Family: Child Support (FAQs)
Authored By: Legal Aid of North Carolina
Who is responsible for payment of child support? +
The father and mother of a child are primarily responsible for the support of a minor child.
How do I get a child support order? +
Only a judge can establish a child support order. Child support obligations may be initiated in numerous ways: action for divorce, action in custody, action for child support, juvenile proceedings, and criminal actions.
Do I need to file for custody or divorce to get a child support order? +
No. The Child Support Enforcement program administered by NC Health and Human Services helps people get child support even when there is no divorce or custody order. You can apply to the Child Support enforcement office where you live for them to obtain a child support order for your child.
If I receive public benefits, do I have to get a child support order? +
Yes. If you receive temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) you are required to cooperate with the local Child support enforcement office to establish a child support order. You will be automatically referred to the local Child support Enforcement office.
I am a victim of domestic violence and I am afraid of what he would do once I initiate a child support action. What can I do? +
Discuss this specific situation with the caseworker at the Department of Social Services and the local Child Support Enforcement office. It is possible to obtain benefits without pursuing a child support order. There are also protections that may apply to maintain your address confidential. Contact a Domestic Violence shelter or LANC for further advice.
Can I get help from the local Child Support Enforcement office if I do not get public assistance? +
Yes, you must complete an application and pay the required fee.
What can the Child Support Enforcement office do? +
They can help you with the following:
- locate the parent who should pay support,
- establish paternity,
- obtain a child support order for you,
- collect and distribute the support payments,
- enforce the child support order.
What does a child support order mean? +
A child support order only says who must pay child support and how much. It does not establish rights to custody or who should have visitation, who should pay spousal support or who pays debts. Child support orders deal with child support.
What can I do if the child support payments are too high or too low? +
A child support obligation may be reviewed every 36 months. If the child support order should be modified to increase or lower it, visit the Child support Enforcement office and ask that they assess the present income of both parents. They will determine if a modification is necessary. A child support order can be changed before the 36 months review. Consult with a lawyer or contact your Child Support Enforcement caseworker.
Can I change a child support order because I have lost my job and can no longer pay the support amount in the order? +
Sometimes changes occur after an order has been entered that may make the amount of the support order no longer correct. For example, you have lost your job and can only find a job that makes a lot less money or are disabled and cannot work.
Either parent, the one paying child support or the one receiving the child support can ask the court to change the child support order.
If the original support order was obtained with the assistance of Child Support Enforcement they can assist you for free. If not you will have to pay a small fee.
You should consult with Child Support Enforcement to determine if the changes in your circumstances can result in a change in the child support amount. Not every change in income justifies a change in an order.
I have become disabled; do I still have to pay child support? +
Yes, but if you have no income because you are unable to work you are entitled to a reduction in the amount of child support you pay.
If you receive Supplemental Social Security Disability (SSI) payments, your child support payments should be reduced to zero.
You must tell the caseworker at the Child Support enforcement office that you are disabled and unable to work or are receiving Social Security disability benefits.
My son is receiving Social Security disability payments because I am disabled. Do I still have to pay child support payments for him? +
You cannot automatically stop making payments under a child support order. If your son is entitled to receive benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) because you are disabled, you should make sure that an application has been made to SSA for your son’s benefits or child’s benefits.
The amount of child support payment you should pay must be reduced by the amount your son gets from SSA. The amount of support payments you make may be reduced to zero.
Remember that you should tell the Child support Enforcement caseworker of any Social Security payments to your children so that the support order is changed. These changes do not occur automatically.
I receive child support from child’s father but it is not enough to cover the cost of taking care of my child. What can I do? +
The amount of child support a child receives is determined by established guidelines. These guidelines take into consideration several factors such as the income of both parents, the number of children, etc. You can ask the court to change the support amount and consider factors outside the guidelines. To do this you must convince the court that there are very good reasons to change the child support amount already ordered.
After the child support order was entered, the father of the child and I have reconciled and we live together. What can we do? +
You can ask the child support enforcement office to suspend the order. This means that the order exists but the parent does not have to pay. Contact the Child Support enforcement office to determine how long the support order can remain suspended.
A support order can also be terminated. This means that if you and the parent split again, you would have to reapply for an order.
What is an arrearage? +
An arrearage is the amount of child support a parent has not paid. If someone is paying child support every dollar not paid is added to the arrearage. Sometimes the Child Support Enforcement office will collect an extra amount to cover the arrearages.
Can I forgive the parent who is responsible for child support for arrearages? +
Yes. Contact the Child Support Enforcement office. You will have to file a written statement saying that you do not want the arrearages and do not want Child support enforcement to collect it.
If I receive public benefits, can I forgive arrearages owed? +
No. The amount of arrearages owed to the state must be paid.
If my child support order is modified because I no longer can pay the amount ordered will my arrearages change? +
No. A change in a child support order will only change the amount paid in the future. It will not change the arrearages.
I am not getting visitation with my child. Can I change the amount of child support I pay? +
No. Child support and visitation rights are two different things. You must pay child support even if not allowed to visit. It is also true that the parent who has the child may not refuse visitation because of non payment of child support. Visitation rights must be dealt with in a custody action.
If you have problems with custody or visitation you need to talk to a lawyer.