All parents of minor children are responsible for financially supporting their children. Parents whose rights have been terminated and parents who are under 18 years old are exceptions to this rule in North Carolina.1 While support may be required by one parent in most custody arrangements, the law does acknowledge that adjustments may be necessary as circumstances change.
Child Support Modification
An original determination of child support is often calculated using presumptive guidelines unless one parent requests alternate consideration. In these cases, a court will hear evidence and determine if applying the guidelines would be unjust, at which point the court could award child support that varies from the presumptive guidelines.2 Child support usually terminates when the child reaches 18 years old.3 Exceptions include if the child is emancipated before turning 18 or if they are still in high school at the age of 18.
A parent may request a modification of a child support order whenever there is a change in circumstances.4 There are also some situations in which a retroactive modification is necessary, as was the case in Berens v. Berens5 out of Mecklenburg County.
Retroactive Child Support Modification
A temporary child support order was entered in 2015 in the Berens case. A trial was held in 2017 on the support matter, but a permanent order was not entered until July 2018. Two months prior to the final order being entered, Father moved to modify the temporary order due to one child having turned 18 years old. However, the permanent order entered in July 2018 retroactively increased Father’s support obligations without considering that one child had reached adulthood. The 2018 permanent order was affirmed by the appeals court.
Father’s motion to modify, which was filed in May 2018, was finally heard in September 2020. The modification order determined that a change in circumstances had occurred in May 2018, so the trial court retroactively reduced Father’s support obligation as of June 2018. Mother was ordered to pay back $40,859 in overpayments she received since that time, and she appealed.
The basis for Mother’s appeal was that the trial court had no authority to change the support retroactively. However, the appeals court disagreed. North Carolina Statute §50-13.10(a) prohibits retroactive modification only when past-due support is owed. In Berens v. Berens, Father did not owe any arrearages on his child support payments. The Court of Appeals held that modifying Father’s child support obligation was proper, and it affirmed that portion of the order.
North Carolina’s child support laws can be overwhelming for many people to navigate on their own. If you are looking for guidance on filing for a modification of child support, contact the Woodruff Family Law Group. We have handled countless support matters, including complex modification cases.