When North Carolina courts enter divorce decrees, they address topics such as child custody, child support and property division. Courts can sometimes modify the terms of a divorce when circumstances change after the divorce is finalized. Typically, courts can modify court-ordered child support when one parent can show that circumstances have changed.
In North Carolina, parents can seek a modification by filing a motion with the court, typically the court that issued the original child support order. Parents can also apply for services with North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services’ Child Support Services and request a review from the caseworker. In cases where a parent receives public assistance, CSS will review the case at least every three years even when neither parent requests review. Other cases are reviewed after three years only if a parent requests review.
The parent seeking the modification needs evidence to prove a modification is justified. The amount of evidence depends on whether the child support order originated as part of a marital settlement agreement or a court-ordered decree. If a child support order was part of a marital settlement agreement, the court has authority to change it merely if the child’s needs require a change. But if the support order originated with the court, there must be a substantial change in circumstances before the court will consider modification.
North Carolina law presumes a family’s circumstances have changed substantially if it is at least three years after the most recent child support order and an application of the child support guidelines would result in a change of at least 15 percent. If a case does not meet this standard, a parent can still seek modification if he can prove to the court that circumstances have changed substantially. For example, if a paying parent receives a large pay increase shortly after the child support order was issued, the other spouse may be able to request a modification before three years have passed.
Child support amounts only change once the court enters a new order. Unless the court’s order is the first order entered for a particular child, the court cannot adjust child support retroactively. Thus, if a court changes the child support amount a parent pays, the change is only effective going forward.