Legal Corner: Navigating the child support process

Last week in the Legal Corner, we wrapped up the topic of contested divorces with the subject of spousal support. Allow me to backtrack for just a moment this week. During the discussion of child custody, there was a very brief reference to court-ordered child support. But this happens in cases when the parties were not married and are not filing for a divorce.

When two people are not filing for a divorce but are no longer together and have a child or children, what is the procedure for obtaining court-ordered child support?

Child support can be defined as voluntary or court-ordered payments made by a noncustodial parent to the custodial parent for the support or maintenance of their minor child or children. In review, a custodial parent is the parent who has full or sole custody of the minor child or children and takes responsibility for their everyday care.

A non-custodial parent usually does not have custody of their child or children, but is still required to assist with financial support and can choose to enforce their visitation rights.

In North Carolina, child support is governed and enforced by the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines. These guidelines include certain rules and procedures established to assist the court with determining the amount of child support they are able to order in each case and what procedures that are able to take in order to enforce those payments. Generally, a custodial parent will initiate a request for child support against the non-custodial parent by filing an application with North Carolina Child Support Services.

Once Child Support Services has received an application, the agency will begin providing services. Those services include the following: locating and notifying the non-custodial parent, establishing paternity when necessary, establishing the support payments, collecting the support payments and enforcing the support obligation when necessary.

The N.C. Child Support Guidelines have a required worksheet that has to be completed in detail and ultimately a formula that is used to establish the amount the non-custodial parent will be obligated to pay. Essentially the required worksheet includes a schedule of “Basic Child Support Obligations” and this schedule lists the factors, expenses and assumptions that are considered when determining child support.

Some of the factors include the custody arrangement, the combined income of both parents and the number of children included in the application for child support. The schedule will consider expenses such as child-rearing costs, health insurance and health care costs. Moreover, the schedule assumes that the parents are claiming the allowed tax exemptions pertaining to child support.

Basically, all the factors, expenses and benefits create a formula that will determine the basic child support obligation that the non-custodial parent could be obligated to pay, usually on a monthly basis.

Both parties are always encouraged to try to agree and comply with making support payments without the use of the court. But when the parties are unable to agree, North Carolina Child Support Services will assist the custodial parent with going through the enforcement process.

Next week in the Legal Corner, we will discuss some of the consequences for not paying court-ordered child support, including the options the court has to enforce the required payments.

Please remember that this information is only meant to inform our readers. This article does not include all of the detailed laws and requirements related to child support in North Carolina. If you have any additional questions about North Carolina guidelines pertaining to child support, how to proceed with requesting child support or issues with receiving the payments, please consult an attorney. As always: Be informed. Be prepared.

Bellonora McCallum is an attorney at the McCallum Law Firm, PLLC, in Rockingham. Reach her at 910-730-4064 or visit