If you are trying to determine whether you can afford the substantial cost of private school after separating from your spouse, you are not alone. Many families face this issue, and while each case must be decided on its own unique facts, this article provides an overview of the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines, as well as relevant case law that may help you understand your options.
What are the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines?
The North Carolina Child Support Guidelines are the statewide presumptive guidelines for determining the child support obligations of parents. The key things to know about the guidelines are first, whether they apply to you, and second, if they do apply, which category (Worksheet A, Worksheet B, or Worksheet C) you fall into.
Guideline application is salary based. Parents whose combined adjusted gross income is over $25,000 per month ($300,000 per year), are not subject to the guidelines. Instead, the court will use its discretion to set a support amount that meets the reasonable needs of the child for health, education, and maintenance, having due regard to the estates, earnings, conditions, accustomed standard of living of the child and the parties. If you are in this income bracket, and your children attend private school, it is likely that you will be required to continue paying for private school tuition. This is because a child’s reasonable needs are not limited to what is absolutely necessary in a high-income case.
If the parents can afford to pay more to maintain the accustomed standard of living of the child, then the court will find that they should pay. See, e.g., Williams v. Williams, 261 N.C. 48, 57, 134 S.E.2d 227, 234 (1964) (“In addition to the actual needs of the child, a [parent] has a legal duty to give his [or her] children those advantages which are reasonable considering his [or her] financial condition and his [or her] position in society.”); Loosvelt v. Brown, 235 N.C.App. 88, 105, 760 S.E.2d 351, 362 (2014) (“In addition to the actual needs of the child, a father has a legal duty to give his children those advantages which are reasonable considering his financial condition and his position in society.”).
If you and your spouse’s combined adjusted gross income is less than $300,000 a year, then your child support contributions will be determined by the category that your physical custody arrangement falls into, or which “Worksheet” applies. Worksheet A applies where one parent has primary physical custody, meaning the child stays with the primary custodian at least 243 nights a year.
Most cases fall under the category of Worksheet B. This Worksheet applies when parents share physical custody of a child, meaning the child stays with each parent for at least 123 nights during the year, and each parent assumes financial responsibility for the child’s expenses during the time the child lives with that parent.
Finally, the least frequent situation occurs under Worksheet C. Worksheet C addresses split physical custody—cases in which one parent has primary physical custody of at least one of the children for whom support is being determined and the other parent has primary custody of the other child or children.
What Are Extraordinary Expenses?
On each Worksheet, private school may be classified by the court as an “extraordinary expense.” The Guidelines specifically state that extraordinary expenses include, “expenses related to special or private elementary or secondary schools to meet a child’s particular educational needs,” and if the court determines the extraordinary expenses of private school is reasonable, necessary, and in the child’s best interest, the cost of private school will be included in the child support award. Take a look at the Worksheets (Link To Worksheets); at the bottom of each worksheet, there is a line for entering extraordinary expenses.
What Factors do Courts Consider in Private School Cases?
It is possible that a court will include private school costs in a child support award under the extraordinary expense portion of the Worksheets. But, what factors make a judge more likely to make such an award? The goal of the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines is to recognize the shared parental obligation for support of children and to award an amount that will allow a child to receive the same proportion of parental income he or she would have received if the child’s parents still lived together. The court will take your actions into consideration. For example, the court will consider whether it was the mutual intent of both parents to educate their children in private school when determining the “accustomed standard of living” of the children. If the court concludes that you intended for your children to go to private school, and you , in fact,did enroll your children in private school, there is a good chance you will be required to continue to pay for private school.
However, if there is a justified reason that you can no longer afford to pay for school, for example, you lost your job due to no fault of your own, then you may request that the court deviate from the amount provided in the Guidelines. When you make this request, the court shall, “find the facts relating to the reasonable needs of the child… and the relative ability of each parent to provide support.” N.C. G.S. § 50-13.4(c). If you can demonstrate that due to no fault of your own you cannot afford to pay the cost of private school tuition, and your child’s educational needs can be met via the public-school system, the court may not include the cost of private school in your child support obligation.
Each case is unique. A lawyer will be able to help you evaluate the facts of your case and develop a strategy that works for your family. The McIlveen Family Law Firm is here to help. Please give us a call today.
This article is for information purposes only and is not to be considered legal advice. The information in this article is based on North Carolina state laws in effect at the time of posting.