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This is Part Three of a six-post series on family law. This week’s post discusses child support. Previous entries in this series can be found here: Part One, Part Two.

Child support generally is resolved by applying the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines.  However, it is possible to request a deviation from the Child Support Guidelines.  Presently, the Guidelines are applicable to cases where the combined household income is less than $300,000.00 per year.  In most cases child support is calculated based upon the following:

  • The gross income of each parent (gross income is income before taxes are deducted);
  • The monthly cost of work-related child care; and
  • The monthly cost of health insurance benefits for the children.  (Health insurance benefits include vision and dental insurance).

The court may consider extraordinary expenses, which are defined in the Guidelines as including (i) uninsured medical expenses; (ii) medical expenses for costs that are reasonably necessary for orthodontia, dental, asthma, physical therapy, and any other chronic health problem; (iii) expenses for attending any special or private elementary or secondary school to meet particular educational needs of a child; and/or (iv) transportation expenses for the child to travel between the parents’ homes.

The judge will generally require the parents to share uninsured medical and dental expenses in the same proportions as their respective incomes.  However, some judges prefer to split these costs evenly.

If the Guidelines are not applicable or if the judge deviates from the Guidelines, the court determines child support based upon the reasonable needs of the child, taking into account the accustomed standard of living of the family and the reasonable needs of each parent.  The judge then considers the incomes and earning abilities of the parents, and their respective abilities to contribute to the needs of the child, taking into consideration their own needs for support.  This is a very unscientific process and results often vary widely from case to case.

Child support is payable until the child is 18 years old.  However, if the child has not graduated from high school when he or she turns 18, child support will continue until the child graduates from high school or stops attending school on a regular basis, whichever occurs first.

Guidelines do not require parents to contribute toward the cost of private school education, unless the child has some special educational needs which cannot be met in a public school system.  The court cannot order a parent to contribute to a child’s college education.  When parents are negotiating an agreement for child support, they may address these costs.

The tax laws provide that the custodial parent is entitled to the dependency exemption for the child(ren) in connection with income tax returns, unless the custodial parent waives such right.  Our state courts have the discretion to require a custodial parent to give up the dependency exemption and to award it to the other parent.