of specific conditions that work well for their particular circumstances.
A second advantage of choosing to set the support obligation in an agreement is that not only do you have the flexibility to determine the specifics of support in the first place – you also have the freedom and flexibility to make changes to the agreement as your life situation changes. Of course, both parties will need to be in agreement about those changes, but as long as that is the case, the agreement can be rewritten or modified at any time to ensure that the support provided continues to work best for the family’s life circumstances.
Yet another advantage of entering into an agreement is that generally, doing so means that couples will spare themselves a great deal of the expense and stress that they would likely have incurred by choosing to battle an issue out in court. For the most part during divorce, with respect to all issues, choosing to work together toward an agreement that works well for everyone involved is less contentious, and less costly. The effort is well worth it.
Clearly, then, there are many advantages to choosing to address child support by agreement. The question then becomes, how to draft an agreement that best fits your family’s circumstances? If two parents do decide to enter into an agreement regarding child support, it can be helpful to consider the following advice when negotiating child support payments:
Remember, that the ultimate goal of your negotiations is to ensure that your children have the same financial support that they would have received if you had remained married. Spend the necessary time talking with your attorney in detail about your children’s lives – their needs, their regular expenses, their health issues, and the lifestyle they are accustomed to. Be honest with your attorney about your income, your expenses, and your goals for your children’s future. Most importantly, go into the negotiations with an open mind. Be willing to communicate openly and compromise if necessary, but don’t hesitate to stand up calmly and confidently for the things that are truly important to you.
Court-Ordered Child Support
As with all issues in a divorce, if the couple is unable to come to an agreement on their own regarding child support, a court will make the determination for them. Sometimes, depending upon the dynamics involved in a relationship and the animosity that may be present between the parties, having a court decide the key issues is simply the best choice. While child support can seem like a complex issue to those unfamiliar with the legal system, there are fortunately detailed guidelines in place to help courts make the determination as to the amount of support that is appropriate in any given case.
The North Carolina Child Support Guidelines provide guidance to the court regarding support calculations, and can help parents roughly plan for and estimate what amounts they might be expected to pay. These guidelines are based on a shared income formula. The idea behind this method of calculating support is that child support should be an obligation that the parents share jointly – that is, that the children essentially receive the same percentage of their parents’ income that they would have received if the parents had remained married. Also factored into the amount of support that is ultimately awarded is the custody arrangement that the parties have, as we will discuss below.
As a court makes a determination with respect to support, a number of factors will be considered. Some of those factors include how much time the child spends in each parent’s household, which parent has primary custody, the income of each parent, and each parent’s ability to pay support. Other factors that the court might consider include:
Though in the vast majority of cases, courts use the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines in determining support obligations, there are some situations in which courts will deviate from those guidelines. Some of these circumstances include:
In those special situations, courts will typically make support determinations on the basis of the child’s actual needs and the expenses associated with those needs, as opposed to utilizing the formula set forth in the guidelines.
In the majority of cases, however, families who have child support obligations determined by the court will find that the court determines those obligations using the state support guidelines. These guidelines apply statewide, and are revised at least every four years to adequately reflect cost-of-living increases. Typically, there are three worksheets used for calculating support under the guidelines:
As indicated by the differing worksheets, child support, when awarded by a court, is directly affected by the custody arrangement that the parties have. If the parents have an arrangement where one parent is the primary physical custodian of the children and the other parent has less than 123 nights with the children, the parent who has primary custody will receive the maximum amount of support available under the guidelines. On the other hand, if the parents have a split custody arrangement (a somewhat rare arrangement where one parent has primary custody of on child and the other parent has primary custody of the other child), child support may be drastically reduced, or may not be awarded at all, as each parent would be responsible for the day-to-day expenses of the child that lived in their home. In a third scenario, if the parties essentially have shared custody – meaning that each parent spends at least 123 nights with the children each year, the amount of child support awarded might decrease or increase depending upon the amount of time that each parent spends with the child. It is also important to keep in mind that even if you do have equal amounts of time with your children, if one parent makes significantly more than the other, support may still be awarded, because child support is intended to be paid proportionately to income.
