In North Carolina, child support obligations are determined under the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines The Guidelines were created to set forth uniform statewide guidelines to determine child support obligations of parents. The Guidelines are based on the principles that child support is a shared responsibility of both parents and a child should receive support in the event of a divorce in the same manner as he would receive it if the parents continued to live together. The Guidelines are applied as a rebuttable presumption, meaning that the Guidelines presumptively dictate what amount the courts consider a reasonable monthly amount of support to be paid by each parent. Payments are ordered in an amount to meet the reasonable needs of the child for health, education, and maintenance, taking into account the estates, earnings, conditions, accustomed standard of living, the child care and homemaker contributions of each party, and other facts of the particular case.
Child Support Worksheets
The Guidelines determine the amount of support payments based on the parties’ gross income, taking into account other factors, including certain expenses paid by each parent, such as work-related child care costs, health insurance premiums paid for the child, and other expenses. One of three child support worksheets must be utilized to determine a parent’s presumptive support obligation. On the worksheets, the parties’ provide their gross income and certain expenses and a percentage share of income for each party is determined. One of the three worksheets is used depending on whether the custody arrangement is sole, joint, or split, and the amount of support may be affected based on whether a parent has one of the three custody arrangements.
Deviation from Guidelines
The Guidelines are not used in every case to determine the amount of child support. In cases in which the parents’ combined gross income exceeds the Guideline maximum, the court does not apply the Guidelines. A court does not apply the Guidelines in cases in which parents have a combined gross monthly income of $25,000 or greater or a gross annual income of $300,000 or greater. In those cases, the courts determine child support amounts based on the reasonable needs of the child, taking into consideration the family’s accustomed standard of living, the income and expenses of the parties, and the parents’ relative ability to pay the support.
In addition, a party may move the court to deviate upward or downward from the presumptive Guidelines and order an amount of support different from the Guidelines. A party may request a deviation in an original pleading or in a motion or a court may deviate upon its own motion. A court may deviate from the Guidelines if it finds, by the greater weight of evidence, that applying the Guidelines (1) would not meet or would exceed a child’s reasonable needs considering the relative ability of each parent to provide support, or (2) would be unjust or inappropriate. If a party requests deviation, the court must hold a hearing.
Child support payments may be resolved without going to court by way of a separation agreement. A separation agreement may contain obligations beyond what the law requires, such as college tuition for a child over the age of 18. If the separation agreement is incorporated into a consent order, the court has the power to enforce the provisions that it ordinarily could not require. While the parties may execute a separation agreement which resolves child support, the court retains the authority to protect a child’s interest and modify the support provision in the parties’ separation agreement.