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What courts may consider “income” for support purposes

People in North Carolina who are getting a divorce and who expect to pay spousal or child support might wonder how courts calculate what that payment will be. A court will generally look at all sources of income and make a decision that is intended to keep the family at a lifestyle level similar to the one they had during the marriage.

In addition to a person’s regular salary, a judge may consider corporate retirement account contributions, dividends from investments, signing bonuses and any other money that is coming in. Courts can look beyond tax returns if a family appears to be living a lifestyle that would not be supported by the income reported there. For example, if the person who will pay support receives money from a parent every month, that amount may be included in the court’s calculation. Underemployment should not be viewed as a way to avoid paying support since a judge may also look at how much a person could potentially earn and work from that amount.

People should also not attempt to manipulate their income in other ways. A court will look at several years of income. Couples may want to consider making support modifiable so that the amount can be changed if the payer’s income changes. Another option is giving the recipient more assets in exchange for lower support obligations.

It is important for people to understand that child support is separate from spousal support, and the former may be awarded even when the latter is not. Furthermore, spousal support may only last for a few years after the divorce while child support generally lasts for as long as the child is a minor. Child support may go on for longer if the child has special needs, and some parents may make an agreement about how to pay for college.