Clearly, the custody arrangement between the parties will have a significant effect on the amount of support awarded. Moreover, while the guidelines are generally adopted and used to calculate support, a court may choose to look beyond the guidelines and set a different amount if the particular and unique needs of the children require it. A court always has the obligation to do what is in the best interests of the children, and at times, that means looking outside of the guidelines at the whole picture of the child’s life to make a determination.
Regardless of whether the court ultimately determines the support obligation or the parties choose to decide it by agreement, after it has been determined, North Carolina law provides that one spouse can pay the support amount directly to the other at the required times, if that arrangement works well for both parties. In other circumstances, however, an intermediary might be helpful, and in those cases, child support can be paid through the North Carolina Child Support Centralized Collections (NCCSCC), which will then send the support collected to the receiving parent, either through direct deposit or via a debit card. Some couples choose this option in order to have a document record of all support payments which are made from one parent to the other, if a dispute should ever arise.
Beyond the Dollar Figure – A Look at the Emotions Behind Child Support and Child Custody
Regardless of whether the support amount is awarded by the court or decided upon by agreement, it is important not to underestimate the level of emotion that might be involved in these decisions, and the reactions that those emotions might cause. So much of divorce is emotional, and perhaps nowhere is this more true than with respect to issues involving children.
Divorce is a stressful time, and even when the divorce is over and the dust settles, emotions can still run high. It is important for all parties to remember that regardless of the ending of a marriage, the obligation to parent together for the good of your children remains. It is important, if you are the parent who is responsible for making child support payments, that you do so on time, and in full. Never withhold payment to “punish” the other parent – after all, the ones who are really being punished are your children.
On the other side of the coin, if you are the parent who is the primary custodian and the other parent falls behind on their child support payments, do not withhold visitation privileges until the support is paid, for the purpose of “getting back” at the other parent. While this may be tempting, and while it may feel good in the moment, you are harming your children in the long run, and potentially placing yourself in a position to incur legal consequences as well. If you are not regularly receiving the support that is due, let child support enforcement authorities address the issue of non-payment, and speak to your attorney about possible remedies.
Ultimately, when it comes to child support, the hope is that parents will always continue to do what is right and best for their children, regardless of their emotions or negative feelings toward the other parent. Both parents need to be realistic and practical about the custody arrangement they choose, and the support obligation they decide upon. Doing so is ultimately better for everyone in the end.
Without question, the “nuts and bolts” of the child support process and its interplay with the custody arrangement that the parties have might seem confusing at first glance, and this is certainly understandable, particularly for those who are not legal professionals and who are unfamiliar with the process. The good news, though, is that an attorney who is well-versed in the law and who frequently handles divorce cases will be able to guide you through the process, and advise you as to how the law might apply to your particular circumstances. The value of such legal advice cannot be overstated, particularly when it comes to something as important as matters involving your children. Together, you can reach the resolution that is best for your family.
 As a basic example, if, when the parents were married, they spent $1,000 per month on their children, and one spouse made 70% of the combined income, that spouse would be responsible for 70% of the support that the child would receive, or $700. Of course, there will be extraordinary expenses that may also factor into the calculation, but the idea, generally, is that parents continue to support their children in the same manner and in the same proportion as they would have prior to the divorce.
If you would like to arrange a child custody and child support consultation with an experienced child custody lawyer in Huntersville, NC, contact Adkins Law.
We cannot think about anything more important than family, especially our children. When parents break up there are a lot of issues to determine as far as child custody and visitation is concerned. It is hard enough for parents to agree how to raise their children under one home; when a child has to spend time in two homes, decisions can be even harder to make.
