How do I file for child support? Can I get help without paying a lot of money?
In North Carolina, there are two ways to begin a child support case: in civil court or through a criminal action.
In civil court
You can file for child support on your own, with a lawyer that you retain, or the Division of Social Services (DSS) can file the child support case for you.
Even if you file on your own, you can still get the help of DSS at a later point in the case. Whether or not you’d have to pay for the help depends on your income. If you receive public assistance, DSS will help you with your child support case and you don’t have to pay for the help. If you don’t receive public assistance, DSS will help you with your child support case for a small fee, either $10 or $25, depending on your income.1 The lawyer for DSS will file your case for you (or you can initially file on your own) and a DSS lawyer will represent you in court and in enforcing the order if the other parent doesn’t pay.
As mentioned above, you may also represent yourself. If you decide to represent yourself, you must follow all the rules of procedure and evidence that apply, which may be hard for a non-lawyer to know. Also, remember that the judge hearing your case is not allowed to give you advice or help in handling your case. The court clerk also cannot give you legal advice or represent you. For legal referrals, free and paid, go to our NC Finding a Lawyer page.
In criminal court
Under North Carolina law, it can be a misdemeanor crime if a parent “willfully” refuses to provide adequate child support2 even before there is a child support order issued. “Willfully” has been defined as when a parent intentionally and without just cause or excuse does not provide adequate support for his/her child according to his/her “means” (financial ability to pay) and “station in life” (financial, educational, occupational position).3 If a parent is convicted of this crime, the court can order support to come from the property or labor of the defendant and can issue a child support order based on the state guidelines.4 In other words, the judge can force the parent to transfer property to you or can garnish (take money directly from) the parent’s wages. The judge can give the defendant a jail sentence that would be suspended for a period of time based upon the condition that the defendant pay child support in a certain amount upon a certain schedule. If the defendant fails to follow the order, the suspended jail sentence may be placed into effect.
You may bring this criminal action asking for child support by obtaining a warrant from a magistrate.
1 NCGS § 110-130.1(a)
2 NCGS § 14-322(d),(f)
3 See State v. Hall, 251 N .C. 211, 110 S.E.2d 868 (1959)
4 NCGS § 14-322(e)