Madar v. Madar, No.COA20-28 (Dec. 2020).
In North Carolina, court ordered child support can only be modified by further order of the court. Before modification is allowed, the court must find that there has been a substantial change in circumstances that warrant the modification. There is an automatic presumption built into the guidelines that allows modification after three years since the initial order, and a difference between old support payment and new payment of 15%. You can still move to modify before waiting the three years, but the court must make the finding for changed circumstances. Income is inherently intertwined with child support, and below is a case that basically explains the need to make a connection between a parent’s income and the child.
- Facts: Mother and Father had three children. They had a custody order in which Father paid mother $1300 a month for child support for the three children. One child turned 18, and Father ceased paying support for that child. Mother filed a motion to modify, seeking increased child support. After a hearing, the trial court granted the modification and ordered Father to pay $1766 a month. The trial court learned that Father’s income had substantially increased since the previous order, that the guidelines were not used to calculate his support, and that the needs of the remaining minor children have increased since the original order. These were the base findings for a substantial change in circumstances.
- Issue: Was a finding of a substantial change in circumstances an error on the part of the court?
- Holding: Yes
- Rationale: First, a child turning 18 is not the entire inquiry. Child support is terminated when a child turns 18 and when they graduate high school. Second, the nonuse of the most current guidelines is also not a finding that shows a changed circumstance. Third, a conclusory statement that the children’s needs have increased, without further facts related to their needs, is not sufficient to show changed circumstances. Finally, the sole fact that the Father’s income has increased since the previous order was also insufficient. Modification based on only the fact that one parent’s income had increased is improper.
- Lessons and Observations:
- At the time of this case, there was a presumption within the guidelines that allowed modification if three years had passed, and the difference between payment then and payment now is more than 15%. This presumption inherently considers income, since a major component of guideline support is based upon the income of the parties. Accordingly, the increase and decrease in income after three years is often at play in these presumptive modifications. It would therefore seem that the purpose of the presumption is acknowledging that financial situations fluctuate over time, and that presumptively affects the welfare of the child. So, why in this case was that presumption not the proper avenue for modification? Could it be that since this case was nonguideline, that the guideline presumption was inapplicable?