In North Carolina, our court system has determined that it is in a child's best interests to spend time with both parents. Determining how much time to spend with each parent and what child custody schedule to have may be difficult for some parents.
If parents can agree to their parenting time and a custody schedule, they are often able to put this in a child custody order, which spells out what days and overnights a child is to spend with both parents. If parents cannot agree to a custody schedule, they sometimes need the involvement of the court system. This requires at least one parent to file a complaint for child custody.
In Mecklenburg County, before a parent can have a trial to determine the custody arrangement, the court requires that the parents complete a parenting education class. This may be completed by taking a four hour parenting education course online. Parents are also required to complete mediation, which may be conducted through a private mediation involving the parents, attorneys, and a mediator, or through a court-ordered mediation program.
If parents are unable to agree to a custody schedule at mediation, they are able to then seek a court date for a permanent child custody hearing. At the custody hearing, both parents present evidence showing why it is in the child's best interest to spend more time with them or what custody schedule works best for the child.
If you need to speak with a Huntersville child custody attorney, contact Adkins Law. One of our experienced child custody lawyers will be able to assist you through the child custody process.
For many of us, our children are the most important parts of our lives. Certainly, as we attempt to navigate all of the issues that come with divorce, not only child support and child custody but even the way we divide our property or decide whether or not to relocate for our job – our children are at the forefront of our minds. Though many things may change following a divorce, this is not one of them. Especially following the divorce, many parents are worried about their children-worried about how they will handle the transition from one home to two, and how they will deal with the complex emotions they may have. This is an understandable concern-and the truth is that unfortunately there is nothing you can do to entirely take away the pain of divorce for your children. The good news, however, is that there are things that you can do to help your children navigate this often difficult and emotionally confusing time, and come out healthy and happy on the other side:
Contact Adkins Law to arrange a family law consultation with an experienced Huntersville child custody attorney. One of our Huntersville child custody lawyers can help guide you through your child custody matter.
In an ideal world, alimony payments would always be made on time, and be of help to the dependent spouse as they are intended to. Unfortunately, however, the real world can often be less than ideal. In some circumstances, for any number of reasons, one spouse will fail to make the required alimony payments to the other. While this is unfortunate, the law fortunately provides remedies for those spouses who deserve alimony and are not receiving it.
If the parties initially determined alimony via a separation agreement, their initial attempts at enforcement will understandably be different than if alimony was determined by a court order. Separation agreements are generally governed by contract law, and as a result, those seeking to enforce a contract must file an enforcement action in civil court if the spouse is not following the terms of the contract, unless the agreement was previously incorporated into an enforceable court judgement. If a party attempts a contract enforcement action without success, they can file an initial action for alimony with the court, though this will of course take an additional amount of time and effort. It must be understood, however, that if your divorce has been processed before you file a court action for alimony, the court will lose jurisdiction to enter an award of alimony. A court action for alimony must be pending before your absolute divorce is entered.
On the other hand, if a court initially entered the alimony determination, the parties may return to the court to seek enforcement of the order. After being notified that one spouse is significantly behind on his or her obligation to pay alimony, and after verifying that this is the case through proof presented by the dependent spouse, the court may order the amount to be paid in a lump sum to the dependent spouse. If the supporting spouse does not have enough cash to cover the delinquent amount, the court may potentially order the transfer of title to other property to the dependent spouse, might garnish the supporting spouse’s wages or bank account, or might place a lien against the supporting spouse’s real or personal property until the delinquency is satisfied. If a case is extreme enough, the court might find the non-paying spouse in contempt, which can result in additional fines and even jail time.
Contact Adkins Law to speak with an experienced Huntersville divorce attorney about your alimony matter. One of our Huntersville divorce lawyers will arrange a family law consultation with you to discuss your strategies and options moving forward.
