How to Modify Child Support in North Carolina
If you’ve lost your job or the other parent of your child just got a raise at work, you may be able to modify your child support order. However, the court doesn’t usually modify child support simply due to an increase or decrease in income. To modify child support in North Carolina, you must prove a substantial change in circumstances has occurred since the entry of your last child support order. But what qualifies as a substantial change in circumstances?
What qualifies as a substantial change in circumstances?
North Carolina automatically recognizes a substantial change in circumstances when it’s been three years since the entry of a child support order and one parent can show the calculation of child support has increased or decreased by at least 15% with the parents’ current income numbers.
For example, say you have primary custody of your child and an order awarding you child support was entered in July 2017. If the other parent’s income increases by July 2020 so that the child support award should increase by 15%, you could file a motion on or after July 2020 to ask the court to increase your child support award.
If it hasn’t been three years since the last child support order was entered, it’s still possible to prove a substantial change in circumstances. In the following circumstances, a judge may determine a substantial change in circumstances has occurred.
What may qualify as a substantial change in circumstances?
A significant increase or decrease in the needs of your child
This could include medical, educational, and extracurricular needs. For example, if your child is diagnosed with a chronic illness after the entry of the child support order and your child’s medical bills have significantly increased, a judge may modify your child support order.
An increase or decrease in your child’s needs could also include travel expenses for visitation and cost of living increases or decreases (i.e. rent, etc.). For example, if the custodial parent moves out of state (creating a significant increase in travel-related expenses for the noncustodial parent) a judge could determine a substantial change in circumstances has occurred.
A significant involuntary decrease in the income of the noncustodial parent
If the noncustodial parent loses their job or experiences a reduction in income, it may qualify as a substantial change—but only if the lose in job or income is involuntary. If a parent loses their job, the court will often examine the parent’s efforts to find another job to show whether the loss was voluntary or not.
A voluntary decrease in income of either parent (under certain circumstances)
If a parent voluntarily reduces their income (i.e. takes a lower-paying position, quits their current job, or voluntarily works less hours), the court can still determine a significant change in circumstances has occurred. However, the court must also find the child’s financial needs have decreased and that the parent who voluntarily reduced their income didn’t act in bad faith.
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A change in physical custody
If the custodial arrangement changes, this may qualify as a substantial change. As an example, say the non-custodial parent pays $300 a month in child support and visits with the child every other weekend. Later, the child custody order is modified so that the same parent now has primary custody of the child. The change in custody may qualify as a change in circumstances. If it does, the previous custodial parent may have to pay child support instead.
What doesn’t qualify as a substantial change in circumstances?
A substantial increase in income, by itself, doesn’t automatically qualify as a substantial change in circumstances. Likewise, filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy, having a baby with someone else, and going to prison do not automatically mean a substantial change in circumstances has occurred. They must be accompanied by additional factors for the court to make that finding.
What to do if you want to modify child support
If you’d like to modify your child support order, you can file a motion to modify with the court. Make sure to write down the reasons you believe the judge should modify your order.
While you can do it yourself, it’s smart to speak to an attorney about your situation before you file your motion. They can discuss your legal rights, the pros and cons of filing, and what you may be entitled to. Additionally, motions to modify child support often deal with complex financial information and other important evidence. It’s best to have a legal advocate by your side to make sure your voice is properly heard in court.
If you’d like to speak with an experienced family law attorney about your child support modification issue, contact our office today to set up a consultation. We’ll be happy to hear about your case and discuss a strategy for moving forward.
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