In the 1970s, the United States Congress began initiatives to make child support orders more uniform. Rather than create federal child support laws, they left it up to each state to make a formula that they thought was fair. In North Carolina, the Conference of Chief District Court Judges took up the task.
A few different models developed in the states for determining fair and appropriate support amounts, and North Carolina chose the income shares model. This model for child support determination operates under the assumption that a child deserves the same income from each parent that they might receive if the parents are in one household. Thus, the formula looks at the incomes of both parents in order to determine the correct amount.
To do this, North Carolina uses studies that determine spending on children in single-household homes. This research tracks what parents spend on housing, food, clothing and other needs for a child. Then, they reduce these expenditures to a percentage of income. Finally, they create a grid that predicts and presumes a parent’s spending on children as a percentage of their income.
That percentage becomes the amount of base support in any given case. There are also a few areas of spending that are extrapolated from a basic child support award and included as extras in most states. These include child care, health care and extraordinary medical expenses. There are also adjustments for cases where a parent has a very high income and cases where a parent has a very low income.
Because each state develops their own child support formula, there are differences between the states. In some cases, these differences are significant. For example, in North Carolina, child support ends at age eighteen or when the child finishes high school but not later than age twenty. In Alabama, child support ends at age nineteen, so a parent may have to pay support for an eighteen year old in college. Similarly, some states have a clear method for addressing high-income cases, while others are silent on the issue.
In any event, working with an attorney who knows the details of your state’s child support laws is the best way to make sure that you arrive at the correct child support amount in your case. The right attorney can make sure that the state fairly applies the formula and bases the award on an accurate picture of your income and other relevant circumstances. Court workers and judges may need to review the law and the evidence, and your attorney can help you prepare this documentation so that the court can reach an accurate result.