Few things are as contentious in a divorce case as child support. And few things are as misunderstood. Although the purpose of child support is to provide for the children of the marriage after a divorce, the non-custodial parent often feels as if they are being punished or being required to give the custodial parent “extra money.” The custodial parent, faced with household expenses, may think the other parent needs to give even more.
When it’s time to determine the amount of child support, the law sets out specific requirements. The state of North Carolina wants every child to have the opportunity to succeed and thrive, whether they live with both parents or not. Child support may not be waived in North Carolina or used as a bargaining tool in divorce negotiations. It is always awarded in the best interest of the child, no matter what the parents decide between themselves.
When you need assistance with negotiating or modifying a child support order, you should contact the Pittsboro family law attorneys of Marshall & Taylor PLLC. We will work diligently to get the best agreement for you and your children. Call us at (919) 833-1040 today.
Calculating Child Support
Both parents theoretically make child support payments. In practice, the non-custodial parent pays the custodial parent a sum of money equal to what their contribution to the household would be if both parents still lived together.
This can be confusing, but the court uses a series of worksheets to analyze the finances of both parties and their regular household expenses to determine how much is needed to support the child or children and how much each parent is able to contribute to that cost.
- The parents’ combined monthly gross income produces a child support obligation according to North Carolina statutes.
- Each parent’s monthly gross income is calculated as a percentage of the total monthly income.
- Each parent’s additional costs for insurance, childcare, and “extraordinary expenses” are added back into the total support obligations for each parent.
- This total is multiplied by the percentage of each parent’s contribution to the monthly income. That number is the parent’s support obligation.
Who pays who depends upon the custody arrangement. In a sole custody agreement, the non-custodial parent has fewer than 123 overnight visits with the child per year. In a joint custody agreement, both parents have at least 123 overnight visits with the child per year.
For instance, suppose that in a sole custody agreement, the custodial parent makes $2500 per month, and the non-custodial parent makes $5000 per month. Childcare costs are $120 per month, and the non-custodial parent provides $50 in healthcare premiums. The total child support obligation is $1224.00 per month. The non-custodial parent will need to make $766.00 per month in support payments. In a joint custody agreement with the same income, the support payments would be $329.00 per month.
One reason people are so shocked at child support payments is that very few parents ever sit down and calculate how much it costs to feed, house, and clothe a child for a month. As can be seen by comparing sole custody and joint custody agreements, when a child lives with both parents, it is less expensive per parent than if the child lives mostly with one parent.
Modifying or Enforcing a Support Order
Just because the court has ordered child support to be paid doesn’t mean that’s the end. Things change, and the courts recognize that life happens, and sometimes you can’t pay what the court told you to. Or, if you are the receiving parent, maybe the payor isn’t holding up their end.
It’s possible to modify a support order if a parent has experienced a “substantial change” in their circumstances. This could be a promotion or the loss of a job, a serious illness or injury, or a need on the part of the supported child. If you are paying child support and suddenly find your hours at work cut, as happened recently during the COVID emergency, you need to contact your attorney right away to petition the court for a temporary reduction in your support payments.
One thing you should never do is stop paying or modify your order by yourself. Even if your former spouse understands the situation right now, they might not be so forgiving later. Violating a court order is never optional, even if the other party understands why you’re doing it. If you are unable to pay, you need your attorney to help you out.
In the same way, if your former spouse has fallen behind on support payments, you are not allowed to withhold visitation “until they catch up.” Visitation and support are two separate orders, and you do not have the authority to use one to enforce the other.
If your former spouse is not paying child support as ordered, your attorney will advise you on how to proceed. The court has several different enforcement mechanisms at its disposal. The most common is wage garnishment, where support payments are taken directly from the paying spouse’s paycheck. If this is insufficient, other penalties can include:
- Seizure of personal assets
- Seizure of tax returns
- Suspension of driver’s license and professional licenses
- Criminal contempt charges.
If you need assistance with a support order, do not try to handle it alone. The only thing more unpleasant than the original divorce is modifying the agreements that sprang from it. Even if your divorce was reasonably amicable, changing your support order will not be. You need legal assistance right away.
When You Need an Attorney, Contact Us
At Marshall & Taylor PLLC, we are here to help you through this difficult time. From the divorce through property division and support orders, the attorneys at Marshall & Taylor PLLC will be at your side. If you need help modifying or enforcing an order later, we will be there for you then, too.
Don’t feel like you’re in this alone. When you need compassionate, knowledgeable attorneys, you need Marshall & Taylor PLLC. Call us at (919) 833-1040 or visit our website for a confidential consultation about your case. The best interests of you and your child are at stake. Give us a call right away.