Q & A: Child Support

How much child support should I receive if I'm separated from my spouse?

There is no set amount that is "enough child support" in any given case. Child support varies according to the needs of the child or children, the incomes of the parents, the parents' reasonable needs and the accustomed standard of living of the child(ren), among other things, and this is set out as the standards for determining child support under General Statutes 50-13.4(c).

Who decides how much is enough? What if the other parent and I cannot agree on the amount of child support?

If the two of you are able to reach agreement on a sum, that amount should be set out in a separation agreement. If the separation agreement sets out a specific sum, that figure that will be binding if it is enough for the child. If the parties cannot agree, you may petition the court to set the amount of child support that will be required. The court always retains the power to modify child support regardless of what the parties decide.

What court decides child support?

In North Carolina, the district court hears child support cases. A child support case is usually heard in the county where the child is living. If the father lives in another state and our state lacks any contacts with him, you may need to have the case heard there instead of here.

Can the Department of Social Services help me?

Yes -- the county Department of Social Services can help you establish or enforce child support. But this is all they do. If you have many issues such as custody or visitation you will need an attorney in private practice.

How do I know how much child support I need?

There is no "right amount" of child support. Many states have adopted child support guidelines. In North Carolina, these guidelines on child support are often used by the judge in setting child support and by the parties or attorneys in settling support cases. In Bladen County the Chief District Court Judge has approved the guidelines to decide child support cases.

What if I need more child support?

The Guidelines are flexible and allow for a child's special needs, extremely high or low income and other factors the court finds to be important. Make a list of all monthly expenses for your household and apportion the expenses between yourself and the child or children. Be sure to set aside a certain portion of the rent, utilities and food for each child. You should also consider whether to apportion such expenses as car payments, gasoline and medical bills for each child. You must support the child or children and you are the one who best knows the facts, needs and expenses. The judge can go outside the Guidelines, but it is up to you to prove the need for a variance from the Guidelines.

When my child is with my ex-spouse, can he or she reduce the child support paid to me?    

No.  But if the parties agree the spouse will take care of the child more days of the year, then the support may be figured on a Worksheet Schedule B which would decrease the amount.  You will have to compare Worksheet A and B to understand the differences.

If I cannot see my child for visitation, can I stop paying child support?

No. Under North Carolina law, denial of visitation is not legal justification for withholding child support. Neither is lack of child support a legal excuse for refusing the other parent visitation rights. The parents do not have the right to try to link together these separate obligations. Even if a parent is not paying any child support, he may still visit his children. And even if a parent is not allowing visitation, the children are still entitled to child support.

When does child support stop?

Child support, without an agreement or court order, usually ends at the child's eighteenth birthday, although it will continue beyond then if the child is still in high school, so long as the child is not over twenty years old. A separation agreement or court order by consent may set a higher age, such as upon graduation from college or at age twenty-one. Child support may end earlier than the above if the child is emancipated, such as by joining the military, moving away from home or getting married.

Can the other parent's paycheck be garnished for child support?

Yes. Under North Carolina law, garnishment of a paycheck for child support may be ordered for up to forty percent (40%) of the net available pay. Garnishment is a court proceeding that requires a lawyer or the help of the Department of Social Services. Garnishment is allowed only if a court order for child support is violated; it does not apply if there is only a separation agreement. Wage assignment is also used to take child support directly from a parent's pay if there has been a prior child support order.

What if I need more child support in the future?

If the child support is set out in a court order, you may petition the court to increase child support if you can show that there has been a substantial change of circumstances since the date the order was signed. Such a change usually consists of increased living expenses, inflation and an increase in the earnings of the other parent. Sometimes the parents can agree between themselves on a regular increase in child support. If they wish, they can enter into an agreement that adjusts child support annually on the basis of, say, the Consumer Price Index or the wage increases of the noncustodial parent. When the parents cannot agree, the court must resolve the matter and the custodial parent must prove that present child support is inadequate.

Can child support also be reduced?

Yes. The court has the power to modify child support upwards or downwards, so long as there has been a substantial change of circumstances since the entry of the original order. Thus, for example, a parent who just lost his job or has had a substantial pay cut could petition the court to reduce the child support payments that he is making.

Won't child support be settled when I obtain a divorce?

Divorce decrees do not necessarily settle child support matters, and a support order can be entered before or after a final decree of divorce in North Carolina.

What if' have other questions?

You need to come in to the Johnson Law Firm and speak with an attorney. Nothing you read on this website is legal advice. You should not make any decisions unless you are advised by a licensed North Carolina attorney.
The Johnson Law Firm would like to thank Sullivan & Grace, P.A. for use of material.

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