By Tonya Graser Smith
The new year always brings new laws and regulations. In 2023, several changes to North Carolina’s child support rules will be implemented. As the year winds down, our firm is working to notify both current and potential clients of several major updates that will affect how judges set child support in our state. Here’s what parents on either side of litigation need to know:
Raising the income limit on the Child Support Guidelines
Most child support cases are subject to the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines, a set of presumptive rules that judges must follow when determining how much support to order. In particular, the guidelines set a schedule of basic support obligations that parents must pay for their children. But this schedule does not apply in cases in which the parents earn a high combined adjusted gross income. These are sometimes called off-Guidelines cases.
The current income limit for cases controlled by the Guidelines is $30,000 per month ($360,000 per year). That amount increases to $40,000 per month ($480,000 per year) starting January 1, 2023. Any cases heard on or after that date in which the parents’ combined adjusted gross income exceeds $40,000 per month cannot be determined using the schedule contained in the Guidelines. Rather, the court must set support in an amount that meets the child’s reasonable needs while taking into account the child’s and parents’ earnings, accustomed standards of living, and other relevant factors.
Tonya’s Insight: Raising the top income is a welcome and commonsense approach, in light of record inflation affecting every North Carolina family. By keeping more cases under the control of the Guidelines, less time will have to be spent determining child support. I expect that this will ultimately save parents large sums of avoided attorney’s fees.
Health insurance now includes vision insurance
Courts are required to order either parent to obtain and maintain health insurance coverage for the child. The amount that a parent pays for the child’s health insurance is added to the basic child support obligation and prorated between the parents based on their respective incomes. Historically, “health insurance” has only included medical and dental insurance, but after January 1 it will cover vision insurance as well.
Related to this are uninsured health insurance costs that exceed $250 annually. The court may order that any such costs, including those incurred for a child’s vision needs, shall be paid by either or both parents in an amount the judge deems appropriate.
Tonya’s Insight: These updates are also welcome. Practically speaking, most child support cases were already including vision insurance as part of the monthly support obligation. The rule simply makes it clear that this need, too, should be covered by the parents.
Income may be imputed to a parent caring for a child younger than three years of age
Judges are allowed to impute income to a parent who is deliberately not working or is earning less than he or she is able. Up until now, North Carolina courts have been prohibited from imputing income to a parent who is the primary custodian of a child under three years old (and for whom child support is being determined). That prohibition ends on January 1, 2023.
Although this rule is being eliminated, courts must still consider whether the presence of a young child impacts the parent’s ability to work. In other words, when a judge is asked to impute income to a parent who isn’t earning anything (or not earning as much as they could), the judge will have to determine how caring for a young child affects the caregiver parent’s employment.
Tonya’s Insight: I like this change because it motivates both parents to financially support their children, rather than allow one parent to avoid paying their fair share from the start. And it does so with due consideration of those circumstances in which caring for a young child makes working more difficult.
After years of litigating family law cases, we know that few issues are as emotional as those that affect children. We also understand the importance of keeping up with changes to the rules that affect the families we serve. If you have questions about these or other family law updates, or you have a pending court case, we’re here to help.