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Family Law

Child Support

Child support issues can be challenging and volatile.  Although both parents have a legal duty to support their child, all too often parents have conflicting expectations when it comes to child support. Dealing with financial issues during a divorce, especially child support matters, can cause tensions to rise and become emotional. An attorney well versed in child support issues will interpret the child support guidelines and help you navigate complicating factors that may be unique to your circumstance. 

How is Child Support Determined? 

In North Carolina, child support is each parent’s financial obligation for a dependent child until the child reaches the age of 18, or thereafter until the child graduates from high school if that occurs after the child reaches 18. Child support can also continue beyond the age of 18 if the child has special needs and is unable to gainfully support him/herself. Additionally, parents may voluntarily continue to pay support after their legal obligation ends, should they elect to do so.  

When parents agree on child support issues the terms can be memorialized in a child support agreement, either as a part of a separation agreement or contained in a consent order filed with the court. The family law attorneys at Hopper Cummings will provide precise evaluation and creative solutions through negotiation and mediation in order to help you create a support agreement that is of benefit to you and your family. 

How is Child Support Calculated? 

Child support is calculated using the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines. The guidelines determine the amount of support due from one parent to another based upon several criteria, including the incomes of both parents and the custodial schedule of the child. The guidelines calculate support by using a statutory mathematical formula that considers the economic factors involved in determining the “relative needs” of a child and the “relative ability” of parents to pay. When calculating support, there are three different worksheets used depending on the custodial schedule of the child.  These include: 

  • Worksheet A: used when one parent has sole or primary custody of a child, and the noncustodial parent has the minor child for less than 123 overnights per year. 
  • Worksheet B: used when parents share joint custody, and each has the child for at least 123 overnights per year. 
  • Worksheet C: used in cases where parents have 2 or more children, and custody is split, meaning one or more children are in the primary custody of one parent and another child is in the primary custody of the other. 

Other factors used in the calculation of support include: 

  • Health insurance premium costs;
  • Work-related child care costs; and
  • Other extraordinary expenses.

While custody is a factor used to calculate support, it is a distinct and separate legal issue. Custodial rights are not based on a parent’s obligation to pay support, and custody should never be withheld from a parent for financial reasons. 

What is a Deviation?  

In the event the court has a compelling reason to deviate from the child support guidelines, judges are permitted to do so. While setting aside the guidelines is uncommon, a deviation can occur if there is sufficient evidence to show that the guideline amount would not be appropriate as it relates to the ability of the parties to pay or to the needs of the child. This often happens when the parents’ combined incomes exceed the guideline amount, currently $360,000 per year, or if the needs of a child are shown to exceed what is determined. When the court deviates from the prescribed guidelines, the actual needs of a child will be used in the calculation. 

Can I Modify a Child Support Order?

A child support order can only be modified or changed if a significant change in circumstances has occurred. If three years have passed since the order or agreement was entered, and there has been at least a 15% change in the amount of support calculated under the guidelines, the court may review the order to determine if a modification is appropriate. 

While the calculation of child support may seem straightforward, complicating factors can occur. Most commonly disputes arise in determining the numbers that should be used in the calculations that determine support to be paid. Some matters require thorough investigation into a parent's income sources, and this is especially true when parents are self-employed or have multiple sources of income rather than being a traditional wage earner. Less frequently, a parent may intentionally suppress their income to reduce their obligation. Either way, having a knowledgeable attorney assist you in analyzing the pertinent details of your case can be critical, in determining if a parent is acting in bad faith. 

If you are involved in a child support dispute, whether you need to establish a new order or modify or enforce an existing order, the family law attorneys at Hopper Cummings can help. We understand the variables involved in child support calculations. We are ardent and effective investigators.  We will ensure all variables are considered in the calculation of fair child support obligations reflecting the true capabilities of both parents. Contact us today for a confidential consultation at 919-533-4115, or complete our online form


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This article and all of the content on this website are intended for information purposes only and are not to be considered legal advice or substituted for consultation with an experienced attorney. We strive to ensure the content on our site is current, informative, and based on North Carolina law and practice procedure in effect at the time of its writing and publication. Call our office to schedule a consultation at 919-533-4115, email us at, or complete a contact form on any page of this site for specific and accurate information about your unique matter.

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