North Carolina Child Support Laws

North Carolina Child Support

Here’s what you need to know if you’re facing a child support action in North Carolina.

Who Must Pay Child Support in North Carolina?

All parents are responsible for supporting their children unless the parent’s rights have been terminated. If a parent is under 18, their parents can be obligated to pay child support until they reach 18.

All children living in the United States are entitled to child support, regardless of the citizenship or immigration status of the child or the parents.

How is Child Support Determined in North Carolina?

Child support calculations are governed by North Carolina Child Support Guidelines established by the Conference of Chief District Court Judges.

These calculations involve using a formula with specific variables, including each party’s income, daycare expenses, medical insurance cost, and the children’s living arrangements.  Different worksheets are used depending on the type of custody in a particular case.

Worksheet A applies where one parent has “primary” custody, which, in North Carolina, means that one parent (the “primary custodial parent”) has 243 overnights or more per child per year, and the other parent (the “non-custodial parent”) has less than 123 overnights with each child per year.

Worksheet B applies when there is not such a clear majority of time with one parent, and the parent with the least amount of time with the child or children still has at least 123 overnights with each child per year. This situation is called “joint custody” or “shared custody.” There is no “custodial” or “non-custodial” parent.

Worksheet C applies where there are two or more children, and each parent has “primary” custody of at least one child. Each parent has 243 overnights or more for at least one child.

The appropriate worksheet is filled in with all pertinent financial information, including each parent’s income, the children’s living arrangements, and expenses related to the child or children for daycare and medical insurance.

The Schedule of Basic Child Support Obligations is based upon net income converted to gross annual income by incorporating the federal tax rates, North Carolina tax rates, and FICA. Gross income is income before deductions for federal or state income taxes, Social Security or Medicare taxes, health insurance premiums, retirement contributions, or other amounts withheld from income.

Once these figures have been established, the basic obligation can be determined.  Depending on the circumstances of a case, a court can deviate to come up with a more suitable amount.

Read More:  Uncontested Divorce in North Carolina

Which Agency Handles Child Support in North Carolina?

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, Child Support Services

(CSS) provides services to anyone who needs help with child support issues in the state.  Specifically, the agency:

  • Gathers available information from individuals and other agencies.
  • Evaluates cases and determines support activities, including establishing a case, enforcement, and modification processes.
  • Contracts with attorneys to represent cases in civil court actions. These attorneys represent the CSS agency and not the individual custodial parent in a case.

Individuals who receive services through Public Assistance (IV-A) or Foster Care (IV-E) programs are automatically referred for CSS free of charge.  Custodial parents receiving no public assistance can call CSS and receive an application and Supplemental Data Sheet t, or they can visit any local CSS office.

The CSS program is not authorized to help with custody, visitation, or property settlements.

CSS contact information is as follows:

NC Child Support Services
PO Box 20800
Raleigh, NC 27619-0800

For child support case information, call 800-992-9457, M-F, 7:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.

To make a payment:
NC Child Support
Centralized Collections
PO Box 900006
Raleigh, NC 27675

A court order for child support dictates the frequency of support payments and the amount of support to be paid. All child support payments handled by CSS are sent to the NC Child Support Centralized Collections (NCCSCC).

Based on federal regulations and state statutes, child support payments are distributed and disbursed.

Read More:  Divorce Laws in North Carolina

How Do I Ask for Child Support?

You can complete an application at your local CSS office or apply online.  Online applications are signed electronically. By doing so, you agree that your electronic signature is the legally binding equivalent to your handwritten signature.

The online application must be completed and submitted within ten business days of when it is started. A non-refundable $25 application fee is required to apply for non-public assistance services.   If your income is below 100% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, you may qualify for a reduced non-refundable $10 application fee.

What is the CSS Customer Service Center?

The CSS Customer Service Center is a gateway for all questions from CSS customers.  Call the toll-free phone number 1-800-992-9457, and you will be put in contact with the Interactive Voice Response Unit, which is available seven days a week with information available in English or Spanish.

You can also contact CSS Customer Service representatives by mail or by completing the feedback form.

