Can I Make the Other Parent Pay for Private School Tuition As Part of a Child Support Obligation?

The North Carolina Child Support Guidelines provide a formula for determining the presumptive child support obligation for parties’ whose combined adjusted gross income is $300,000 per year or less. The child support guidelines allow various factors to be taken into consideration when determining each parent’s presumptive child support obligation. These various factors include, but not are not limited to, adjustments for work-related child care expenses, health and dental insurance expense for the child, and a parent’s responsibility to support other children for whom child support is not been determined.

The North Carolina Child Support Guidelines provide that extraordinary child related expenses, including expenses related to special or private elementary or secondary schools, may be added to the basic child support obligation if a judge determines the expenses are reasonable, necessary, and in the child’s best interest. When a judge finds that special or private school tuition is reasonable and necessary for the child, the child support guidelines specify that the judge may add the expense of the tuition to the basic child support obligation and order the parents to pay the expense in proportion to their respective incomes. Judges have wide discretion in determining what constitutes an extraordinary expense and whether or not such extraordinary expense is reasonable, necessary, and in a child’s best interest. The expense for elementary or secondary private school tuition can sometimes be as expensive as college tuition. As such, when child support is being determined in cases where the parties’ income falls within the child support guidelines, judges may be reluctant to order parents to pay the tuition expense associated with special or private school unless the child has special educational needs that cannot be met at a public school.

In cases where there is a deviation from the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines, such as if the parents combined adjusted gross incomes exceeds $300,000 per year or the child has special needs, child support is decided on a case-by-case basis with particular emphasis given to the needs and expenses of the parties and the child, as well as the parties’ respective incomes and earning abilities. When the child support guidelines are not being applied, a judge may be more likely to consider the expense of special or private school tuition as a reasonable expense for a child without special educational needs if the child is accustomed to attending private school in accordance with an established standard of living and the parents have the ability to pay such expense on behalf of the child.

Parents have the option of entering into a private contract, such as a separation agreement or child support agreement, whereby they reach an agreement regarding child support that may also include other expenses for their child such as private school tuition. Financial conditions are always subject to change; therefore, agreeing to pay voluntary expenses for a child for years into the future is a commitment that should be given careful consideration.

This article is for information purposes only and is not to be considered or substituted as legal advice. The information in this article is based on North Carolina state laws in effect at the time of posting.

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