Child support refers to money that is paid to provide for the health, welfare, and education of minor children. Child support amounts can be determined by the court or by private agreement, and can be enforced or modified in various ways. It is important to recognize that the child support obligation exists whether or not an agreement or court order exists, and parents cannot waive their own or the other parent’s obligation to provide support.
Child Support General Infomation
In North Carolina, absent proof to the contrary, both the father and mother are primarily liable for the support of their minor children. This does not automatically impose equal child support obligations on both parents. Each parent’s relative ability to pay should be taken into consideration. In some uncommon circumstances, even grandparents or stepparents can be obligated to provide child support. A legal action for child support may be brought by any parent, person, institution, or agency that has custody of minor children.
According to North Carolina law, the amount of a child support award must be sufficient to meet the reasonable needs for children’s health, maintenance, and education, with the court taking into account the relative estates, earnings, and accustomed standard of living of the children and parents, the child care contributions made by each party, and other relevant particular facts and circumstances in each case. To determine appropriate amounts for child support payments, North Carolina courts employ mandatory presumptive Child Support Guidelines, typically using documents known as Child Support Guidelines Worksheets. The North Carolina guidelines are determined under a system known as the “income shares” model, which basically means each parent will pay a percentage of his or her income towards child support.
There are various procedures in place in North Carolina to help parents collect payments and enforce child support orders. For example, where a court order requires a party to pay child support and that party does not pay, a remedy known as “contempt” may be available. Contempt refers to the court’s ability to impose fines or imprisonment to enforce court orders. Under some circumstances, the court may order a party’s employer to withhold a designated amount that party’s wages or salary for child support payments.
Courts can modify the amounts of a child support order in some circumstances. This typically requires a showing of “changed circumstances.” Generally speaking, simply finding that a child is older or that inflation has occurred since the order was first entered will usually not be considered “changed circumstances.” Variances in the parties’ income or in the child’s legitimate needs can be considered. If you have questions about modifying a child support obligation, you should consider consulting with a lawyer who can advise you on your particular circumstances.
Child Support Agreements & Orders
It is important to understand the differences between a private agreement for child support and a court order for child support. Generally speaking, a private agreement for child support is the same as any other binding contract between two people. Child support agreements do have an important distinction from other kinds of private contracts – how they can be enforced. In addition to the usual methods for enforcing a contract (i.e., suing for breach of contract), “specific enforcement” by a court is available for child support contracts, and wage garnishment can be available as well.
That does not mean that if you have a private agreement for child support that a court cannot intervene. It is true that without the parties’ consent, a court cannot directly alter or modify the terms of a private agreement for child support. However, in North Carolina the court always has the right and authority to supervise and monitor a child’s welfare, and no private contract can stop the court from exercising this authority. That means that even if you have a private agreement for child support, the court has the right to order a different amount of child support if it finds the new amount to be in the children’s best interests. Still, private agreements are entitled to great consideration by a court and can certainly be a very effective way for parties to resolve the issue of child support.
Child support is a very important issue and one that can be a real source of conflict between separating parties. This conflict can create roadblocks to forming a separation agreement. If you have questions or concerns about child support, feel free to contact me to find out more or to schedule a consultation.