Lots of parents and stepparents in North Carolina wonder whether the stepparent’s income affects the amount of child support that is owed. For example, if dad remarries a woman who has quite high income or assets, will it mean that he is obligated to pay more in child support? If he cannot or does not pay for some reason, can his new wife be required to pay child support on his behalf?
In North Carolina, stepparents have absolutely no duty of support to stepchildren. The obligation of a stepparent depends on whether the stepparent voluntarily act in loco parentis, which means in the place of a parent. Someone who is acting in loco parentis “has assumed the status and obligations of a parent without a formal adoption.” This is reviewed on a case by case basis, and the question is whether the stepparent intended to assume such obligations toward the stepchild(ren) as support and maintenance.
Even if a stepparent has assumed the obligation of paying support, that obligation usually ends if the stepparent and parent get divorced. A stepparent may sign a notarized agreement to pay child support, and that agreement would be enforceable even after divorcing the child’s parent. Even then, however, the stepparent’s obligation to support the child would still be secondary to the child’s legal parents. Courts can only order the stepparent to support the child if the natural parents are unable to provide any support or the needs of the child are greater than the abilities of the natural parents to provide.
Contributions of a third party (stepparent) may be used to support a deviation from the NC Child Support Guidelines. This generally requires that the parent who receives the child support on behalf of the child has a higher burden to prove the actual expenses of the child and how much contribution is made by the stepparent. This is quite unusual, but possible. The bottom line, however, is that as a rule, a stepparent has no obligation to pay support for his or her stepchildren.