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Child Support Guidelines and Deviation

Browne v. Browne, 101 N.C. App. 617 (1991).

Child support in North Carolina is most commonly determined by using the presumptive guidelines. We have written about the use of the guidelines in the past, such as here. But not every case will be a guideline case. The guidelines themselves indicate that certain high earning families (as of today the upper limit is $360,000) are automatically removed from guideline consideration. But what if you believe your custody case – which is not a high-income case – ought to be nonguideline?

Our statutes on child support allow any party, upon request, to move for a deviation from the presumptive guidelines. The Court shall then hear evidence and find facts that relate to the child’s reasonable needs for support and each parent’s relative ability to provide support. After this evidence is considered, if the Court finds that the guideline amount would either not meet or would exceed the child’s reasonable needs, considering each parent’s relative ability to provide support, or would be otherwise unjust or inappropriate, then the Court may vary from the guidelines (NCGS 50-13.4(c)). But the Court must also write specific findings of fact that justify the deviation and the amount the Court ultimately awards.

What are some of the many factors the Court can consider with regard to “reasonable needs” and “ability to pay?” The needs must involve the health, education, accustomed standard of living, and maintenance of the child – whereas the ability to pay considers the estates, earnings, conditions, and the child care and homemaker contributions of each party. The Court’s granting of deviation from the guidelines is discretionary, but the Court is advised “to determine whether the reasonable needs of the children are being met and whether imposing the presumptive amount would not meet or would exceed the reasonable needs of the children or would be otherwise inappropriate or unjust.” Hartley v. Hartley, 645 S.E.2d 408 (N.C. App. 2007). In lay terms, it means that the Court will most often compare the presumptive guideline award with the award that they would derive from the evidence upon request for deviation and determine from those figures which one is best suited to meet the needs of the children.

A deviation is not a simple request. There must be enough competent evidence to support deviation. Ultimately, the evidence must touch upon whether the child’s reasonable needs are going to be met or exceeded by the guidelines. Speak to an experienced family law specialist if you believe that there are factors that would involve a deviation from the guidelines.