The law in North Carolina requires the child support guidelines to be revisted by the Conference of Chief Judges periodically This was done last year, and North Carolina has new child support guidelines that are effective as of January 1, 2015. This means that even if your case was filed prior to January 1, 2015, as long as you are in court after this date, child support is calculating using the revised guidelines. The new guidelines reflect the 2014 tax rates, the Consumer Price Index and federal poverty level (the new poverty level increased the income level below which a parent qualifies for the self-support reserve).
Here is a summary of the changes to the 2015 Child Support Guidelines:
1. Retroactive Child Support. While prospective child support is set using the guidelines, case law has long required that retroactive child support must be based on evidence of 1) actual expenses incurred on behalf of the child before the action was filed and 2) the parents' relative incomes and ability to contribute to support at the time the expenses were incurred. Proving these two things proved to be difficult and time-consuming. In 2006, the Conference of Chief Judges didn't see a public policy reason for requring these additional steps for retroactive child support, and amended the guidelines to allow them to apply to retroactive child support. However, the North Carolina Court of Appeals held that the statute does not give the Conference of Chief Judges to change case law, or in other words, to allow the guidelines to apply to retroactive child support. In light of this decision, the General Assembly change the statute to specify that the Chief Judges have authority to develop guidelines for both prospective and retroactive support.
2. Allocation of Tax Exemptions. The guidelines assume that the parent who receives child support claims the tax exemptions. If this assumption is inaccurate in a particular case, the court may consider deviating from the guidelines, or not using this assumption. The 2011 guidelines staed "if the parent who receives support has minimal or no income tax liability, the court may consider requiring the custodial parent to assign the exemption to the supporting parent and deviate from the guidelines." The 2015 guidelines delete that sentence, which recognizes that the determination of which parent should have the tax exemption can be complex.
3. Definition of Income.
-Adoption benefits belong to the adopted child are NOT the income of the parents.
-Veteran's Disability benefits received by a child on behalf of a disabled parent should be treated the same way as social security benefits, meaning that the amount of benefits are added to the disabled parent's income and subtracted from that parent's child support obligation.
-when the total retirement or disability benefits received by a child based on the obligor's (person paying child support) disability or retirement exceed that parent's total child support obligation, no order of support should be entered unless the court chooses to deviate from the guidelines.
4. Imputing Income and Primary Custody. The 2015 guidelines clarify that the prohibition against imputing income to a parent who is caring for a child under the age of three and for whom support is being determined applies only to the parent exercising PRIMARY custody of the child. Primary custody is defined as 243 nights or more a year.
5. Consideration of existing child support and alimony obligations. The term "pre-existing support obligations" has been replaced with "existing support obligations" to clarify that any payment of child support should be considered regardless of whether the child for whom support is being paid was born before or after the child for whom support is being determined or when the order was entered. Additionally regarding alimony, the 2015 guidelines clarify that "any payment of aliony made by a parent to ANY person is not deducted from gross income but may be considered as a factor to vary from the final presumptive child support obligation."
6. Child care costs. Prior versions of the guidelines capped childcare expenses at 75% of the parents' income in certain situations, but the 2015 guidelines removed this cap and provide that 100% of childcare costs should be deducted from the income of all parents. This change puts the burden on parents to show when the actual use of the tax credit justifies deviation.
7. Health Insurance. A court must order a parent to maintain health insurance for a child when it is available to that parent at a reasonable cost. In compliance with then-existing federal child support regulations, prior versions of the guidelines provided that insurance is available at a reasonable cost whenever it is available to a parent through his or her employment. The federal regulations no longer contain this provision, but the statute retains this definition of reasonable cost.