Child Support and Family Law
Parents must provide reasonable support for a child.
In North Carolina, there is a presumption that the Child Support Guidelines will used to determine the proper amount of child support, when parents have combined gross monthly income (before deductions) of $25,000 or less. The factors include the gross monthly income of both parents, the cost of health, dental and vision insurance for a child, the cost of work-related childcare, whether a parent has responsibility for other children, “extraordinary expenses” for a child, and the number of overnights each parent has with a child. The Child Support Guidelines, which are amended every four years, is available at https://nddhacts01.dhhs.state.nc.us/GuideLines.jsp. As easy to use child support calculator is found at https://www.rosen.com/childcalculator/. A parent who has less than one-third of the overnights will owe child support to the other parent based on Worksheet A. If parents have a shared custody arrangement or split custody arrangement, the child support calculation must be done using a Worksheet B or C.
Child support can be determined in a private agreement or by court order. If the parties cannot agree on a reasonable amount of child support, then a parent can hire an attorney or file private an action for child support pro se. A judge will determine the proper child support amount. If a custodial parent has limited financial resources, the New Hanover County Child Support Enforcement Agency (or the Department of Social Services in other counties), can assist a custodial parent to establish, enforce and modify child support orders for free or at a minimal cost.
Child support orders may be modified every three years if there is a change in the amount of child support of at least 15%. In addition, a child support order may be modified if there has been a substantial change of circumstances and a change in the needs of the child. The rules for modification based on a substantial change of circumstances are complex. A private support agreement can only be modified by the parties, by agreement. Child support ends when a child reaches the age of 18 and completes high school (or fails to make adequate progress or drops out), and not later than age 20. There is no legal duty to assist with college expenses.
Divorce and College Planning
A divorce or separation may affect your child’s eligibility for financial aid. Some colleges consider the income and assets of the custodial parent, while others consider the income and assets of parents – and sometimes step-parents. Your Expected Family Contribution to your child’s college education expenses may vary greatly depending on which parent is the “custodial parent”, whether the custodial parent is remarried, and whether a college requires FAFSA or CSS applications.
The “custodial parent” is the parent with whom the child lived the most during the previous 12 months. If the child spent equal time with both parents, then the custodial parent is the one who provided the most financial support during the preceding 12 months. When determining the best custody schedule, you should consider the consequences related to financing a child’s college education. In addition, timing of remarriage can have a substantial impact on the amount of needs-based financial aid. If the custodial parent is remarried by the time the FAFSA is submitted, then the step-parents’ income and assets must be included in the FAFSA documents.
If the college requires just the FAFSA, then only the custodial parent’s income and asset information and child support received is considered. If there is a significant difference between the parents’ respective income and assets, there could be a huge difference in the amount of need-based financial aid. If the college also requires submission of the CSS Profile, then both parents’ income and asset information may be required. The amount of needs-based financial aid awarded can vary substantially from one college to another depending on whether the college considers both parents’ assets and income.