The North Carolina Child Support Guidelines are used by the court to calculate the amount of child support to be paid by one parent to the other. The Guidelines are reviewed, and revised if necessary, at least every four years. The current Guidelines were effective as of March 1, 2020 and apply to child support actions heard on or after that date.
In most court cases involving the child support obligation of a parent, child support is decided based on the Guidelines. However, either party may request deviation from the Guidelines. Upon motion of a party, or upon the court’s own motion, the court may deviate from the Guidelines if it finds that applying them would not meet or would exceed the child’s reasonable needs considering the parents’ relative abilities to provide support, or would be unjust or inappropriate. If the parties agreed to an amount of child support in a Separation Agreement, the court assumes that this amount is reasonable to be ordered as child support unless the party disputing the amount can prove that this amount is unreasonable.
The Guidelines are intended to provide adequate awards of child support that are equitable to the child and both parents, considering the parents’ earnings, income and other evidence of ability to pay.
Retroactive (Past) Child Support
For cases pursuing child support for a timeframe prior to filing the action for child support, the court may either apply the Guidelines as they existed at the beginning of the time period in which child support is sought, or award an amount based on the parties’ fair share of actual expenditures for the child’s care. When seeking an award based on actual expenditures, it is important for the parent seeking support to have receipts and any other documentation to prove the actual expenditures. If the parties had entered into a Separation Agreement setting forth child support for the timeframe in which support is sought, the amount in the Agreement will control and will not be changed by the court.
Minimum Child Support Payments
The minimum child support that may be ordered by the court is $50.00. This amount would be appropriate for any party earning an adjusted gross income of less than $1,108.00 per month.
Determining Child Support in High Combined Income Cases
If the parents’ combined adjusted gross income is more than $30,000.00 per month (or $360,000.00 per year), the Guidelines cannot be used. Instead, the court will set an amount of support in such an amount to meet the reasonable needs of the children for health, education and maintenance, taking into account the estates, earnings, conditions, accustomed standard of living of the child and the parties, child care and homemaker contributions of each party, and other facts of the particular case.
Assumptions and Expenses Included in Schedule of Basic Child Support Obligations
The Guidelines are based on an “income shares model,” meaning that the concept of child support is a shared parental obligation and that a child should receive the same proportion of parental income he or she would have received if the child’s parents lived together.
(1) Gross Income
The Guidelines base child support on each parties’ monthly gross income from any source, including but not limited to:
- Income from employment or self-employment
- Severance pay
- Ownership or operation of a business, partnership, or corporations
- Rental of property
- Retirement or pensions
- Capital gains
- Social Security benefits
- Workers’ compensation benefits
- Unemployment insurance benefits
- Disability pay
- Insurance benefits
- Alimony or maintenance received from persons other than the parties to the instant action
When income is received on an irregular, non-recurring, or one-time basis, the court may average or pro-rate the income over a specified period of time or require an obligor to pay as child support a percentage of his or her non-recurring income that is equivalent to the percentage of his or her recurring income paid for child support.
Specifically excluded from income for purposes of calculating child support are:
- Adoption assistance benefits
- Benefits received from means-tested public assistance programs such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Electronic Food and Nutrition Benefits and General Assistance
- Child support payments received on behalf of a child other than the child for whom support is being sought in the present action
- Employer contributions toward future Social Security and Medicare payments for an employee
- Amounts that are paid by a parent’s employer directly to a third party or entity for health, disability or life insurance or retirement benefits and are not withheld or deducted from the parent’s wages, salary or pay.
Veterans Administration and Social Security benefits received for the benefit of a child as a result of disability or retirement of either party are included as income attributed to the parent on whose earnings record the benefits are paid, but are deductible from that parent’s support obligation. If the benefits received by the child are based on the disability or retirement of the obligor and exceed the child support obligation, no prospective payment should be ordered unless the court decides it is appropriate to deviate from the Guidelines.
Typically, income does not include the income of a person who is not a parent of a child for whom support is determined regardless of whether that person is married or lives with the child’s parent or has physical custody of the child.
(2) Income from self-employment or operation of a business
Gross income from self-employment, rent, royalties, proprietorship of a business, or joint ownership of a partnership or closely held corporation is defined as gross receipts minus ordinary and necessary expenses required for self-employment or business operation. Ordinary and necessary business expenses do not include amounts allowable by the IRS for the accelerated component of depreciation expenses, tax credits, or any other business expenses determined by the court to be inappropriate for determining gross income. In most cases, this amount will differ from a determination of business income for tax purposes.
Expense reimbursements or in-kind payments, such as the use of a company car, free housing or reimbursed meals, received by a parent in the course of employment, self-employment or operation of a business is counted as income if they are significant and reduce personal living expenses.
(3)Potential or imputed income
If the court finds that a parent’s voluntary unemployment or underemployment is the result of bad faith or deliberate suppression of income to avoid or minimize their child support obligation, child support may be calculated based on that party’s potential rather than actual income. Potential income may not be imputed to a parent who is physically or mentally incapacitated or is caring for a child who is under the age of three years and for whom child support is being determined. Incarceration should not be treated as voluntary unemployment in establishing or modifying a child support order.
