When parents separate, settling on a fair child support arrangement is one of the most important aspects of the divorce process. North Carolina law tries to strike an equitable balance between providing for the current and future needs of shared children and ensuring that neither parent faces an unreasonable financial burden.
However, when life circumstances change, the original support agreement may no longer reflect financial realities. Whether due to employment changes, unexpected health issues or other events, in certain cases either parent may petition the court to modify the amount paid or received in child support.
When does NC law allow child support modification?
In North Carolina, a divorced parent may request a change to child support payments after a minimum period of three years after the original court settlement.
In most cases, the petitioning parent must be able to show that there has been a significant and ongoing change in either income or expenses related to the care, education or medical needs of mutual children.
The court considers a financial change to be significant if there is a difference of at least 15% between the original payment amount and a revised payment amount based on both parents’ current incomes and expenses.
Common reasons for seeking support modification
Either parent may petition the court for a change in support.
A parent receiving support may request higher payments due to loss of income or to accommodate increased health insurance premiums, childcare costs or special educational needs. An ex-spouse may also request higher payments because the other parent’s income has increased significantly.
On the other hand, a parent making support payments may petition the court for a lower financial obligation if they can no longer reasonably meet the terms of the original separation agreement.
Making modification official
Even when separated parents can agree on child support changes, it is important to have those changes reviewed and approved by the court. Unless a judge accepts modification via formal legal petition, the agreement is not enforceable under the law, and failing to abide by the original support order may lead to a charge of contempt of court.