Is it Time for Me to Modify My Child Support?

With few exceptions, child support obligations are set by the courts in North Carolina based upon the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines ("Guidelines"). These Guidelines are a series of tables that consider both parties' income as well as other key expenses such as child care costs and health insurance premiums and apply these figures to a sliding scale of child support obligations. No less than once every four years the North Carolina General Statutes requires the Conference of Chief District Court Judges to review the Guidelines to determine whether the their application results in appropriate child support orders. 1 Most recently, a new edition of the Guidelines was made effective as of October 1, 2006. If you are a parent that is a party to a child support order in North Carolina, you may want to consider what effects the new Guidelines may have on your case.

In order to modify the terms of a child support order in North Carolina, the party seeking the modification must prove to the court that there has been a substantial change in circumstances affecting the welfare of the child since the entry of the most recent order. 2 In a proceeding to modify the amount of child support under an order that was entered at least three years before the pending motion to modify was filed, a difference of 15% or more between the amount of child support payable under the existing order and the amount of child support resulting from application of the Guidelines based on parents' current income and circumstances shall be presumed to constitute a substantial change in circumstances warranting modification of the existing child support order. 3 Consider an example: Divorced parents have one child and that child resides primarily with one parent (the custodial parent) and visits with the other every other weekend but not more than 122 nights per year. A child support order was entered in 2001 that was based upon the custodial parent's income of $3000 per month and the supporting parent's income of $3,800 per month. Without including any expenses for health insurance or child care, in 2001 the Guidelines might have produced and order requiring the supporting parent to pay child support in an amount of $432 per month to the custodial parent. If each party received a 2% increase in income for the years 2002 through 2006, they would now earn $3,312 and $4,195 respectively. All other things being equal, an application of the latest edition of the Guidelines would produce a child support obligation of $510 per month, an increase of 18% which if you are keeping score is sufficient to meet the standard of a substantial change in circumstances in order to modify the order.

Of course, not everyone is fortunate enough to have experienced a steady increase in their income over the last five years. If your income has decreased because you were laid off or terminated you may be able to move for a modification to decrease your obligation under a prior order. On the other hand, if the other party to your case got a big promotion, raise or new job, you may want to see what impact this good fortune might have on the child support obligation he or she is under. In any event, child support obligations ordered by the courts are not set in stone and may be modified at any time until they terminate. Regardless of your circumstances, if it has been a few years since your child support order was entered, it may be wise to seek the advice of an attorney to determine whether it is in your best interest and moreover, your child's best interest, to seek a modification of the current child support obligation in your case.

Ashley Lamm is an attorney in the Charlotte office of Knox Law Center. The firm's website is Opening soon is the newest office in Denver located at Hwy 16/73- Waterside Crossing. Ashley Lamm can be reached at 704-315-2363 or 866-704-9059 (Toll free) (Charlotte).

1 Introduction to the Commentary of the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines.

2 Crosby v. Crosby, 272 NC 235, 158 SE2d 77 (1967).

3 Introduction to the Commentary of the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines.