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The North Carolina Child Support Guidelines defines the various child custody terms in ways that may be different than a child custody agreement or child custody order. For purposes of determining child support, the guidelines define child custody arrangements in three primary ways: primary physical custody, shared custody, and split custody.
A parent has “primary physical custody” if the child lives with the person for 243 or more nights per year. This is true even if the child custody agreement or child custody order grants a parent primary, shared, or joint custody of a child. The North Carolina Child Support guidelines simply look at the number of nights a child spends with the parent, not the particular custody agreement or custody order, to calculate child support.
There are two ways in which parents can have “shared custody” of a child. The first way is for both parents to share custody of all the children. The second way is for one parent to have primary physical custody of one or more of the children and the parents essentially share the year with each parent assuming complete financial responsibility for the expenses during the time the child lives with that parent. To be considered “shared custody,” a child must live with each parent for at least 123 nights per year and the parent must assume financial responsibility for the child’s expenses during that time. If a child does not live with a parent for 123 or more nights per year, the other parent would have “primary physical custody.”
Pursuant to the child support guidelines, the parties have “split custody” when one parent has primary custody of one or more of the children and the other parent has primary custody of the other children. This child custody arrangement is not favored in North Carolina and is rarely used.
For purposes of child support, the three custody arrangements are determined without regard to whether a parent has primary, shared, or joint legal custody of a child. In a “joint legal custody” arrangement, each parent has joint control over the child’s best interest and welfare. If both parents have joint legal custody it is implicit that they both have rights to determine how the child is raised, even if the rights and responsibilities are not specifically defined in the child custody agreement or child custody order. The child support guidelines are primarily concerned with the amount of time spent with the parents.
In Wake County, North Carolina, child custody and visitation arrangements must be mediated prior to all court hearings. The various custody arrangements can have a tremendous impact on the amount of child support payments. It is very important to consult with an attorney prior to attending child custody and visitation mediation. Having an attorney with a strong understanding of the various custody circumstances and their subsequent impact on child support is critical and can have a lasting impact.