The amount of potential income imputed to a parent must be based on the parent’s assets, residence, employment potential and probable earnings level based on that parent’s recent work history, occupational qualifications and prevailing job opportunities and earning levels in the community and other relevant background factors relating to the parent’s actual earning potential. If the parent does not have a recent work history or vocational training, potential income should not be less than the minimum hourly wage for a 35-hour work week.
(4) Income verification
Child support calculations under the Guidelines are based on the parents’ current incomes at the time the order is entered. Income statements should be verified through documentation of both current and past income, including pay stubs, employer statements, business receipts and expenses and most recent tax returns.
Existing Support Obligations and Responsibility for Other Children
- Current child support payments actually paid by a parent under any pre-existing court order (in effect at the time a Child Support Order is entered or modified), separation agreement or voluntary support arrangement (if paid consistently for a reasonable period of time) are deducted from the parent’s gross income.
- Payments on arrearages are not deducted.
- The fact that a parent pays child support for two or more families under two or more child support orders, Separation Agreements, or voluntary support arrangements may be considered as a factor warranting deviation from the Guidelines.
- Any payment of alimony is not deducted from gross income but may be considered as a factor to vary from the presumptive child support obligation.
- A parent’s financial responsibility for his or her natural or adopted children who currently reside with the parent (other than those that are the subject of the instant action) is deducted from the parent’s gross income. This may not be the sole basis to modify a current child support order.
Child Care Costs
Reasonable child care costs that are, or will be, paid by a parent due to employment or job search are considered in the child support calculation. Other reasonable child care costs, such as those incurred while a parent attends school, may be the basis for a deviation. The court may also consider actual child care tax credits received by a parent as a basis for deviation.
Health Insurance and Health Care Costs
The amount that is, or will be, paid by a parent (or parent’s spouse) for health (medical, or medical and dental) insurance for the children for whom support is being determined is taken into consideration when determining child support. The amount paid by the employer is not considered, only the amount paid out of pocket by the parent or their spouse. If the children are covered by a family policy, only the portion attributed to the children is considered when calculating child support. If that determination cannot be made, the total cost of the premium is divided by the total number of people covered by the policy and then multiplied by the number of covered children for whom support is being determined.
The basic guideline support obligation includes $250 per child for annual uninsured medical and/or dental expenses. The court may order that uninsured health care costs in excess of $250 per year incurred by a parent be paid by either parent or both parents in such proportion as the court deems appropriate.
The court must order either parent to maintain medical health insurance coverage for a child if it is actually and currently available to the parent at a reasonable cost. If such insurance is not available, the court must enter an order requiring the parent to obtain and maintain health insurance for a child if and when the parent has access to reasonably priced health insurance for the child. The court may require one or both parents to maintain dental insurance.
Health insurance is considered reasonable if coverage for the child is available at a cost to the parent that does not exceed 5% of the parent’s gross income.
Other Extraordinary Expenses
The following extraordinary expenses may be taken into consideration when calculating child support:
- Expenses related to special or private elementary schools to meet a child’s particular educational needs
- Expenses for transporting the child between the parents’ homes if the court feels it is necessary, reasonable and in the child’s best interests.
Child Support Worksheets
Child Support is calculated based on one of the following worksheets based on the circumstances of your particular situation:
Worksheet A –this worksheet is used when one party has primary physical custody of all the children for whom support is being determined (at least 243 overnights per year). The parent who does not have primary physical custody is ordered to pay child support to the parent who has primary custody.
Worksheet B – this worksheet is used when the parents share custody of all the children for whom support is being determined (or one parent has primary custody of one of the children and the parties share custody of the other children.) Parents share custody when the child lives with each parent at least 123 overnights during the year and each parent assumes financial responsibility for the child’s expenses during the time the child lives with that parent. A parent does not have shared custody of a child when that parent has visitation rights that allow the child to spend less than 123 overnights per year with that parent. The parent with the higher child support obligation is ordered to pay child support to the other parent.
Worksheet C – this worksheet is used when primary physical custody of two or more children is split between the parents. Split custody refers to cases in which one parent has primary custody of at least one of the children for whom support is being determined and the other parent has primary custody of the other child or children. The parent with the higher child support obligation is ordered to pay child support to the other parent.
In a proceeding to modify the amount of child support payable under a child support order that was entered at least three years before the pending motion to modify was filed, a difference of 15% or more between the amount of child support payable under the existing order and the amount of child support resulting from application of the Guidelines based on the parent’s current incomes and circumstances shall be presumed to constitute a substantial change of circumstances warranting a modification of the existing child support order.
Incarceration may not be treated as voluntary unemployment in establishing or modifying a child support order.
The need to provide for the child’s health care needs in a child support order, through health insurance or other means, is a substantial change of circumstances warranting modification of a child support order, regardless of whether an adjustment in the amount of child support is necessary.
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