Every divorcing parent shares the concern over how their divorce will impact their child/ children. The hardest decisions and scariest questions surround the custody and welfare of their children. Besides the emotional impact of the separation itself on the child, many parents also worry about the decreased time they themselves will have with their kids when the family unit no longer shares a common household.
Custody laws in North Carolina deal with the care and control of children under the age of 18. Courts have wide discretion in determining legal custody and visitation, how rights are assigned and removed, and the timeframes that are associated with custody rulings. Child custody is a separate legal issue from child support and other elements of a divorce, like property settlement and spousal support.
As with the other aspects of divorce, courts encourage divorcing parents to create voluntary agreements regarding the custody and support of their children using tools like mediation and negotiated settlement. Statistics show that agreements reached by parents voluntarily have a greater potential for lasting success than those ordered by the court.
However, if parties are unable to settle issues of custody, the court will apply the law based on its perception of the best interest of the children and the greater good of the family unit in question. Rarely do these types of outcomes feel satisfactory to anyone involved.
Because satisfaction with court order outcomes have the statistical probability for being quite low, Barri Payne works with clients to be as creative as possible relative to the custody of their children. Because so many different kinds of things can come into play in these negotiations – parental work hours and schedules, long distance living arrangements, new relationships – Barri strives to help clients achieve custody arrangements which will be in the children’s best interest and which will work for both parents given their work schedules, family traditions, and their past and present level of involvement with the children.
For most families in North Carolina (those with combined gross incomes under $25,000 a month) child support is governed by strict statutory guidelines utilizing a fairly simple mathematical approach. Factors include how many children you have, the amount of time the children spend with each parent, gross incomes of each parent and contributions each parent makes to child related expenses, particularly health insurance and childcare expenses. There is also a consideration given for other children either parent has an obligation to support either from a past or present relationship. The guidelines and calculations are so specific that, in most cases, child support can be determined in advance with a high degree of certainty. A child support calculator is available on the Department of Health and Human Services website, here.
There are times that it makes sense to pursue a deviation from the guideline calculation or times when the parties themselves desire to vary from the guidelines. Many times, and especially in burdened economies, parents need to be more creative regarding the support of their children than the child support guidelines might allow for. Along with child support, parties also typically address uninsured medical and dental expenses for the children, how they will pay extra-curricular expenses and who will claim the children as dependents. As with every element of divorce, child support issues can be resolved through creative problem-solving (through negotiation or mediation) that works best for your family’s unique circumstances.
Barri Payne is a North Carolina Board Certified Specialist in Family Law. She represents clients through all facets of divorce, including child custody and support matters, whether it is an initial determination or a modification of a prior order or agreement. Conveniently located near Durham Hospital and Duke University campus, she is available for consultation regarding divorce, custody, and support issues.