Child support, unlike spousal support, is (with certain exceptions) based on a formula using specific factors in order to determine the amount of child support that each parent is obligated to pay for his or her child/children. In North Carolina, the Court generally follows the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines when determining the parties’ child support obligations to their children.
First, under the Guidelines, each party’s gross monthly income is determined and factored into the equation. A party’s gross monthly income is the amount that he or she receives per month before taxes and other deductions. The term “gross income” is defined under the Guidelines as “a parent’s actual gross income from any source, including but not limited to income from employment or self-employment (salaries, wages, commissions, bonuses, dividends, severance pay, etc.), ownership or operation of a business, partnership, or corporation, rental of property, retirement or pensions, interest, trusts, annuities, capital gains, Social Security benefits, workers compensation benefits, unemployment insurance benefits, disability pay and insurance benefits, gifts, prizes and alimony or maintenance received from persons other than the parties to the instant action.” However, funds received from adoption assistance benefits and benefits received from public assistance programs such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Electronic Food and Nutrition Benefits, and General Assistance are specifically excluded from the definition of “gross income” under the Guidelines, and are not factored into child support calculations. Also, if a party receives child support for another child (from a former spouse, for example), that separate support will not be count as income for that party under the Guidelines.
Next, once each party’s gross monthly income is established, other factors come into play in determining child support obligations. For example, the amount of physical custody each party has with the child/children can make a big difference in how much child support a party is obligated to pay. There are in fact separate worksheets used depending on whether a parent has “primary” physical custody or if the parties have joint/shared physical custody. The line between primary physical custody and joint/shared custody is 123 overnights per year. If a child lives with each parent for at least 123 nights during the year, the parties have joint/shared physical custody. Other expenses such as the child’s monthly healthcare insurance premium and cost of work-related childcare can be factored into a child support calculation as well. For instance, if one parent pays for the child’s healthcare insurance premium, he or she will receive a “credit” in the child support calculation for providing that type of support for the child.
The Court will follow the Guidelines unless they do not apply or if the Court chooses to deviate from the Guidelines based on a finding that “application of the Guidelines would not meet, or would exceed, the reasonable needs of the child/children considering the relative ability of each parent to provide support, or would otherwise be unjust or inappropriate.” The Guidelines will not apply in cases where the parties’ combined gross monthly income exceeds $25,000.00 ($300,000.00 per year). If the parties’ combined gross monthly income exceeds $25,000.00 and therefore the Guidelines do not apply, the Court sets a support amount that will “meet the reasonable needs of the child/children for health, education, and maintenance, having due regard to the estates, earnings, conditions, accustomed standard of living of the child and the parties, the child care and homemaker contributions of each party, and other facts of the particular case.”
Parents also have the option of agreeing upon child support under a private contract. Parents can agree to an amount of child support without using the Guidelines. There are certain benefits and disadvantages to establishing child support in a private agreement, and you should certainly consult with a family law attorney to see whether a private child support agreement would be best for your particular situation.
Although this article provides a simplified explanation of child support and child support calculation, each parent’s situation is unique. Child support matters can often be complicated, so it is important that you consult with a knowledgeable family law attorney to understand your rights and the steps you need to take. Call The Doyle Law Group, P.A. today at (919) 301-8843 to make an appointment to speak with one of our attorneys regarding your child support concerns.
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