Can Grandparents be Obligated to Pay Child Support?

Under the historical law of the states, it is a child’s biological or adoptive parents who have a duty to support their children. This duty is not dependent on marriage, but rather is a “moral and social obligation” the parents owe to the child, and society as a whole, to support those they have brought into the world.

However, sometimes it is a child’s grandparents who are the parties most willing and suited to raising that child. They may take the child in unofficially, or be granted official custody through the court system. If these circumstances change, such as if the grandparents later divorce, this can result in the custodial grandparent bringing an action against their ex for child support. Alternatively, the custodial grandparent may ask that their expenses in continuing to raise the child be considered in the amount of alimony they receive. In other situations, a minor may have a child of their own and look to the grandparents for support in raising the child even though they never willingly assumed responsibility for him or her. In such scenarios it is important to be aware of your rights and obligations as a grandparent under the laws concerning child support.

Liability for Grandparent Child Support Generally

In North Carolina, a stepparent’s duties to pay child support largely mirror a grandparent’s responsibility to pay child support. Grandparents do not generally have a duty to support their grandchild, unless the grandparent stands in what is called “in loco parentis” to the child, or in the place of one of the child’s parents. (There is one important exception to this rule, discussed further below.) Even then, the duty is still secondary to the natural parents’ primary duty to support their child, but when the natural parents fail to meet this obligation, the grandparent can be required to do so.

In cases with court orders officially granting the grandparents custody, the courts are more likely to view the grandparents as having undertaken the task of raising and supporting the child and require them to provide support.

In other situations where there is no official court order granting custody to the grandparents, courts can be less willing to require one of the grandparents to pay child support or more alimony in the event that the grandparents divorce.

North Carolina Exception

North Carolina General Statute 50-13.4 stipulates that unless a party pleads and proves that the circumstances warrant otherwise, the parents of a minor child who has a child themselves share the primary liability for their grandchild’s support with the minor parent. In other words, if your kid has a kid before the age of 18, you can be required to help furnish child support for your grandchild. This duty continues until the minor parent reaches the age of 18 or emancipates, and applies to both sets of the child’s grandparents if both parents of the child requiring support were un-emancipated minors when the child was conceived. If only one parent of the child requiring support was an un-emancipated minor at the child’s conception, both sets of grandparents are liable for any back child support the emancipated or adult parent owes until the second parent reaches the age of 18 or emancipates.

For example, let’s say that Joe and Sue have a daughter named Ann, and Jim and Sal have a son named Andrew. Ann and Andrew are 16-year-old high school sweethearts and Ann gets pregnant, giving birth to a daughter they name Amy. In this scenario, both Joe and Sue, together with Jim and Sal, would be liable for providing support to their grandchild Amy regardless of whether or not Ann and Andrew were still living with them. This obligation would terminate once both Ann and Andrew reached the age of 18 or emancipated.

In a different scenario, let’s say that Andrew was already 18 when Ann became pregnant and that he and Ann break up shortly after she gives birth. If Andrew did not pay Ann child support, his parents Jim and Sal would be liable for the back support that accumulated until Ann reached the age of 18 or emancipated.

How Much Child Support Will I be Required to Pay?

If you are ordered to pay child support as a grandparent, the amount will be set by the court. If it is in the situation of paying for your minor child’s child described above, the court will determine how the support obligation will be split between each minor parent and set of grandparents. Circumstances the courts can consider in setting the amount include but are not limited to each party’s relative ability or inability to provide financial support, the child’s individual needs, and the child’s estate or assets. Failure to pay child support can result in your being held in civil contempt, punishable by steep fines and even time in jail.

If you are a grandparent with a custody or child support issue, please contact the experienced family law attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC. Our dedicated attorneys handle a wide variety of family law matters for clients throughout the Charlotte, North Carolina area including separation and divorce, alimony, equitable distribution of property, child support, and child custody, including grandparent custody rights. Contact our office today for a consultation with one of our family law attorneys about your unique circumstances.