How Child Support is Determined in NC

Determining Child Support in North Carolina

Parents have a duty to support their children. This duty is always in place whether parents are together or apart, but the court can get involved once the parents split up. The North Carolina General Assembly has recognized the importance of having parents continue to support their children when the parents are no longer together.

Whenever you think of child support you probably think of it as one parent paying the other parent a monthly amount for the care of the children. This is the sort of support that courts can put in place and enforce. In reality, though, both parents have to support their children. The court recognizes that the parent who has custody is paying for the expenses that arise while that parent has custody. The noncustodial parent then contributes to that support with the monthly payments that we typically think of as child support.

The amount of support therefore has a lot to do with the child custody arrangement. Whichever parent has less time with the children will typically owe the other parent child support payments. In addition to custody, child support is based on the adjusted gross income of the parties. I know the phrase “adjusted gross income” may bring up nightmares of tax preparation, but it just means gross income minus allowable deductions. Gross income is construed broadly and includes income from employment, self-employment, rental of property, retirement, interest, capital gains, social security benefits, unemployment benefits, and disability benefits. Allowable deductions include costs for health insurance, unreimbursed medical expenses, work-related childcare costs, and extraordinary expenses like costs related youth athletics.

Once the adjusted income has been established, the court then determines the amount of support based on the child support guidelines, which takes into account custody, income, and deductions. There is actually a “worksheet” for each type of custody that the judge uses to make her child support calculations. These worksheets determine child support from the time of filing a child support complaint moving forward.

Since child support is based on income can a parent avoid having to pay child support by not working? The short answer is no. If a parent is unemployed or unemployed in bad faith then the court can impute income to that parent meaning that the court will look to that parent’s earning potential rather than their actual income. A parent acts in bad faith if he or she deliberately depresses their income to avoid family responsibilities, acts in deliberate, careless, or reckless disregard of obligation to pay support, or acts with naïve indifference to the needs of children for support.

Once a court determines that a parent is suppressing income in bad faith, the court then has to determine the amount of income to impute. There are a number of ways to determine what a parent’s income should be. If the parent has quit a higher paying job or switched to a lower paying job, the court can look at evidence showing what the parent used to make. This is generally in the form of tax returns or pay stubs from the higher paying job. If the parent has not worked, the judge can calculate a potential income based on minimum wage.

It is important for both parents to do their fair share of work to support their children. Imputing income is a way of incentivizing parents to do their best to support their children and to avoid acting in bad faith. Modifying child support can be difficult and time consuming so you should have an experienced family law attorney with you to ensure that the support order is done right the first time.