What is the difference between prospective and retroactive child support?

There are generally two temporal types of child support that a court can address in North Carolina: prospective and retroactive. Prospective child support is support for the time since the filing of the claim forward. Retroactive child support is support for the period of time before the filing of the claim, limited to three years.

Unless there is justification to deviate, prospective child support is calculated by application of the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines. The Guidelines are essentially an “income shares model.” As described by the National Conference of State Legislatures, “the Income Shares Model is based on the concept that the child should receive the same proportion of parental income that he or she would have received if the parents lived together.”   In the calculation, both parents’ income is first combined.  Next, a percentage based on the estimated amount of income spent on children in typical two-parent households is applied to determine the basic child support obligation. Child care, healthcare insurance, and extraordinary expenses may be added to the basic obligation. Finally, the total child support obligation is prorated between the parents according to their respective incomes.

According to the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines revised January 1, 2015, retroactive child support may be calculated in one of two ways.  The first method is simply by determining the amount of support that would have been required under the guidelines in effect at the beginning of the time period for which support is being sought.  The second method is to determine the parent’s fair share of actual expenditures for the child’s care.” Parties prepare calculations and submit evidence based on both analyses for the trial court’s consideration.