Without question, worrying about your children and making the time and effort to ensure that they are taken care of and provided for throughout the divorce process and after should be one of your primary concerns as a parent. However, it is also important to remember that in the midst of caring for your children, you also shouldn’t forget to care for yourself. After all, it can be hard to fill others up when you are feeling empty yourself. Sometimes, people can have a tendency to neglect self-care or put it in the back burner following a divorce, feeling that there are simply more important things deserving of their time. We would argue against this misconception, and would encourage you to remember that when you feel better, and when you have more energy, you are better able to meet the challenges of each day, and to care for those you love.
Often, people think of property in terms of tangible items, and this is understandable. It’s important not to overlook non-tangible property however – not only things like retirement and pension accounts, but also things like insurance policies, which have definite value, and which must be addressed as you prepare to move forward down two separate paths. As you prepare to negotiate and divide your property during the divorce, it can be helpful to maintain a detailed inventory of all of your existing insurance policies, as well as all of the designated beneficiaries on those policies.
Depending upon the particular circumstances one spouse may be required to maintain the other spouse on their insurance policy for any number of reasons, so it is also important to consult with a knowledgeable and experienced attorney as to your circumstances before making any final decisions one way or the other. In addition, as you prepare for divorce, it can be helpful to begin the process of obtaining quotes for new policies if you will be canceling your old ones. Doing so will save you time and headache in the long run.
Many rely on COBRA coverage after a divorce until they can arrange for a new policy. It is, however, always a wise decision to contact your insurance company to discuss the divorce, as well as what steps might need to be taken (and what costs will be incurred) to continue the coverage. It should also be noted that in some settlement agreements as part of the property division between the parties, one spouse agrees to cover the full or partial COBRA payments for the spouse and/or children who were formerly named on the regular insurance policy.
If one or both spouses have life insurance policies, the beneficiaries and terms of those policies will need to be reviewed and possibly negotiated during the property division process. It can be helpful, after an absolute divorce is granted, to provide the divorce decree to your insurance company and instruct them to notify all beneficiaries of any policy changes or missed payments. This can help to ensure that the policy premiums continue to be maintained, and that the policy remains active, and up-to-date with the appropriate beneficiary information.
It can be helpful to consider how the insurance policy might fit into your overall estate plan, as life insurance proceeds are generally included in the estate. Some choose to use a helpful planning tool called an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust, or ILIT. An attorney who understands family law and estate planning will be able to advise you as to whether a tool like this might be helpful in your particular circumstances.
If you and/or your spouse do not have life insurance policies, this does not necessarily mean that you should entirely ignore this issue during your divorce. In some situations, couples who are divorcing and do not have insurance are actually ordered by the court to acquire insurance. Typically, this occurs in a situation where the divorcing couple has children, and one spouse earns significantly more than the other. In that situation, the court will often order the spouse who earns more income to obtain a life insurance policy naming the ex-spouse as a beneficiary in order to ensure future financial security in the place of standard support obligations if the higher-earning spouse passes away.
Contact Adkins Law if you need to speak with an experienced Huntersville family law attorney to arrange a consultation. One of our Huntersville divorce lawyers can arrange a consultation with you to discuss your family law matter in detail.
Certainly, making the decision to move away after a divorce and after an initial custody arrangement is determined can be a hard decision for anyone to have to make. Whether the move is for a new job, because of a remarriage, or simply to start a fresh chapter in a new setting, much consideration often goes into making that choice. That choice certainly becomes more complicated when children are involved, and it must be decided whether the children will relocate as well, or whether current custody arrangements will change in some way.
If you or your ex-spouse is considering a relocation, it is always wise to check your separation agreement or child custody order for any restrictions on relocation that may exist. Some custody orders place restrictions on parents moving out of state or moving the children more than a specified number of miles away. If you have such restrictions in your custody order and you violate them, you could be found to be in contempt of court and subject to a variety of penalties, which may, depending on the severity of the situation even involve the loss of some of your custodial rights. For most parents, this simply isn’t worth the risk.
