Koufman v. Koufman, 330 N.C. 93, 408 S.E.2d 729 (NC 1991)
Child support orders are modifiable in North Carolina when there is a substantial change in circumstances. But what happens when your child moves to a school away from home, such as a boarding school or preparatory academy? These institutions have dormitories where students live for most of the school year. They get breaks for holidays and summer. Tuition covers most of their living expenses. Below we discuss how the Court analyzed the expenses.
- Facts: Plaintiff and Defendant had two children. A child support order had been entered that required Defendant to pay plaintiff $3,333 a month. Defendant reduced that amount when the oldest child enrolled in a new private boarding school. Plaintiff filed for contempt and show cause. Defendant moved for a modification of child support. At the eventual hearing for the modification, the trial court found that it was in the oldest child’s best interest to continue attending the boarding school, and that the child support be reduced to $1,700 per month. Plaintiff appealed.
- Issue: Did the trial err modifying the child support?
- Rationale: The North Carolina Supreme Court held that the child’s enrollment in a boarding school was a substantial change in the household circumstances that warranted a modification. Because the child was no longer residing with Plaintiff in the home for the majority of the year, only roughly 71 days, some of the household expenses must have decreased, such as food, maintenance, electricity, and recreation. The trial court based their reductions on evidence and affidavits filed by the parties. Each reduction was properly considered, and the Court held that the modification was proper.
- Lessons and Observations:
- New enrollment into a boarding school, or other long-term schooling with housing provided, is very likely a change in circumstances that would allow a motion to modify the child support.
- This case was decided in 1991, based on child support laws that did not require the use of guidelines and worksheets that our current laws require. There are inputs on the worksheets for extraordinary expenses such as a special boarding school. However, it may be wiser to request a deviation from the guidelines simply because of the complexity of a case involving boarding schools.
- If you request a modification, evidence must be entered to support the contention that household expenses have been changed due to the enrollment. Most times, courts use evidence of historical expenses, so finding adequate facts may not be feasible until the child has been in boarding school for enough time to calculate what the new expenses are.