Child Support

How to get help, obtain a protective order, and relevant North Carolina law.

About

What is child support?

Child support is money paid by a parent for the purpose of meeting the reasonable needs of the parent’s child for health, education and maintenance.

What are the options for arranging child support?

Child support can be arranged in several ways.

  • Parents can agree on an amount for child support in a Separation Agreement. See the Separation and Divorce Help Topic for more information.  
  • Parents may sign a Voluntary Support Agreement (VSA). A VSA is a child support agreement signed by both parties and then by the judge. Once a judge signs the VSA, it becomes a court order and is enforceable by the court.
  • Child support can be arranged through the Child Support Enforcement Agency (CSE).
  • The person who wants to receive child support can file a civil complaint in district court.
Who can file for child support?

Any parent or person who provides care for a minor child living in his or her home can file for child support.

Do I have to go to court and request custody of a child before I request child support for a child who lives with me?

If you are caring for a child who lives with you, you do not have to have a court order granting you custody before requesting child support.

Who can be required to pay child support?

All parents are responsible for supporting their children, unless the parent’s rights have been terminated. If a parent is under the age of 18, his or her parents can be obligated to pay child support until he or she reaches the age of 18. Non-parents are otherwise not responsible for child support.

What if the parent or child is not a U.S. citizen?

All children living in the United States are entitled to child support, regardless of the citizenship or immigration status of the child or the parents.

What if there is a joint custody arrangement?

Parents can be obligated to pay child support even if they have joint custody of their children. See below for more information on how child support is calculated.

Can I file an action for child support if the father’s name is not on the child’s birth certificate?

A child support case can be filed against an alleged father even if his name is not listed on the child’s birth certificate.

What if I’m not sure that I’m the father?

You may request a paternity test.

A judge will decide whether to grant your request. If CSE filed the child support case, the agency will require a paternity test. You may be charged for the cost of the test if you are found to be the father.

What if the other person doesn’t let me see my child?

Child custody and child support are separate legal issues. Even if the other party denies you custody or visitation time, this does not affect your obligation to pay child support. See the Child Custody Help Topic for more information about custody and visitation issues.

Can I view the status of my child support case or payments online?

If your case is filed through CSE, you can create an account here to view the status of your case, payments, and any arrears.

Filing

How can I begin a case with the Child Support Enforcement Agency (CSE)?

You can find the location of your county’s CSE office here.  Your local CSE office will tell you what information the agency needs to assist you.

Where should I file my case?

A child support case may be filed in the county where the child lives or is physically present or in a county where a parent resides.

Can I get assistance from CSE if I already have a child support case?

Yes, you can request assistance from CSE. Contact your local CSE agency for guidance.

The other parent is not in North Carolina. Can I still get assistance from CSE to obtain child support?

Yes. Contact your local CSE agency for guidance.

What if I don’t know the location of the other parent?

CSE has various tools that may be used to locate noncustodial parents. Providing information about the other parent, such as the person’s date of birth, social security number, or last known address, can assist the agency in locating the person.

Court Process

What happens after a complaint is filed?

The other party must be “served” with a copy of the complaint. You may have the other party served by a sheriff’s deputy or through certified mail. The other party has 30 days to file an answer.

I received a complaint for child support. What should I do?

You have 30 days after receiving a complaint to file an answer with the court. You may hire an attorney to assist you or represent yourself.

What should I expect in child support court?

Many cases will typically be scheduled for the same day. The judge or the CSE attorney will typically begin court by calling the names of everyone expected to be in court that day, and address each case one at a time.

What should I bring with me to child support court?
  • If you are the person entitled to receive child support, you should bring any documentation related to expenses paid on behalf of your child.  For example, you should bring day care receipts or medical bills for the children. You should also bring proof of your income.  If you have other children in the home, you should bring documentation to show that the other children live with you.
  • If you are the person who will be paying child support, you should bring proof of your income. You also should bring documentation of any payments you have made to the other person or expenses you have paid for the children. For example, you should bring proof of payment of rent, cell phone or car payments for the custodial parent or proof that you have provided groceries, clothing, diapers, etc., for the children.
Do I need to hire an attorney for child support court?

If you are the party seeking child support, you may contact your local CSE to provide representation for you, or you may hire a private attorney. If you are the party obligated to pay child support, you may hire a private attorney to represent you or represent yourself. Court officials, such as judges and clerks of court, cannot give you legal advice about your rights and obligations, possible claims or defenses, or the likely outcome of your case.

