Most parents love their children and want what’s best for them. For many parents, the role of mom or dad is the most important job they’ll ever have, and the one they care about most. As a result, it’s understandable that when going through a divorce, most parents worry first and foremost about their children. After all, a divorce may mean the end of being husband and wife – but you’ll always be mom and dad, and co-parenting effectively together in the future is important.
As a parent, you want to ensure that your children are provided for in every important way, including financially. That’s why most parents want to ensure that the child support amount determined during their divorce is sufficient to meet the needs of their children and ensure that they are always adequately cared for. On the other side of the coin, many parents worry, understandably, about how they will make ends meet if they end up with a child support obligation that is higher than anticipated.
As many parents already know, child support is a payment, typically made monthly, from the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent to provide for the needs of the couple’s children. Under North Carolina law, the term “children” usually includes the biological children of the marriage, any children that the couple adopted together, and any children born as a result of a relationship between the parties, even if they were not married, but if paternity of the child has been established.
Child support is always one of the most important issues to be addressed during the divorce process, so it can be helpful to understand the basics of how the child support process works in North Carolina. It’s important to realize that child support amounts are determined not only based on income but also by the custody arrangement that the parents decide upon, or that is determined by the court. Typically, in North Carolina, child support is determined in one of two ways – either by agreement, or court order. Let’s take a closer look at those two options together.
Determining Child Support by Agreement
Today, more than ever before, many couples are choosing alternative methods of resolving their divorce issues almost entirely outside of a courtroom. Gone are the days where couples battle over every issue before a judge – many have realized that this is often simply too stressful, time-consuming, and expensive, and there are better ways. Instead, many couples are choosing mediation, collaborative divorce, or lawyer-led settlement negotiations as ways of working through their issues cooperatively and collaboratively, reducing the cost of divorce, and reaching solutions that work best for everyone involved.
Almost every issue that a couple confronts during the divorce process, including child support, can be addressed and resolved outside of a courtroom. Choosing to do so provides many advantages, perhaps foremost among them, the freedom and flexibility to truly decide what will work best for your own family. After all, no judge in a courtroom, no matter how well-intentioned he or she may be, will ever know or care about your family the way that you do. You know your children. You know their needs. You know their routines. You know their lifestyle. You and your spouse are in a better position than anyone else to decide how to resolve your issues in a way that will be in the best interests of your children and your family as a whole.
When it comes to determining child support obligations by agreement, there are very few limitations. The parties are free to set payment amounts and a payment schedule that works best for the family. Another advantage is that as time goes on and life changes, which it will, those who have an agreement that addresses child support can modify that agreement as necessary, without needing to seek the intervention of a court. Many parents find that to be a wonderful benefit of addressing support by agreement.
While determining the child support obligation in an agreement is preferable if it is possible, it’s also important to keep in mind that sometimes it simply isn’t possible. Sometimes, for any number of reasons, a divorcing couple simply may not be in a place where they can sit down and resolve their divorce issues cooperatively and amicably, and that’s understandable too. In those cases, having a court determine the child support obligation may simply be the best resolution.
Court-Determined Child Support
In North Carolina, courts who are calculating and awarding child support usually do so by using the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines. These standards were established to help to provide both courts and parents with a framework for determining an amount that is presumed to be a fair amount to provide adequate support for each child.
To help calculate these amounts, North Carolina has published a table that sets forth the estimated amounts that parents at specific income levels would likely spend on their children when living together. That amount is calculated to estimate anticipated costs for things like healthcare expenses, daycare expenses, routine daily expenses, and some extraordinary expenses as well.
Generally, there are three worksheets used for calculating support under the guidelines:
- Worksheet A: This worksheet is typically used when one parent has sole custody of the children and the other parent’s visitation totals less than 123 nights per year.
- Worksheet B: This worksheet is typically used when the parents have joint custody, but the non-custodial parent’s visitation totals more than 123 nights per year.
- Worksheet C: This worksheet is typically used when each parent has sole custody of at least one child from the marriage.
As the different worksheets show, court-ordered child support is usually directly affected by the custody arrangement the parents have. Essentially, the more time that a parent has custody of the children, the greater the likelihood that they will receive a higher amount of child support, while remembering, of course, that support is intended to be paid proportionately to income. It’s also important to remember that ultimately, courts should always strive to make decisions that are in the best interests of the children involved. Sometimes, if special circumstances exist, this may mean looking beyond guidelines and worksheets at various other factors, including:
- Any additional income that either spouse may receive outside of his or her employment, including gifts or inheritances from friends or family;
- Any extraordinary expenses that may only arise occasionally, or any unusual expenditures required depending upon the unique circumstances of the family;
- Expenses that might be incurred related to visitation or travel;
- Support that either parent regularly pays for children of a previous marriage or relationship;
- Which parent claims the children as exemptions for tax purposes;
- And a variety of other factors.
It’s also important to remember that in very unique circumstances, a court may determine child support based on the child’s actual needs and expenses instead of using the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines. This is typically the case if:
- The combined income of the parents exceeds the $30,000 per month limit of the guidelines;
- Either one of the parents or the child(ren) have extraordinary medical expenses;
- One of the child(ren) is disabled and has special needs;
- For any other reason, application of the guidelines in a particular case would be inappropriate or unjust.
If a court determines to set an amount of support different from what is outlined in the guidelines, this is usually referred to as a “deviation.” If you feel that you may be entitled to a deviation, it is always wise to consult with your attorney regarding your situation and how the law may apply to your case.
Calculating Your Estimated Child Support Amount
We have provided our North Carolina Child Support Calculator to help parents estimate how much money they might be expected to pay in child support each month. Typically, this contribution is made by the non-custodial parent each month. The calculator will determine the estimated amount of support to be paid based on income, the number of days the children spend in each parent’s custody, and other pertinent child-related expenses. To use our child support calculator, simply fill out the fields below and submit when you are finished. If a field is not relevant to you, please leave that field blank.
While using a calculator can be helpful to determine your potential child support obligation, it is, of course, no substitute for the guidance and advice of a knowledgeable and experienced attorney. The law is complex, and every family has its own set of unique circumstances. Understanding the legal basics is helpful, but having an attorney on your side who knows and understands the law can make all the difference in your case. That’s where we come in.
The Law Office of Dustin McCrary – We’re Here for You
If you have questions or concerns about child support, or any other aspect of the divorce process, at The Law Office of Dustin McCrary, we’re here to help. No matter where you are in the divorce process, we’ll meet you there. We understand every aspect of the divorce process, and we are proud of our reputation for helping our clients navigate the difficulties of divorce so that they can move forward healthier and happier than ever before. You deserve nothing less. We would consider it a privilege to speak with you, learn your story, and let you know how we may be able to help. Call us any time. We look forward to speaking with you soon.