Child Support in North Carolina – What It Does and Does Not Cover

Child Support in North Carolina – What It Does and Does Not CoverWhen a marriage ends and there are children involved, the issue of child support must be discussed. The general idea of child support in North Carolina is to help equalize the financial burden of child-related expenses between the parents. Parties can agree that neither will pay child support. If a parent needs child support, however, the law will determine how much support should be paid by whom. The main factors in determining the amount of support are the custody schedule of the children with their respective parents, and the total gross income of both parents.

The average American who pays child support typically pays about $5,760 per year, or about $480 per month, based on the U.S. Census. Every state has its own child support laws and guidelines. In 2015, non-custodial parents owed $33.7 billion dollars in child support. However, only 60% of that money, about $3,447 per year, was actually received.

What is child support supposed to cover?

Those paying child support may believe they are paying too much support and the co-parent is wasting the funds. On the other hand, parent receiving support may believe the support order is insufficient for the child’s needs.

In North Carolina, child support is generally meant to take care of the following needs:

  • Clothing (regular clothes, school uniforms, baby clothes, and diapers)
  • Education and schooling
  • Entertainment (movies, games, and other social activities)
  • Food, including school lunches
  • Health insurance
  • Shelter and housing

The point of child support is to maintain a child’s current standard of living after their parents separate or get divorced.

A more general statement of what child support in North Carolina is supposed to provide is an amount sufficient to provide for the daily needs of living of the minor children. Obviously, people can have different opinions as to how much that amount should be. A common misconception is that only the parent receiving support has a child support obligation. The truth is that North Carolina statutes require both parents to financially support their children, and calculation of child support states what the total legally required amount of support from both parents is, and then how much of that total support obligation is to be paid by the parent with the least amount of custody time, or who makes more money, or both.

How is child support actually determined in North Carolina?

In the vast majority of cases, child support in North Carolina is calculated through the use of the Child Support Guidelines in effect at the time the matter is to be determined by a court. Those Guidelines govern what is to be considered as income for purposes of calculating support (this is surprisingly broad and can include lump sum payouts of things like a personal injury settlement or lottery winnings), how each value required by the Child Support Worksheets is to be determined, and ultimately, which Child Support Worksheet shall be used in each case.

The Child Support Worksheets are used by the Child Support Guidelines to determine every aspect of the calculation of the amount of support to be paid by whom. The current Child Support Worksheets can be found here. There are three worksheets—A, B, and C, each used under a different circumstance. Generally speaking, Worksheet A yields the highest amount of child support to be paid by one party to the other as it assumes that the bulk of the economic burden of providing for the children is being born by one person having the most physical custody time with the children. Worksheet B comes into play when both parents have more than 123 overnights with their children on the custody schedule, meaning that both more equally share the economic burden of supporting the children, and thus, the calculation assumptions change. Using this worksheet can dramatically change the amount of support paid as compared to use of Worksheet A—causing concerning efforts by a previously absent parent to suddenly become “more involved” in their children’s lives so that they will have 123 or more overnights with them.

Worksheet C is more rarely used and applies mainly in circumstances of multiple children whose physical custody time is more of the variety of one lives primarily all of the time with one parent, and the other child does the same with the other parent.

Reviewing the worksheets will help you understand the information that you need to have in order to properly calculate support in your particular instance. You can also go to the North Carolina Dept. of Health & Human Services website and use its child support calculator to run different scenarios to inform yourself of how much a child support obligation might be for a paying party.

What does child support NOT cover?

This is in some measure a trick question. There is nothing specific child support does not “cover,” but there is not a list of excluded items either. This is because the custodial parent receiving child support may spend it as they see fit. There is no accounting to be filed and the paying parent has no right to ask or force the receiving party to detail how they spend the payments. Obviously, if the receiving parent is clearly failing to provide for the daily needs of the children or is neglecting providing things that they can afford and that would otherwise be beneficial to the children, the paying party, and possible Child Protective Services in the instance of not providing basic needs, can go to court to try and change custody or reduce the amount of support being paid based on the fact that the ACTUAL needs of the children are significantly less than what is being paid. Many paying parents struggle with anger and bitterness on what they perceive to be the misuse of their child support payments in the hands of the other parent. In most cases, there is nothing that can be done about how the money is being spent.

The one element of calculating child support that might have a court considering whether support is supposed to be used for a particular expense is in the catch-all category of “extraordinary expense.” There are many court battles over whether Junior really needs to go to that really expensive private school he has been attending or if Princess really is an ice-skating prodigy and all of the expenses related to that activity should be included when calculating support. The important point here is that extraordinary really does mean just that, and if approved by a court, that expense is added directly to the amount of the basic child support obligation calculated by the Child Support Guidelines—meaning this issue can greatly affect the amount of support.

As you can see, even something with guidelines and charts to determine the amounts to be paid can become complicated and life-changing if not handled correctly. Hiring an experienced family law attorney familiar with how the local judges consider what things are “extraordinary expenses” is well worth the money.

Important note: If you think your co-parent is failing to provide what is best for the children because they are spending the money on themselves instead, do not take matters into your own hands. The same is true regarding custody/visitation issues where the co-parent is not following a custody agreement or order. The worst thing you can do is withhold payments in retaliation. Instead, document what you are seeing, and contact your Winston Salem and Greensboro divorce and family law attorney for next steps. Withholding child support is against the law, and you could find yourself in big trouble. The state of North Carolina can take steps to collect unpaid child support, including court action to hold you in contempt and jail you, interception of tax refunds, wage withholding, suspension of driver’s and other licenses, and liens on bank accounts, among other things.

Keep in mind, however, that the court is only interested in misuse of child support funds if it appears that the child is suffering from neglect. Ask yourself questions like the following:

  • Is the child wearing clean clothes that fit?
  • Is the child in good health?
  • Do they have school supplies?
  • Are they well-fed and getting exercise?
  • Are they attending school and extra-curriculars?
  • Are they thriving and receiving the care they need?

If the answer to most of these questions is “no,” you may want to take a closer look at how your co-parent is spending their child support money with the help of an experienced lawyer. You may also wish to petition for a change in custody if you believe your child is being neglected at home, we can discuss that option during a consultation.

The attorneys at Hartsoe & Associates, P.C. are here to consult with you about all family law matters, including child support and divorce. We invite you to call us at 336-725-1985, or reach out to us through our contact page to set up a meeting with a best practices and aggressive attorney who cares about what happens to your children. We can meet with you in our offices in both Winston-Salem and Greensboro, by Zoom, or by phone.