Under North Carolina law, the legal parents (either biological or adoptive) of a child are deemed to be primarily responsible for the child’s financial support. As such, a stepparent has no legal duty to pay child support for the benefit of a stepchild in the event the stepparent’s marriage to the child’s parent ends, either by death or divorce. However, a stepparent who has acted “in loco parentis” to a stepchild may choose to voluntarily become liable for the financial support of the child by entering into a valid written agreement, such as a separation agreement or voluntary support agreement. A stepparent acts “in loco parentis” when he/she assumes the role of a parent in the child’s life with the status and responsibilities it entails, but without formally adopting the child.
Even in such circumstances, the stepparent’s legal obligation to pay child support remains secondarily liable to the child’s legal parents. Thus, in determining or modifying the stepparent’s child support obligation, a judge must consider the relative ability of the legal parents to provide for the support of the child. If the legal parents are unable to meet the reasonable needs of the child, then the stepparent can be found to be secondarily liable for the deficiency.
When determining the child support obligation of a stepparent who is secondarily liable, the North Carolina child support guidelines do not apply. The former stepparent’s child support obligation must be determined based on the facts and circumstances of the case at hand.
A stepparent’s income cannot be used in determining a legal parent’s child support obligation. However, if a stepparent is providing health insurance for a stepchild, the health insurance premium attributable to the child can be credited to the stepparent’s spouse for purposes of determining the respective child support obligations of the legal parents.
This article is for information purposes only and is not to be considered or substituted as legal advice. The information in this article is based on North Carolina state laws in effect at the time of posting.