The state of North Carolina has a vested interest in enforcing a biological parent’s obligation to support his or her child so that the child does not become a ward of the state. To this end, North Carolina has established a set of guidelines which are used to determine the appropriate amount of child support in any given case. Based on the premise that both the father and mother of a child have a shared obligation for the support of their child, North Carolina uses an income-shares model to determine child support. This model calculates child support based on the combined income of the parents such that each parent’s share of the support is proportional to his or her gross income.
North Carolina’s guidelines establish the presumptive amount of child support for parents making a combined gross annual income of up to $300,000.00 per year, or $25,000.00 per month. Published with the guidelines is a Schedule of Basic Support Obligations. This chart shows the presumptive child support obligation based on the combined adjusted gross income of the parents and the number of children in any particular case. Gross income is defined by the guidelines as the income a party receives before any deductions are taken. Deductions can include, but are not limited to, state and federal taxes, social security, health insurance premiums and retirement. The guidelines define income as “a parent’s actual gross income from any source.” This can include a variety of sources including, but not limited to, income from employment, retirement, disability benefits and social security benefits. In cases where there is irregular or non-reoccurring income, such as a bonus or one time payment, the court has the option of ordering the parent receiving that income to pay a percentage of it proportional to his or her child support obligation. The purpose of this comprehensive definition of income is to ensure that each parent fully provides for his or her share of the reasonable needs the child.
With only a few exceptions, the court must use the child support guidelines to determine the appropriate amount of child support in any given case. In addition to the parents’ incomes, the guidelines take into account the number of overnights each parent has with the child(ren) when determining an award of child support. In order to calculate a parent’s support obligation, the court first determines which of the three child support worksheets (A, B, or C) is appropriate given the facts of the case. The appropriate worksheet is chosen based on the number of overnights each parent has with the child(ren). Worksheets A and B are used most often when determining child support. Worksheet A applies in cases where one parent has primary physical custody of a child, meaning the parent has custody of the child for 243 overnights or more per year. Worksheet B applies where parents have shared custody of the child(ren) such that each parent has at least 123 overnights per year with the child(ren). Worksheet C is only used in cases where parents share split custody of two or more children. “Split Custody” means that each parent has primary custody of at least one of the children.
Once the worksheet is chosen, the court will take into account the financial information of the particular case and calculate the parents’ support obligation accordingly. Except in cases where the obligor’s gross income falls within the shaded areas of the Schedule of Basic Child Support Obligations, the court will calculate child support using the parents’ combined incomes as well as payments made by either parent for work-related child case, health insurance and extraordinary expenses. These expenses are added to the child support calculation and then divided between the parents so that each parent’s portion of the expenses is proportional to his or her income. Work-related child care expenses are those expenses paid by a parent due to employment or the search for employment. Situations where the custodial parent has gone back to school may also be included in this calculation. Health insurance includes payments made by a parent (or the parent’s spouse) for the health insurance premiums for the child(ren). Extraordinary expenses are somewhat different in that they are determined on a case by cases basis. These expenses can include costs for reoccurring medical expenses (such as diabetic equipment), schooling costs to meet a child’s particular needs and travel expenses in situations where the child(ren) must travel between the parents’ homes.
In the majority of cases with which it is presented, the court will calculate child support based on the basic formula as outlined above. Part II of North Carolina Child Support will address atypical child support situations such as self-employment, deviation and imputation of income by the court.