When will I start receiving child support?

The first payment is typically due on the first of the month after the judge signs an order for child support.

How should I pay child support?

There are several possibilities if your case goes through CSE.

  • In many cases, the judge will set up automatic deductions from your paycheck. If the money is not deducted, you are responsible for making the payments.
  • You can make payments online using a credit or debit card or by setting up automatic bank drafts. Visit the ePayments site here to register for an account, or here for more information about online payments and statements.
  • You can contact North Carolina Child Support Enforcement for more information about payment options or to make a payment at 1-877-361-5437, and can view additional contact information for the agency here.

If your case was not filed by CSE, a judge will instruct you on how to pay

Calculating Child Support

How is child support calculated?

North Carolina’s Child Support Guidelines set the amount of child support that should be paid depending on each family’s financial circumstances. Judges must order the amount of child support set out in the Guidelines unless applying the Guidelines would not meet or would exceed the reasonable needs of the child, or would otherwise be unjust or inappropriate.

How can I estimate the amount of child support in my case?

There are online calculators that allow you to estimate the monthly child support in your case.

Use this calculator if one parent has primary custody, this calculator if the parents have joint custody, and this calculator if the parents have split custody.

What if I have other children?

Having other children in your home or paying child support for other children not living with you are factors in calculating child support.

What is the minimum that a person can be ordered to pay in child support per month?

The Child Support Guidelines require a minimum child support order of $50 per month.

Enforcement

What can I do if the other party is not paying child support?

If you are represented by the local CSE agency, you should contact your caseworker. Otherwise, you can file a Motion for Order to Show Cause, requesting the court to hold the other party in contempt.

What are the consequences for refusing to pay child support?

A judge has a number of enforcement options available to address a parent’s failure to pay child support as ordered. Depending upon the circumstances, a parent who fails to pay support as ordered may have wages withheld or be required to serve time in jail.

Modification

When can I get a modification of child support?

Child support orders can be modified after three years, or if there has been a “substantial change in circumstances.” A difference of 15% or more of the child support paid under an existing order and the amount of child support resulting from the application of the guidelines based on the parents’ current income and circumstances is presumed to be a substantial change in circumstance.

How can I file to modify child support?

If you are represented by the local CSE agency, you should contact your caseworker. Otherwise, you can file for a modification using this form. The judge will hold a hearing on the motion to modify. You should be prepared to show documentation that justifies your request to modify the child support order.

What if I am required to pay child support, but I lose my job?

If you lose your job, you may file a Motion to Modify. A judge will determine how your unemployment impacts the current order of support.

What if I find out that I am not the father?

If you have a child support order and then discover that you are not the biological father of the child, you can file a Motion for Relief within one year of discovering that you are not the father.

Children Age 18 and Older

What happens when my child turns 18 years old?

In general, parents are not obligated to financially support a child once the child reaches the age of 18. Parents are required to support a child until the child turns 20 if the child has not yet graduated and remains in high school. In that case, child support will continue until the child graduates, stops attending school regularly, fails to make satisfactory academic progress, or reaches age 20, whichever happens first. Parents can also be required to support a child enrolled in a cooperative innovative high school (CIHS) program until the child reaches age 18 or completes four years in the program, whichever occurs later. You can see a list of CIHS programs here.

Can parents agree that support will be paid until a child graduates from college?

Parents can agree in a separation agreement or consent order, for instance, to support a child through college or to continue supporting a disabled child. Any valid agreement between the parents is binding.

Am I required to go to court to ensure that child support lasts past age 18?

If your child qualifies for support after age 18, you are not required to return to court to continue receiving child support.

Am I required to go to court to end child support when my child reaches age 18 or graduates from high school?

In general, no. If you have a CSE case, you should not have to go to court when your child reaches age 18 and has graduated from high school.  If you do not have a CSE case and your child has reached the age of 18 and graduated from high school, you can file a Motion to Modify to terminate support.

Can child support end before the child turns 18?

Yes, if the child marries, joins the U.S. military, or is granted emancipation by a court before reaching the age of 18.

Am I still responsible for arrears once my child reaches age 18 and graduates from high school?

Yes. If arrears are owed after the child reaches the age of 18 and has graduated from high school, child support payments continue in the same amount until all arrears are paid.