In North Carolina, regardless of the current state of a parent's relationship, parents are legally obligated to provide ongoing financial assistance to their minor children or children. This is especially the case when parents choose to live apart or are considering divorcing. Child support laws uphold the belief that children should be able to maintain the standard of living they have grown accustomed to while living in the same home after a divorce or separation.
For single parents and spouses considering filing for divorce, it is essential to have a fundamental comprehension of the child support system in their respective state. This article will focus on the following topics: (1) Who is responsible for paying child support; (2) State child support guidelines; (3) the conditions in which parents may file a request for child support; and (4) Agreement options.
Who Pays Child Support?
Child support is the payment of money to a child by either one parent or both parents after a divorce or between parents who have never been married. A court-ordered child support arrangement is when a parent who does not have physical custody has to pay money to the parent who does. For example, if a parent does not live with a child, they are required to pay a fixed monthly/weekly payment towards maintenance and care for a child. The court may also order a parent to pay child support in a joint custody arrangement. In these cases, one parent usually has most of the physical custody and the other parent is ordered by the judge to pay child support.
North Carolina Child Support Guidelines
In an effort to create uniform standards for child support orders, agreements and any court ordered child support orders are largely based on the child support guidelines in North Carolina. A judge may only depart from the guidelines if a parent can provide an acceptable reason why a judge should disregard the guidelines and consider more appropriate criteria for the particular case. Child support calculations are complex and are based on a complex formula. The following factors are typically taken into consideration when determining how much child support a parent should pay:
- The income and earning potential of each parent
- A child's individual mental, physical, and emotional condition
- The past, present, and future expenses required for the adequate raising of a child (this includes basic essentials like food, clothing, shelter, daycare, education, and dental expenses)
- A child's accustomed standard of living prior to a divorce, split, or separation
- The amount of time spent with each parent
- The number of children both parents have, together or apart
- The needs of a child
Initiating a Child Support Claim
North Carolina law permits parents to file a child support claim through a number of actions. A parent can file either a separate civil action filed by the custodial parent, or joined with a petition for the following four legal actions:
- an annulment: a civil court process that dictates a marriage never existed. Spouses can only get an annulment in very specific circumstances, like if a couple got married under false pretenses or if their marriage was incestuous. The main distinction between annulment and an absolute divorce is when people get a divorce, there is still documentation that proves they were once married. After an annulment, however, both parents can say that they were never married.
- absolute divorce: the termination of a marriage, which forfeits all marital obligations.
- divorce from bed and board (separation): Despite its name, a divorce from bed and board is not an actual divorce; it's technically considered a legal separation. The marital bond is still intact but parents are living in separate residences.
- alimony without divorce: alimony refers to the payments made by one spouse (the supporting spouse) to maintenance the other spouse (the dependent spouse).
Rarer situations like the criminal abandonment of a child is another condition that validates a parent filing a child support claim. Unfortunately, some parents make a decision to voluntarily walk out of their child's life. Despite this decision, they are still obligated to monetarily support their children in their absence. The failure to do so, which is known as criminal nonsupport, could lead to legal repercussions. North Carolina statutes classify this criminal offense as a class 2 misdemeanor, which results in mandatory jail time and costly fines.
Parents Reaching an Agreement
If you and your ex-spouse have a friendly relationship and are open to communication, you may be able to work out child support agreements without going to court. This can be done through a separation agreement, which is a legal document that sets out a detailed plan for your child support and other matters related to your divorce. The terms of the agreement typically include who pays for certain expenses for your child and how much you will pay each month or week. Some terms may even include penalties for not paying the full amount or failing to make payments on time. According to North Carolina law, separation agreements are made with the best interests of your child in mind.
Separation agreements are an affordable and simple way to reduce child support costs. This option is ideal for parents who want to avoid court battles and have minimal disagreements during the divorce process.
North Carolina Family Law Attorneys
The child support attorneys at Webster & Back have extensive knowledge of the rights and protections entitled to you, as a parent. Let our legal professionals help you navigate through this complex legal system and find solutions for you. If you are contemplating filing a child support claim, don't hesitate to contact us today for a consultation.