Child Custody & Child Support

In North Carolina, issues related to children of divorcing spouses typically include (1) legal custody of the children; (2) physical custody of the children; and (3) financial support for the children. With regard to legal custody, parents typically have “joint” legal custody, which means that the parents will be required to consult with each other about significant issues affecting their children in an attempt to reach mutual decisions regarding the children’s health, education, and welfare. Sometimes only one parent is charged with making these decisions, and that parent is said to have “sole” legal custody.

Physical custody of children involves a decision being made about where the children will live after the parents separate, and often children live with both parents according to a schedule that is considered as being in the children’s best interests. Some parents have a primary/secondary physical custody arrangement, where one parent has the children for most of the overnights in a year, with the other parent spending secondary custodial time with the children. Other parents share physical custody, which means that each parent has the children for at least 123 overnights per year, with the number of overnights per parent to vary according to the desired schedule. Many parents choose to have equal physical custody, with each parent having the children for the same number of overnights per year. Equal custody schedules often involve “week on, week off” schedules where each parent has the children for a full week, or “5/2/2/5” schedules, where one parent always has the children on Monday and Tuesday nights, the other parent always has the children on Wednesday and Thursday nights, and the parents alternate Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. Parents usually share holidays and special occasions by alternating which parent has the children for a particular holiday/special occasion each year. Vacation time is often set aside for each parent as well.

Child support is often determined by application of the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines (which are accessible on the Web), with the gross monthly incomes of the parents, the schedule of overnights for the children, and any health insurance or work-related childcare costs being the key factors in determining the actual amount of support owed by one parent to the other. In addition to a monthly amount of child support being established, the parents typically share medical and dental expenses for the children that are not covered by insurance, with the sharing often being done pro-rata based on the respective incomes of the parties. In certain high-income cases, the Guidelines are inapplicable and instead child support is determined by an analysis of the actual monthly needs of the children based on how the children were used to living before their parents separated. Once established, child support is modifiable only upon a substantial change in circumstances.

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