Child Support and Private School Tuition in North Carolina

How does the expense associated with private school tuition impact child support in North Carolina?

Child support obligations are determined by the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines. You can use the Child Support Calculator to generate a personalized estimate of your child support obligation based on the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines. Typically, these guidelines do not provide for private school tuition. However, all children are not the same and the court will make exceptions for exceptional children.

There are two situations where the court will consider awarding child support payments for private schooling. Parents, of course, have the option of avoiding the court system by reaching agreement on the payment of school tuition. Litigation is only required when parents fail to reach agreement.

1. The judge decides on his/her own to include private school tuition.

A judge may, on his or her own motion, decide that the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines should be adjusted when private schooling is necessary for the wellbeing of the child. There are no additional steps to take or documents to file. The judge will simply adjust the child support obligation worksheet under the extraordinary expenses. Judges rarely, however, act on their own on this issue.

Parents should be aware that there is a strong possibility that the courts will not consider private schooling at all. The court has no obligation to balance the pros and cons of private schooling and/or other factors such as the financial background of the parents.

2. A parent requests the court to include private school tuition.

A parent can make a request to deviate from traditional North Carolina Child Support Guidelines. A written request must be made ten days prior to the child support hearing. This request alerts the court that there are additional factors to consider when determining the child support obligation.

A request to deviate is typically addressed in a series of steps.

1. The court will determine child support payments according to the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines.
2. The court will ask to hear facts indicating why deviation from these guidelines is necessary for the child.
3. The court will listen to facts indicating the financial ability of each parent to provide support.
4. After evidence has been presented, the court will determine if the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines are appropriate or unfair.
5. The court will put its decision and reasoning in writing.

If the court decides that the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines do not reasonably meet the needs of the child, the judge will increase or decrease the child support payment to reflect an appropriate obligation.

So which facts should be provided?

There is no standard answer. The court is concerned with providing what is in the best interest of the child. Therefore, provide facts indicating that your child does or does not have an educational need to attend a private school. Educational needs can range from disability assistance, extracurricular activities, and psychological services.

The court has also considered factors such as:

• child’s performance in public schools
• child’s previous enrollment in private school
• parent’s enrollment in private education
• resources within local public schools
• child’s standard of living
• consent between parents on child’s education

A judge never wants a parent to go bankrupt because he/she was unable to pay child support. Therefore, the court will examine each parent’s actual income to make a fair and accurate decision on how much child support should be ordered.

Factors calculated to determine income includes:

• monthly income
• reasonable expenses
• additional supported children
• real estate and other assets owned
• employee benefits

Questions you may be asking yourself:

Will my child support payment cover the entire cost of private school tuition?

The court will determine the answer on a case-by-case basis. After a deviation from North Carolina Child Support Guidelines has been granted, additional child support obligations will be proportionate to each parent’s actual income. Therefore, the answer depends on the parents’ financial backgrounds.

Am I eligible for tuition payments if my child attends a religious private school?

Yes. If the court determines that child support payments are warranted for private school tuition then payments can be applied to religious education. In fact, the court may consider religious schooling as an educational need when contemplating whether a deviation from North Carolina Child Support Guidelines is appropriate.

If my child is over the age of 18, am I required to pay their private school tuition?

“[I]f the child is still in primary or secondary school when the child reaches 18, support payments shall continue until the child graduates, otherwise ceases to attend school on a regular basis, fails to make satisfactory academic progress towards graduation, or reaches age 20, whichever comes first, unless the court in its discretion orders that payments cease at age 18 or prior to high school graduation.”

My separation agreement has a child support provision for private school education. How will the courts interpret the agreement?

Judges will consider these provisions as a factor in making their decisions, but the court can overrule this provision if the best interests of the child are not adequately met.

What if one spouse disagrees on whether their child should attend private school?

Ultimately, the court will decide if child support payments should include private school tuition. Therefore, the court does not require each parent to be in agreement. In situations where both parents have agreed to child support terms, the court will only use this information as a factor in determining child support payments.

If my child transfers schools, can my child support payments be modified?

The court may modify child support payments based on a child transferring schools. Child support obligations are not permanent. The court can always modify an order based on facts suggesting there was a change in circumstance. The court will hold the parent desiring the modification responsible for proving that the change was “substantial” and “material.” The court uses the words “substantial” and “material” to mean any fact that would have produced a different result if presented when the obligation was decided.

Final Thoughts

As you may have collected, determining if private school tuition will be included in your child support payment is not a simple process. You are allowed to go through the process alone, but parents frequently decide to consult an attorney. An attorney will guarantee that your concerns are voiced and understood by the court. Thus, if you are worried that private school tuition may or may not be included within your child support payments then you should consider speaking with an attorney.

  • Fox 50
  • cnn
  • cnbc
  • The new york times
  • Good Morning America