Child support is usually set by the N.C. Child Support Guidelines. The legislature adopted the Guidelines in 1994 to make child support more consistent and predictable.
In most cases, child support is calculated on a child support worksheet. The idea is that each parent contributes to child support in proportion to that parent’s share of the combined gross incomes. The worksheet and calculations take into account several factors:
- Each party’s gross (before tax) income. Gross income is used because parties can manipulate some deductions to reduce their net.
- Each party’s legal obligation to support other children.
- The children’s living arrangements. A different worksheet is used for primary physical custody, joint/shared legal custody, and arrangements where one child lives with one parent and another child lives with the other parent.
- The chart “lookup” number, which is described below.
- Children’s health insurance premiums and work-related day care expenses.
- Extraordinary expenses, as described below.
A legislative study commission determined how much parents in different income groups spent on child-related expenses for a given number of children. The study commission included both children’s individual expenses (like clothing and school supplies) and a share of fixed household expenses (like rent and vehicle expense). That “lookup” number for each income group is in a chart, with entries for one child, two children, etc.
Certain other costs are added to the lookup number, such as the children’s portion of health insurance premiums and work-related day care expenses. Judges have discretion to add “extraordinary expenses”. These include expenses for the child’s benefit that are beyond the usual things child support covers. Examples may include a child’s unusually high medical expenses, orthodontic care, and summer camps.
We apply each party’s relative percentage of income to the total expenses, with modification for joint or split custody arrangements. If the child support payor pays for health insurance, day care or extraordinary expenses, then the child support payment is adjusted to prevent double payment.
Judges have discretion to deviate from the child support Guidelines in cases where fairness requires it, for example, if the parties’ incomes are above the Guidelines chart, or if one party artificially depressed their income.
Child support can be set by agreement or by court decision. Child support can be paid directly to the payee or through the Court (sometimes including wage garnishment). The Clerk’s Office or County Child Support Enforcement Office can assist to bring a delinquent payor into court on contempt charges.
Kim K. Steffan is an attorney with Steffan & Associates, P.C. in Hillsborough, NC. She can be reached at 919-732-7300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was last updated in January 2020.