In North Carolina, parents are obligated by law to supply continuous financial support to their minor child or children, despite the state of their relationship. This especially reigns true in circumstances when parents prefer to live in separate residences, or intend to dissolve their marriage. Child support laws essentially enforce the notion that following a divorce or split, children have the right to maintain the quality of life they became accustomed to while their parents were living in the same residence.
It's crucial for single parents and spouses contemplating initiating the process of divorce to have a basic understanding of their state's child support system. For the purposes of this article, we will address (1) who is required to pay child support, (2) state child support guidelines, (3) the circumstances in which parents can file a claim for child support, and (4) agreement options.
Who Pays Child Support?
Child support is paid by one parent to the other, either following a divorce or amongst parents who were never married. Court ordered child support arrangements typically consist of a non-custodial parent rendering monetary support to the other parent who has sole or primary physical custody of a child. Namely, a parent who is not living with a child is required to provide a fixed monthly or weekly payment towards the maintenance and care of a child. Child support may be ordered by the court in joint custody arrangements, too. In these circumstances, a parent usually has physical custody of a child most of the time and the remaining parent will be ordered by a judge to make child support payments.
North Carolina Child Support Guidelines
In an attempt to establish uniform standards for determining child support obligations, agreements, as well as any court-ordered child support arrangements, are heavily based on North Carolina's child support guidelines. A possible deviation from these guidelines only occurs when a parent can give an acceptable reason for a judge to disregard them and heed more suitable criteria for that particular case. Child support calculations are relatively complex and are determined by using an intricate formula. But the factors used to dictate obligations are what you'd expect. The following components are typically considered when determining the amount of child support for a parent to 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
It is possible for divorcing parents who have an amicable relationship and are receptive to open communication to settle child support agreements outside of court. This is accomplished through the creation of a separation agreement. Essentially, a separation agreement is a legal contract that establishes a clear and detailed plan for child support obligations and other aspects of a divorce. Terms of the agreement often include who will pay certain expenses for a child and the amount of money that will be paid in monthly or weekly installments. Some terms even cover penalties for failing to pay the entire amount or not making payments in a timely manner. North Carolina law presumes that separation agreements are drafted in light of the best interest of a child.
Separation agreements are a cost-effective and straightforward way of mitigating child support issues. This option is recommended for parents who wish to avoid litigation and experience minimal conflict while in the process of a divorce.
North Carolina Family Law Attorneys
The child support attorneys at Caulder & Valentine 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 our firm today for a consultation.