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Legal Information: North Carolina

Child Support

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December 22, 2023

How does the court decide what amount the child support should be?

To decide the amount of child support, the judge will look at child support guidelines, which are a mathematical formula that is designed to give each child a fair amount of support based on his/her parents’ ability to provide for the needs of the child. Under the guidelines, the amount that is ordered should:

  1. meet the reasonable needs of the child for health, education and maintenance;
  2. consider the property owned by the parents (estates), earnings, and the ability of the parents to pay;
  3. consider the standard of living that the child and the parties are used to;
  4. consider the child care and homemaker responsibilities of each party; and
  5. account for other relevant facts of the particular case.1

However, if either party requests it, the judge can hold a hearing and listen to evidence presented by both parties before deciding the amount of child support that is owed. At the hearing, the judge must consider these three questions when deciding whether or not to order an amount of support outside of the guidelines:

  • Would applying the guidelines not meet the reasonable needs of the child? 
  • Would applying the guidelines exceed the reasonable needs of the child? 
  • Would applying the guidelines otherwise be unfair or inappropriate?

If the judge answers “yes” to any of these questions, then the judge can order a different amount of support than the guideline calls for, but the judge has to explain why s/he ordered a different amount.1

1 NCGS § 50-13.4(C)

When are child support payments due?

Child support payments are usually due on the first of every month. The parent ordered to pay child support may have his/her wages garnished on the day s/he is paid, even if that date is not the first of the month.1

1 NCGS § 50-13.4(c)

How long are child support payments made? Until my child reaches what age?

Court-ordered child support payments usually end when the child reaches the age of 18 except if any of the following apply:

  1. if the child is emancipated, child support payments will end on the emancipation date;
  2. if the child is still in school when s/he turns 18, support payments may continue until the child:

a. graduates,
b. stops regularly attending school,
c. fails to progress towards graduation, or
d. reaches age 20 - whichever of these comes first.1

Note: In section “a” or “c” above, when the child support is paid until the child graduates from high school or when s/he reaches 20 years of age, the person responsible for paying child support does not have to file a motion to ask the court to end the child support order.1

If the noncustodial parent’s obligation to pay child support ends due to the one of the reasons listed above, s/he is still responsible to pay any past child support owed (called “arrearages”) that built up during the time the child support order was in effect. The child support payments should continue to be paid as set out in the court order until all arrearages and fees are paid, unless the judge changes the order.1

1 NCGS § 50-13.4(c)

Can I get a retroactive child support order?

“Retroactive support” refers to child support for a period of time before the child support action/petition was filed. In some cases, a judge may order that a non-custodial parent pay retroactive support. The amount of support can be based on either:

  • how much the non-custodial parent would have been required to pay under the child support guidelines at the time; or
  • the non-custodial parent’s “fair share” of the actual money spent for the child’s care during that period of time.1

Retroactive support may be paid to either the state or the custodial parent, depending on the situation.

Retroactive support is owed to the State if a parent has a legal duty to support the child while the custodial parent was receiving public assistance (benefits) for the child.2 In a sense, the child support payment is reimbursing the State for the money spent providing public assistance.

Retroactive support may also be owed directly to the custodial parent (the parent with whom the child primarily lived during the time period).

1 See the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines
2 NCGS § 50-13.4(a), (b), (c)

When payments come through the State Child Support Collection and Disbursement Unit, how do I enforce the support order?

Upon the request of either party, or if the judge decides to do so on his/her own, the judge can order at any time that support payments be made to the State Child Support Collection and Disbursement Unit and then sent to you.1 When payments come through the State Child Support Collection and Disbursement Unit, this agency is the one that would bring child support enforcement case if the parent isn’t paying what s/he is ordered to pay.2

1 NCGS § 50-13.9(a)
2 NCGS § 50-13.9(b1)(1)