Child support orders after a North Carolina divorce typically last until the child turns 18. The orders may expire earlier, if the child is legally emancipated. If the child is still in primary or secondary school when he reaches age 18, then payments must continue until age 20, as long as the child is still in school and making satisfactory educational progress.

This is a huge length of time. As Wilmington divorce attorneys, we often hear from clients who find the rules for North Carolina child support to be burdensome. They have a fair point—or, at least, half a point. While we believe that parents should be committed to the financial support of their children, we also recognize that circumstances change. A child support order that was put in place when the divorce was finalized may not make sense five, ten, or fifteen years later, due to changes in financial circumstances.

Modifying Child Support Orders

Here’s the good news: a final child support order isn’t really “final.” Either parent may petition the court to modify the judgment in light of changing financial situations.

What sort of circumstances may justify changing orders for child support in North Carolina? Some of the most common include:

  • A promotion or higher paying job for one parent.
  • A substantial inheritance for one parent.
  • Unemployment for either parent.
  • Extended illness for either parent that affects employability, wages, or unreimbursed medical expenses.
  • High medical or dental bills—not covered by insurance—for the child.
  • Changes in expenses for childcare, summer vacations, or private schools, especially if those were features of the family’s life before the divorce.
  • Any significant change in the costs of living.
  • A substantial independent income for the child, because of his or her unusual talents, skills, or artistic ability.
  • A discovery that one parent has been hiding assets.

There is no limit on the number of times the courts can alter a support order, and no limit on how often a parent can petition for a change in child support. Indeed, it probably is sound policy to review the current support order every three years or so with your North Carolina family law attorney to ensure the existing arrangement meets the needs of your family.

Petitioning for a Modification in Child Support Orders

If you plan to seek a change in child support payments, bring your income information—including tax returns and pay stubs—to your attorney. Also, bring along any documents that are relevant to your ex-spouse’s finances, if that will be a factor in why you are seeking a modified North Carolina child support order.

Changes in child support orders are not retroactive, so if there is a change in your economic circumstances today, you should seek a change in your child support order as soon as possible. It can take a few months for a petition for modification to be reviewed by the courts. In the meantime, the existing support order will remain in place. Every day you delay works against your best interests, and against the interests of your child.

When you need legal representation for a child support modification, you can rely on the Wilmington family law attorneys at Speaks Law Firm. Call us today at 910-341-7570 (locally) or 877-593-4233 (toll-free) to get your questions answered or to schedule a consultation. 

R. Clarke Speaks
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Trial Lawyer and Founder of Speaks Law Firm, P.C.
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