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North Carolina child support, custody, visitation, and wage garnishment rules

Use this North Carolina child support law to learn about your child support rights and responsibilites.

How is North Carolina child support determined?

In North Carolina, both parents are considered to be responsible for the support of a minor child. Therefore either parent may be ordered to pay child support. The factors the courts consider are:

  • the reasonable needs of the child
  • the earnings, conditions and standard of living the child enjoys
  • the child care and home making contributions of each parent
  • any joint or shared custody arrangements
  • the parent's ability to pay
  • the parent's own special needs
  • any other support provided to the child, such as work related day care, medical expenses, health insurance coverage, etc.
  • any prior obligations of a parent to pay child support or alimony
  • any other relevant factors

Payments ordered for the support of a minor child will be paid on a monthly basis. 

There are official North Carolina Child Support guidelines, designed to be in the best interests of the child, that the courts use to help determine the correct amount of child support. These guidelines will be followed, unless the parents agree to an amount other than that calculated by the guidelines, or the courts decide the guidelines are unjust for a
particular case.

At what age does child support payments end?

Generally, the obligation ends when the child reaches 18 years of age. If the child is already otherwise emancipated, payments will stop at the time of emancipation. 

If the child is still in primary or secondary school when he or she reaches the age of 18, support payments will continue until that child graduates, ceases to attend school on a regular basis, fails to make satisfactory academic progress towards graduation or reaches the age of 20 - whichever of these comes first. Based on its discretion, the court may order payments to cease at age 18, regardless of graduation date or any other factors.

North Carolina's custody guidelines:

The parents may agree upon decisions about parenting and custody. If there is no agreement, then the courts will make these decisions.

In North Carolina, joint or sole custody may be awarded, based on the best interests and the welfare of the child. There is no presumption by the courts that either parent is better suited to have custody. The courts will consider all relevant factors, including any history of domestic violence and the safety of the child. Beyond that, there are no specific factors for consideration outlined in the statute.

North Carolina's medical insurance guidelines:

Generally, the decision as to which parent is going to provide medical insurance coverage for the child and how medical bills will be paid is set out in the marital settlement agreement. If it is not, the courts may order a parent to provide medical insurance coverage for the child.

How permanent are the provisions for North Carolina child support and custody ?

Court orders providing for support and custody of children are subject to change or modification to reflect significant changes in income, and/or living arrangements of the children.

While all orders concerning the children are modifiable in the future, we encourage you to not enter into an agreement based on the idea that it can always be changed or modified later.

Wage garnishment for child support payments:

Most states, including North Carolina, have a provision for withholding child support directly from the earnings of the parent who has been ordered to provide support. This often becomes the preferred method of payment when child support payments become delinquent. The payments are withheld much like income tax is withheld from earnings payments.

This way of paying and receiving child support is generally easier for both parties and considered a very dependable solution. The way it typically works is, once the support is withheld, it is then sent to the state agency authorized to receive and disburse payments. Once it has been verified that the support was paid, it is then sent to the parent designated to receive the support.

If a non-custodial parent can show that they are providing more than 50 percent of the support for dependents not included in the court order from a second marriage, and is not in arrears, no more than 50% of their disposable income can be attached if they cannot pay the full court-ordered amount of both orders.

That number goes to 55% if the non-custodial parent is in arrears, 60 percent for a person only providing support to dependents under the current order, and 65% for a person who is in arrears and paying only on the current order.

How does joint custody work?

Joint custody is now widely recognized by parents, courts and state legislatures as the preferred parenting plan.

Specifically, joint custody is a form of custody of minor children that requires both parents to share the responsibilities of the children, and for both parents to take part in all major decisions related to the children.

While joint custody is a 50-50 sharing of responsibilities and major decisions affecting the children, it rarely works out to be a 50-50 sharing of time with the children. Often one parent is named as the primary joint custodian and the other parent is granted visitation which is sometimes referred to as secondary custody. The primary joint custodian typically retains the decision making power to determine the child’s primary residence and school and to designate things such as the child’s primary physician.

How North Carolina determines child visitation:

Generally, parents are free to visit with their children at all times that are mutually agreed to by both parents. However, when parents cannot agree to exactly when visitation will occur, a typical visitation schedule accepted most everywhere in the nation is:

  • every other weekend
  • four to six (4-6) weeks during the summer
  • alternating holidays
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