Even if your separation agreement or custody order does not specifically place limits on traveling or relocating, those considering doing so should still be cautious, as moving without the consent of the other party or the permission of the court might later be used against you, or result in the other parent seeking an emergency custody order for the return of your child to North Carolina.
This is not to say that relocation will never be allowed. In fact, in many circumstances, courts do allow a parent, particularly if that parent is the child’s primary physical custodian, to relocate with the child. As is always the case in contested custody issues, the court will seek to make a decision regarding the proposed relocation that is ultimately in the best interest of the child. If a parent objects to the other parent relocating with the child, that parent will have the burden of presenting evidence that the move is not in the child’s best interest.
Ultimately, a relocation may end up being the best decision for your family, and certainly as a parent, you are in the best position to know whether or not that is so. Regardless, however, it is important to think through that decision carefully, and to make sure you are making it in accordance with the terms of any agreements or orders already in place in your case. Doing so is ultimately in the best interest of all involved.
If you need to speak to an experienced Huntersville family law attorney regarding your child custody arrangement, please contact Adkins Law to arrange a consultation. One of our Huntersville child custody attorneys can arrange a consultation with you to discuss your family law matter in detail.
Divorce is a complex process. After all, untangling two lives that have become intertwined over many years isn’t easy. There are many decisions you’ll have to make during the divorce process. As you prepare to make those decisions – decisions regarding the division of property (including your assets and debts), the potential sale of your home, the updating of your legal and insurance documents, and other important matters, gathering information pertaining to those matters ahead of time will help to simplify matters to some degree.
It is also unfortunate to say, but important to be aware, that in a divorce, relationships can become extremely strained. Often, people can become so emotional that they act in unpredictable ways which are completely out of character. It is not unusual for a spouse to take paperwork without the other spouse’s knowledge, or even to destroy important paperwork in anger, or out of a desire for revenge. Even if you may not expect that sort of behavior from your spouse, it is still a wise precaution to save copies of important documentation and information while you still have access to it.
Certainly, the information needed will vary depending upon your unique circumstances. However, information that is usually helpful to gather includes:
With respect to any documentation you may gather, it is always best to collect at least three to five years’ worth of information if possible, or more if you have been in a long-term marriage. Although gathering this information may be time-consuming and tedious, it is a worthwhile effort in the long run in order to save yourself time, expense, and headache down the road.
If you need to speak with an experienced Huntersville divorce attorney, please contact Adkins Law to arrange a consultation. One of our Huntersville divorce lawyers can arrange a consultation with you to discuss your family law matter in detail.
We live in a “do-it-yourself” age, and the practice of law is no exception. There is, after all, so much information available online, that many make the assumption that they can learn all they need to know, and handle the divorce process for themselves. While it is understandable that some might make this assumption, it is an assumption that comes with many hidden costs and pitfalls. Often, people go into a do-it-yourself divorce process assuming they will save money and time, when in fact, doing so ends up costing them more of both. Even if your case may seem “simple” and as if you and your spouse may agree on many issues, it is far too easy to make mistakes that may come back to haunt you down the road. Some of the more common pitfalls of do-it-yourself divorce include:
Ultimately, even if you feel that your divorce is “simple” in nature, and that you and your spouse agree upon all important issues, seeking the advice of a knowledgeable and experienced attorney will help to ensure that the process ultimately goes smoothly, and that you do not encounter any unexpected (and potentially costly) issues in the future. You may lose rights to valuable property and assets you would otherwise be entitled to, or end up paying more or getting less in alimony or support than you otherwise would, or losing a substantial amount of parenting time with your children – and those are only a few possibilities of many.
An attorney who is qualified and experienced in the practice of family law will be able to identify any issues you may have overlooked, point out any potential negative consequences of certain decisions, and advise you of what to expect throughout the divorce process. Contact Adkins Law to arrange a family law consultation with an experienced Huntersville divorce attorney.