If you are a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) living on the reservation and wish to receive child support services through one of the surrounding North Carolina counties, you can apply for services online or contact an EBCI representative.

Factors that May Impact Child Support in North Carolina

The North Carolina child support guidelines apply as a rebuttable presumption in all legal proceedings involving the child support obligation of a parent.  However, depending on specific circumstances, deviations may be allowed on a case-by-case basis.  This can result in a higher or lower final child support amount.

For example, in cases in which the parents’ combined adjusted gross income is less than $30,000 per month ($360,000 per year), the supporting parent’s basic child support obligation cannot be determined by using the child support schedule.

But when the combined income is above $30,000 per month, the court should set support “in such amount as to meet the reasonable needs of the child for health, education, and maintenance, having due regard to the estates, earnings, conditions, accustomed standard of living of the child and the parties, the child care and homemaker contributions of each party, and other facts of the particular case.”

In cases involving retroactive child support involving a period before a child support action was filed, a court may calculate child support obligations by determining if the guidelines had been applied at the beginning of the period for which support is being sought, or based on the parent’s fair share of actual expenditures for the child’s care.

Alimony paid to any person is not deducted from gross income but may be considered as a factor to vary from the final presumptive child support obligation.

Also, a parent’s financial responsibility for their natural or adopted children who currently live with the parent is deducted from the parent’s gross income. Use of this deduction is appropriate when a child support order is entered or modified but may not be the sole basis for modifying an existing order.

Deviations are always made with the child’s best interests as the primary consideration, along with a parent’s ability to pay child support.

If the court deviates from the North Carolina child support guidelines, the court must make written findings that state the amount of support that should be required, why the presumptive amount was inadequate or excessive and stating the basis on which the court determined the amount of child support ordered.

Read More:  North Carolina Divorce Guide

Is Health Insurance Considered a Part of Child Support?

Federal regulations require CSS to seek medical and dental support as a part of all child support orders.

A parent must provide health insurance if the amount is reasonable.  Reasonable is defined as  not exceeding  5% of the parent’s gross income. The cost is the amount of adding the child to the parent’s existing coverage, getting child-only coverage, or if new coverage must be obtained, the difference between the cost of self-only and family coverage.

Health care coverage includes fee for service, health maintenance, preferred provider organizations, and other kinds of private health insurance and public health care coverage, such as Medicaid, under which medical services can be provided to the dependent child.

The amount paid by a parent for a child’s health insurance is added to the basic child support obligation and prorated between the parents based on their respective incomes.

North Carolina uses the National Medical Support Notice (NMSN), a standardized federal form that CSS agencies in all states must use.  When the court orders noncustodial parents to provide employment-related health care coverage for their dependent child, the NMSN provides a means of communication between CSS agencies, employers, and group health plan administrators regarding medical support obligations.

The NMSN must be served noncustodial parent’s employer within five business days after an initial order has been entered or within two business days of the noncustodial parent being added to the North Carolina New Hire Directory.

This notice is not used when the court has ordered non-employment-based health insurance coverage or when the parties have stipulated to non-employment-based health insurance coverage.

The basic guideline support includes $250 per child for the child’s extraordinary expenses for uninsured medical and dental costs.  This may include costs for extended illnesses, asthma, braces, or other significant health costs.  The court may order that uninsured medical health care costs over $250 per year incurred by a parent be paid by either parent or both parents in such proportion as the court deems appropriate.

Child care costs paid by a parent due to employment or job search are added to the basic child support obligation and prorated between the parents based on their respective incomes. Other reasonable child care costs, such as child care costs incurred while the custodial parent attends school, may be the basis for a deviation.

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Establishing Paternity in North Carolina

Establishing paternity is a core service CSS provides. It identifies the legal father of a child, which ensures certain rights for the child and access to the father’s medical information and benefits.

A child support order cannot be established for a child born out of wedlock unless the alleged father acknowledges paternity or is proven to be the father through genetic testing.

Genetic testing determines the probability that the alleged father is the child’s biological father. The natural mother, alleged father, and the child are tested using a tissue swabbed from the inside of the cheek, and lab results usually take four to six weeks.  Results may be presented as evidence in legal proceedings to establish paternity.

