A Guide to North Carolina Child Support Obligations

Both parents have a responsibility to financially support their children. The North Carolina legal system reflects this ideal, and promotes payment by punishing those parents who do not pay. The tension and conflict associated with divorce and separation is often at its pinnacle when it comes to the distribution of money, and child support payments are no exception. It is important that parents work together to support their minor children, and understanding the basics of child support law can help ease tensions that arise when one spouse thinks the agreement is unfair.

It is important to remember that child support payments are not punitive. The rationale for payment is based on supporting minor children, who require financial support as much as parental love in order to grow and succeed later in life. A custodial parent does not receive more or less child support in order to punish a non-custodial parent who has done something wrong.

Moreover, even though a non-custodial parent is typically the only parent that makes specific child support payments, the state expects both parents to financially support their children. Therefore, the child support amount set by a court is not reflective of the total the court believes necessary to support minor children. Rather, it is the portion of payment that the court believes the non-custodial parent owes to support his or her own children. The court expects the other portion required to raise the children will come from the custodial parent. Often, the portion expected of the custodial parent is not as directly quantifiable as a specific monthly payment required of the non-custodial parent. This is because the formula used to calculate child support takes into account realities like daily child care, which means the custodial parent often has a lesser ability (i.e. time) to earn income than a non-custodial parent.

Child Support Guidelines

In order to make child support determinations more just and uniform, North Carolina law mandates that the Conference of Chief District Judges establish and periodically review instructions to guide judges in determining child support obligations. These instructions are available for your review here. These guidelines create a rebuttable presumption for the judge in all legal proceedings regarding child support. That means that the judge will apply these guidelines in determining child support obligations unless one of the parents can provide a very good reason for the judge to disregard the instructions and follow some other criteria.

Importantly, however, these guidelines do not apply if the parents have executed a separation agreement that establishes child support obligation. In that situation, a judge will typically follow the separation agreement unless that amount is shown to be unreasonable.

The Child Support Obligation Amount

The foundational basis for child support in North Carolina is the idea that the amount of income accessible for childcare should be the same after a divorce as it would be if the child’s parents lived together. Therefore, the guidelines use economic data to estimate the average amount a household spends on children, adjusted for differing income levels. This average amount takes into account childcare costs, like babysitters or daycare, health insurance and healthcare costs, and costs to educate the child. A court is able to adjust these average amounts in certain circumstances, such as for a handicapped child who needs special medical care or particular special schooling.

Based on these averages, the child support obligation of each parent is determined using the combined average gross income of both parents. This means that the income of both parents is established and then combined. Income essentially means every source of money you receive: not just payments for work, but also rental income, capital gains, insurance benefits, prizes, and gifts, to name a few.

Honesty is essential in submitting income records to the court, as the court will verify these records using pay stubs, tax information, and other means. Moreover, a court will often see through attempts to suppress income, such as by quitting a job before the determination is made. In this situation, a court can base the support obligation on a parent’s potential, rather than actual, income if it finds that the parent is acting in bad faith or deliberately suppressing their income.

Once both parents’ income is determined, the two incomes are combined. The resulting number is found in one of three particular schedules. The particular schedule used depends on how custody is split between the parents—one is used where there is a primary custodial parent, another is used in joint custody, and still another for split custody of multiple children. Finding the combined gross income number in the schedule reveals the amount of child support that a parent is required to pay, dependent on the number of children that parent must support under the particular order.

Let Our Attorneys Help You

As evident in this post, determining child support obligations involve complex considerations. Some websites offer calculators that give some idea of the child support obligations owed based on the data you input. These calculators are not equivalent to the guidance of an experienced child custody attorney. The attorneys at Remington & Dixon PLLC understand North Carolina’s child custody obligation system and have helped clients navigate the intricacies of child support law. Take advantage of our experience by calling for a consultation today at (704) 817-9050.


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While we offer a free consultation on traffic matters, criminal matters, and most professional license defense cases, we charge a fee for family law consultations to personalize our consultations to your specific needs. To learn about our fee structure, please get in touch.

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We recommend meeting with an attorney. While there is free legal help available for North Carolina residents from pro bono resources for civil matters, and public defenders for criminal cases, the best way to access tailored advice is to hire a lawyer.

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This is done on a case by case basis if you are involved in a family law, criminal, or professional disciplinary matter that involves another jurisdiction.



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