If you are required to pay child support pursuant to a North Carolina court order, the order may only be modified if you are able to show that a “substantial change of circumstances” has occurred since the entry of that order. You must file a motion to modify child support with the court and show the judge that there has been a substantial change of circumstances since the entry of the prior order. The following are a few bases upon which a judge may potentially decide that a substantial change in circumstances has occurred, and thus modify an existing order for child support:
- Increase or decrease in the needs of the child/children: It is fairly well established that an increase or decrease in the needs of the child/children amounts to a substantial change in circumstances and justifies a modification of child support.
- Voluntary reduction of the moving party’s income: If the payor has voluntarily reduced his or her income, it will not amount to a substantial change in circumstances unless there has also been a substantial change in the needs of the child/children. The Court must make specific findings as to the moving party’s income at the time of the hearing, and must find sufficient facts to make the determination that the income reduction was voluntary.
- Involuntary reduction of the moving party’s income: An involuntary reduction in income must be substantial in order to justify a modification of a child support order. The Court will also consider if the moving party is acting in good faith; for example, if the moving party is voluntarily staying unemployed, the court might consider that party to be acting in bad faith and disregarding his or her duty to provide support for his or her child/children. Again, the Court must make specific findings as to the moving party’s income at the time of the hearing, and must find sufficient facts to make the determination that the income reduction was involuntary.
- Age of the court order: There is a presumption of a substantial change in circumstances justifying modification of the prior order if: (1) the order requiring the moving party to pay child support is at least three years old prior to the date the motion to modify is filed, and (2) a calculation using the parties’ current incomes under the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines results in a level of support which is 15% higher or lower than the amount previously awarded. Once the requirements of this presumption are met, the moving party is not required to present additional evidence of a substantial change in circumstances.
- Age of the child: If a child has reached the age of eighteen and graduated from high school, or if a child has reached the age of twenty, child support can be modified unilaterally.
- Modification of Physical Custody: Since child support is based upon the parties’ incomes and the amount of custodial time each parent has with the child/children, a change in physical custody may warrant a modification of a child support order. For example, if the paying party has now become the primary caretaker of the children, his or her child support obligation may potentially be modified upon filing a motion. It is important to note that the court cannot modify child support on its own accord; it may only do so if a motion to modify has been filed. In other words, even if the modification of physical custody is ordered by the court, the court will not automatically modify child support as well unless a motion to modify child support has been filed.
Child support is a complicated issue that can have a large financial impact on parents and children. To learn more about child support, call our office at (919) 301-8843 and set up an appointment with one of our knowledgeable family law attorneys.
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