Paternity can also be established through a voluntary acknowledgment process.  That requires the mother and father to complete an Affidavit of Parentage. It becomes a legal finding of paternity.  Both parents’ names are recorded on the birth certificate when this document is filed with Vital Records.

Suppose the father is unable to sign the Affidavit of Parentage in the hospital. In that case, it can be completed later at a local CSS office or by visiting the NC Vital Records website.

Enforcing North Carolina Child Support Orders

After the court orders a child support obligation, CSS is responsible for enforcing the order.

Appropriate enforcement actions are mandatory when the noncustodial parent does not comply with the court order.  Several enforcement options are possible:

  • Income withholding requires an employer to begin withholding child support from the employee’s wages, Social Security benefits, VA benefits, unemployment insurance benefits, and workers’ compensation. Employers deduct the amount specified under the terms of the withholding notice from the employee’s paycheck and sent it to the NC Child Support Centralized Collections (NCCSCC) within seven days of the deduction.
  • Court action resulting in fines and jail time.
  • Interception of state and federal tax refunds.
  • Consumer credit reporting could prevent a parent from getting a loan or a new credit card.
  • Passport denial or revocation for arrearages of more than $2,500.  Information is submitted to the U.S. Secretary of State, and that agency will refuse to issue a passport or revoke, restrict or limit a passport that was previously issued.
  • Liens that place a hold placed on a property until child support payments are made. The parent can either pay their arrearages to have the lien removed, or the property can be sold to satisfy part or all of the debt.
  • Driver’s, professional/occupational, or wildlife license revocation when a parent is 90 days behind in child support payments.
  • CSS can refer a parent’s name to the appropriate licensing board to revoke a professional or occupational license, such as those for a doctor, lawyer, realtor, nurse, teacher, plumber, barber, etc.
  • Levying financial institution accounts when arrearages equal six months of their child support obligation or $1,000.

Modifying North Carolina Child Support Payments

Either parent can file to modify a child support order if there have been material and significant changes in circumstances since the time of the original order.

Typically the parent receiving child support can request an upward adjustment due to increased costs related to a child or that the parent paying child support has received an increase in their income that would constitute a significant change of circumstances.

A parent paying child support can file for a downward modification if they cannot work because of bad health or disability or become involuntarily unemployed.

A judge will only modify if there is a substantial change of circumstances.  The court performs a new guideline calculation taking into account each side’s financial situation, new child care expenses, or any other pertinent information to the child support determination in making either determination.

A modification can also occur if three years have passed from the entry of a child support order or if there is a 15% difference between the amount of the previous order for child support and the amount set by the guidelines based on a new calculation.

An adjustment is not automatic, and the party requesting a modification must prove why a modification is warranted.

It’s important to note that incarceration may not be treated as voluntary unemployment in establishing or modifying a child support order.

Also, providing for the child’s health care needs is a substantial change of circumstances that justifies modification of a child support order, regardless of whether an adjustment in the amount of child support is necessary.

Child Support and Taxes

Child support payments are not deductible by the payer or taxable to the recipient. Don’t include child support payments received when you calculate your gross income.

However, you may be able to claim the child as a dependent. Generally, the custodial parent is treated as one who provides more than half of the child’s support. In some cases, the noncustodial parent may be treated as the parent who provided more than half of the child’s support.

Many agreements include a provision that each parent declares half the children as dependents when there is an even number of children. Parents can alternate years claiming the child for an odd number of children. In this situation, parents may need to submit Form 8332, Release/Revocation of Release of Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent, or a similar statement.

When Does Child Support End in North Carolina?

Child support typically continues until a child turns 18.  It may end sooner if the child emancipates, gets married, joins the military, or passes away.

There are two common reasons for child support to last longer:

Many adolescents turn 18 years old before they graduate from high school. A judge can order that support continues throughout the adolescent’s secondary education or until they turn 20 years old, whichever comes first. Most of the time, this is based on the student’s making satisfactory progress in school.

Many parents enter into written agreements to continue to pay support past a child turning 18. As long as the contract is valid under the law, then the parent who has agreed to pay support for a longer duration must continue to do so. That is considered a lawful contract and enforceable by the court.

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