Child Support Guidelines in North Carolina

As part of a divorce, legal separation, or child custody dispute, the parents or guardians will have to determine how the parties share custody or if the courts will award sole custody to one party. Child custody can be decided by a separation agreement, parenting plan, mediation, or court order. After child custody is determined, child support is generally based on the parents' liability for the support of a minor child.  

A child's parent, agency, or the court may initiate an action for support. Payments are to be made monthly and in such an amount as to meet the reasonable needs of the child for health, education, and maintenance. The child support amount takes into account:

  • Estates, 
  • Earnings,
  • Conditions,
  • Accustomed standard of living, 
  • Child care contributions, 
  • Homemaker contributions, and 
  • Other relevant facts.  

If you have any questions about child support guidelines and going beyond the guidelines for your child's needs, talk to your experienced North Carolina family law attorney about your options.

North Carolina Child Support Guidelines

Under North Carolina General Statutes § 50-13.4, “the court shall determine the amount of child support payments by applying the presumptive guidelines.” 

The guidelines are generally based on “income shares,” which involves the idea that child support is a shared obligation and the child should get the same proportion of income he or she would get if the parents lived together. The schedule of basic support is generally based on: 

  • Number of children,
  • Time spent with the child (joint custody, primary custody, or split custody),
  • Income of both parents,
  • Health care, 
  • Other children, and
  • Other extraordinary expenses.


Calculating income involves adjusted gross income (AGI) of both parents. Gross income is the income before state and federal tax deductions, Social Security or Medicare, health insurance, and retirement contributions. Income includes salary and wages, self-employment income, ownership interest in a business, rental property income, pension or retirement accounts, workers' comp benefits, gifts, alimony, and other income from “any source.”

Income generally does not include public assistance benefits, child support payments, employer contributions towards future Social Security or Medicare payments, or payments made to an employer for health, disability or life insurance, or retirement benefits not withheld or deducted from pay. 

If the court finds a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed to deliberately or in bad faith avoid child support obligations, the court may calculate child support on the parent's potential income. 

Health Insurance and Health Care

Health insurance and health care can represent a significant cost for many families in North Carolina. The amounts paid by a parent or parent's spouse for health insurance for the children can be added to the basic support obligation and prorated between the parents based on income. However, payments made by the employer for health insurance are not included. 

Other Extraordinary Expenses

Depending on the individual child and family, there may be extraordinary expenses that should be taken into account in providing for the child. This generally includes educational and travel expenses for the child. Educational expenses may be those related to special education or private schooling for the child. Travel costs may be those for travel for the parents and/or child for visitation

Existing Support for Other Children

If the parent has existing support obligations or responsibility for other children, child support payments for those children are deducted from the parent's gross income. Additionally, if a parent has child support obligations for two or more families under separate orders, the court may consider that as a factor in deviating from the child support guidelines.

Deviating From the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines

The guidelines are based on the Conference of Chief District Judges presumptive guidelines for determining child support obligations and reviewed periodically. The guidelines act as a rebuttable presumption of child support obligations of a parent. However, the court may deviate from the guidelines. 

Deviations from the guidelines are based on findings that the guidelines would not meet, or would exceed the reasonable needs of the child considering the ability of parents to provide support.  

There is also generally a minimum support obligation for parents with low incomes. When a parent obliged to pay child support makes less than $1,108 per month (as of January 1, 2019), the guidelines require a minimum support order of $50 per month. 

High-Income Child Support Guidelines

When parents' combined adjusted gross income is more than $30,000 per month ($360,000 per year), the supporting parent's obligation goes beyond the child support guidelines. In high-combined income cases, the court will set support as to meet the reasonable needs of the child's health, education, and maintenance. 

However, the child support guidelines may be a reference in setting the minimum level of support.

Modifying Child Support Orders

The courts may adjust child support orders based on a change in circumstances or a motion to modify the child support order made at least three years prior to the motion. A change in circumstances generally means there is a difference of 15% or more between the child support payable and child support based on the change in circumstances. This modification can be adjusted higher or lower, based on the change in circumstances of either parent. 

For example, if the supporting spouse and custodial spouse each make $50,000 a year, and the supporting spouse gets a $1,000 bonus, that would not likely make a substantial change in the amount of child support (less than 15%), and would probably not be enough to modify child support orders. However, if the supporting spouse suddenly lost their job and could not find work, that significant change in income would generally warrant a modification of the child support orders.  

Alternatively, a need to provide for the child's health care is considered a substantial change in circumstances warranting a modification of child support orders.  

Family Law Attorneys in Shelby, North Carolina

If you have any questions about child support, modifying child support orders, or enforcing child custody or support orders in North Carolina, contact the Caulder & Valentine Law Firm, PLLC in Shelby. Contact us online or by phone at 704-470-2440 today for a consultation.