Traditionally, child support laws determined that a father was primarily responsible for supporting his children and gave judges broad discretion in determining child support amounts. This older view resulted in inconsistent, inadequate, and unpredictable results. Nowadays, modern laws place a responsibility on either parent for the support of their children and use specific guidelines outlined in the North Dakota Administrative Code Chapter 75-02-04.1. The general rules presume that one parent acts as a primary caregiver while the non-custodial parent contributes in the form of child support. The guidelines outline many factors it uses in making the calculation. To name a few, the calculation may consider an offset or deviation based on the obligor’s (i.e., the person owing a duty of support) income, the number of non-joint children the obligor may have, whether the obligor is providing health insurance, and includes a consideration of the parenting time schedule. There are also even more specific guidelines for determining income if the obligor is self-employed or under-employed. After all the offsets and deviations are made, the calculation results in the non-custodial paying some kind of “difference” to the parent with primary residential responsibility. N.D. Admin. Code ch. 75-02-04.1-03. Naturally, there is also a separate set of guidelines when parents share equal residential responsibility. These pre-set guidelines form the more modern view and promote consistency, uniformity, and, ultimately, the child’s best interests.
How Has The Case Law Developed Child Support Obligations?
The North Dakota Supreme Court has established “[t]he best interest of the children requires child support obligors to provide adequate support and maintenance for their minor children.” Smith v. Smith, 538 N.W.2d 222, 226 (N.D. 1995); see also N.D.C.C. § 14-09-08. Notably, the court has also outlined that the right to child support belongs to the child, not the parent, who has a representational right to collect support on behalf of the child. Sprynczynatyk v. Celley, 486 N.W.2d 230, 232 (N.D.1992). On a similar note, the Court has also stated that it has a strong public policy behind the maintenance and support of a child and established that “parental agreements that prohibit or limit the power of a court to modify future child support are invalid.” Lee v. Lee, 2005 ND 129, ¶ 8, 699 N.W.2d 842 (quoting Smith v. Smith, 538 N.W.2d 222, 226 (N.D.1995)). Furthermore, a child support obligation that is “less than required by the child support guidelines also violates public policy and will not be enforced.” Cline v. Cline, 2007 ND 85, ¶ 7, 732 N.W.2d 385. In other words, an obligor cannot run away from their child support obligation, and any agreement to waive or otherwise circumvent the child support guidelines is void and unenforceable.
How Is A Child Support Obligation Established?
First, if it hasn’t already been done, paternity must be established. The next step is establishing an order by a Judge or the North Dakota Child Support Department. Once an order has been issued, the non-custodial parent must pay their obligation pursuant to the North Dakota guidelines/worksheet until some event occurs as outlined in the judgment, typically until the child turns the age of majority. Once an order is entered, it is enforceable, and a parent who does not pay their child support could be held in contempt. Courts then have various avenues to enforce the collection of child support. That could include anything from suspending a driver’s license to withholding tax refunds or garnishing wages. Important to note is that despite the official child support calculation, a court still has the discretion to apportion specific expenses related to the child in addition to child support. For instance, childcare expenses, school activities, and more.
SW&L understands that navigating the child support guidelines and worksheet can be stressful, confusing, and tedious. We are here to put your child’s best interest at the forefront and are proud to announce that we are the first firm in North Dakota to create a custom and user-friendly calculator that will guide you through the process with ease. To access the calculator, click on the link below.
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