In North Carolina, the sole purpose of the Court in hearing child custody cases is to hear admissible evidence and enter an order that is in the “best interest of the child.” These decisions are made by a judge, and are not matters for which a jury is available.
“Joint custody” is the term used to describe a joint decision-making arrangement whereby both parents make major decisions for the children collaboratively. It does not necessarily mean that the parents have an equal placement arrangement. For example, parents can share the joint legal custody of a child, but the placement schedule could have one parent having placement more than 50% of the time. The Court will also enter an order setting the schedule under which the parties will share holiday and vacation time with the children. There is no default placement schedule. In North Carolina, there is no legal preference for the mother or father in a custody case. In all cases, however, the parties can agree on a custody/placement arrangement and the Court will enter their agreement as a court order without the necessity of a trial.
If a custody action is filed, the parties are generally required to participate in mediation with a trained professional mediator before the case goes to trial The mediator, which is provided by the court system, will meet with the parties and try to help them work out an agreement regarding custody without the necessity of going to trial. If an agreement is reached in mediation, it will be reduced to writing and entered by the court as an order after the parties are given an opportunity to review the written agreement with their respective attorneys.
In almost every case, one parent will be ordered to provide monthly child support payments to the other parent. There is a legal presumption that the court calculate child support using the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines if the combined pretax annual incomes of both parents total $300,000 or less (although in extraordinary circumstances, the Court can deviate from the guidelines on the motion of either party, or on its own motion). The guidelines are based solely on the gross incomes of the parties, costs paid by either party for work related child care costs, costs paid by either party for medical insurance for the children, and the number of nights that the children spend with each parent if both parents have more than 123 overnights with the children. Child support is paid until the child reaches the age of 18 unless the child is legally emancipated. Emancipation is a legal status that must be obtained by a minor through a specific court procedure resulting in a decree of emancipation. If the child is attending primary or secondary school when he or she reaches age 18, the court will order support payments to continue until graduation unless the child otherwise ceases to attend school on a regular basis, or reaches age 20, whichever occurs first. A court does not have the authority to require a parent to pay for a child’s college education, although parents are free to voluntarily agree to such an arrangement.
There are three different child support worksheets that are used by the Court. Worksheet A is the form used when one parent has primary placement of the minor children, and the other parent has less than 123 overnights per year with each of the children. If both parents have more than 123 overnights per year with the children, a Worksheet B calculation is made by the Court. If there is more than one child and the parents each have primary placement of at least one child, a Worksheet C calculation is used.
Modifications of Child Custody and Child Support
Both child custody and child support may be modified at any time prior to a child reaching the age limits described in the preceding paragraph. Either parent can petition the court to change its prior order of custody or support. In order to obtain a modification of a child custody order, the moving party must be demonstrate to the Court that there has been a substantial change of circumstances affecting the welfare of the child since the time that the prior order was entered.
Child support is not taxable as income to the recipient parent and is not a tax deduction to the payor parent (Note that any U.S. federal tax advice contained on this website is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any transaction or matter addressed herein.