If parents litigate child support in court, judges in North Carolina determine the child support obligation pursuant to the uniform statewide presumptive guidelines known as North Carolina Child Support Guidelines. These guidelines can be read and printed from the www.nccourts.org website under forms (AOC-A-162). While there are limited circumstances that allow judges to deviate from the guidelines, for the majority of parents in court, the guidelines are followed. In a nutshell, child support is based on the North Carolina Schedule of Basic Support Obligations that is periodically reviewed and modified in a process facilitated by the Conference of Chief District Court Judges. The Schedule sets out the combined adjusted gross income for both parents, and based upon the number of children, determines the amount of money needed each month to financially support the children. This amount is then allocated to each parent based upon their income and the number of overnights a child spends in each parent’s home. Under the guidelines, both parents are responsible for financially supporting their children. The amount of income a parent earns, the number of overnights children are in each parent’s home, and who is paying for “adjusted” expenses such as health insurance, determines whether one parent "owes" monthly child support to the other parent.
In most circumstances, parents do not have to litigate child support in court. They can agree to how child support will be paid/received in a separation agreement. Because NC Child Support Guidelines are designed to be an objective and fair method of determining child support, many parents opt to follow them in a written agreement that is between the parents. When parents enter into a valid agreement, or contract, the court will not modify the agreed upon support unless the amount of support is “unreasonable.” Therefore, it is very important for parents entering into an agreement on child support to determine a reasonable amount of child support, and to make certain that each parent understands what the financial obligations are on a day-to-day basis. Research shows that the amount of conflict between parents is the critical factor in determining how well children of divorce grow and develop into the healthy, happy, and well-adjusted adults their parents want them to become. For this reason, parents need to strive to not fight over money. One way to prevent fights over the financial support for children living in separate homes is to have a good understanding of what you are agreeing to in a separation agreement and to set forth when and how child support will be reviewed and modified in the future.
A detailed child support agreement would spell out who pays for: health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket health care costs; work-related child care costs including summer/track out from school; any extraordinary expenses for the children; extracurricular activities such as sports, club dues/expenses, band, chorus; faith/community expenses; school photographs; yearbook; graduation expenses; clothing/shoes; school supplies; school lunches; and class trips. Developing a detailed budget for yourself and your children is a good first step in determining your children's necessary expenses and developing a plan to live within the budget each month.