An unpublished opinion of the North Carolina Court of Appeals does not constitute controlling legal authority. Citation is disfavored, but may be permitted in accordance with the provisions of Rule 30(e)(3) of the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Proced ure.

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NO. COA03-721


Filed: 1 June 2004



v .                         Rockingham County
                            No. 97 CVD 227


    Appeal by defendant from order entered 25 November 2002 by Judge Richard W. Stone in District Court, Rockingham County. Heard in the Court of Appeals 18 May 2004.

    No brief filed for plaintiff appellee.

    The Berger Law Firm, by Philip E. Berger, Jr., for defendant appellant.

    WYNN, Judge.

    Defendant Pamela Evans Billings appeals from an order of the trial court concluding the orthodontic treatment received by her child was not medically necessary, and that the child's father, Plaintiff Robert Billings, Jr., was therefore not obligated under the parties' child support order to reimburse Defendant for the orthodontic expenses. We conclude Defendant presented substantial evidence that the orthodontic treatment was medically necessary; accordingly, we reverse the order of the trial court.
    This matter arose following a motion by Defendant requestingreimbursement of “uninsured medical and orthodontic/dental expenses for the parties' children.” She alleged the child support order required Plaintiff to pay one-half of all “uninsured medical expenses.” The matter came for hearing on 18 November 2002, at which time the parties presented evidence tending to show the following:
    Defendant testified she consulted an orthodontist regarding her twelve-year-old daughter Ashley because Ashley's “eyeteeth were up here pushing her top lip up and her teeth were too crowded. They were bowed out, and she was biting her jaw.” Defendant introduced into evidence a letter from the orthodontist describing Ashley's condition as “maxillary protrusion, maxillary and mandibular crowding, deep bite, with the extraction of 4 teeth.” The letter averred that “Ashley's treatment is necessary for the straightening of her teeth and also her overall dental health for years to come.” When Defendant consulted with Plaintiff concerning the cost of Ashley's treatment, Plaintiff informed her that his insurance did not include coverage for braces, and that he did not have the funds to contribute to payment for her treatment.
    Ashley testified that, before she began wearing braces, she “bit [her] jaw a lot,” which caused constant “sores in the sides of [her] mouth.” According to Ashley, she did not want braces, but her “doctor told [her] that [she] needed to get them” and that “they were necessary because . . . [her] jaws kept getting sore and it was . . . constantly pushing these teeth up higher.” When asked whether her condition caused any disfigurement to her face, Ashleyresponded that her “lips were being pushed up” due to the placement of her eyeteeth.
    Plaintiff testified that, when Defendant consulted with him regarding Ashley's treatment, he “told her [he] couldn't afford it right at the time because [he] was already having financial trouble.” Plaintiff felt Ashley did not need braces, and “just figured she just wanted them.” Plaintiff agreed that the child support order required him to reimburse Defendant for one half of the expenses associated with extracting Ashley's teeth.
    Upon conclusion of the evidence, the trial court found that “a voluntary support order was entered in this action requiring the father to pay child support in the amount of $175 per week plus one half of all 'uninsured medical expenses.'” The trial court stated that
        [a] child's orthodontic treatment may come within the term “medical expenses” as used in a support order. However, since a large percentage of such orthodontic treatment is done for cosmetic reasons, the primary question is whether or not the orthodontic treatment of the child is reasonably necessary for her health and is the proper treatment.

The trial court concluded Defendant had “failed to show that the orthodontic treatment rendered in this case is medically necessary” and denied Defendant's motion for payment of orthodontic expenses. Defendant appealed.
    The issue on appeal is whether Defendant presented sufficient evidence that her daughter's orthodontic treatment qualified as an“uninsured medical expense” under the terms of the child support order. We hold the trial court erred in concluding that Defendant failed to show that the orthodontic treatment was medically necessary, rather than cosmetic, and we therefore reverse the decision of the trial court.
    A trial court may require “a parent of a minor child or other responsible party to provide medical support for the child, or the parties may enter into a written agreement regarding medical support for the child.” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-13.11(a) (2003). Such an agreement may require “one or both parties to pay the medical, hospital, dental, or other health care related expenses.” Id. Under North Carolina's Child Support Guidelines, the “court may order that uninsured medical or dental expenses in excess of $100 per year or other uninsured health care costs (including reasonable and necessary costs related to orthodontia, dental care . . . ) be paid by the parents in proportion to their respective incomes.”
    Here, the trial court found that Plaintiff agreed to pay “one half of the uninsured medical expenses” for his daughter. The trial court concluded that, although the term “medical expenses” included necessary orthodontic treatment, Defendant failed to present sufficient evidence that her treatment was medically necessary rather than cosmetic. We disagree.
    Defendant presented substantial evidence that Ashley's orthodontic treatment was reasonable and medically necessary. The letter from the office of her treating orthodontist stated that thebraces were “necessary for the straightening of her teeth and also her overall dental health for years to come.” The orthodontist informed Ashley that the braces were required to prevent the persistent soreness in her jaw and to prevent further elevation and displacement of her eyeteeth. Defendant and Ashley testified the misalignment of her teeth caused her to repeatedly bite her jaw, causing “constant sores” inside her mouth. Plaintiff presented no evidence that the treatment was for cosmetic purposes, other than his unsupported opinion that Ashley “just wanted” rather than needed braces. Plaintiff agreed that the child support order required him to pay one half of the costs arising from the extraction of four of Ashley's teeth.
    Defendant presented substantial evidence that Ashley's orthodontic treatment was undertaken for the good of her health, rather than mere cosmetic purposes. The trial court's findings and conclusions to the contrary are unsupported by the evidence presented at trial. We therefore reverse the order of the trial court.
    Judges CALABRIA and STEELMAN concur.
    Report per Rule 30(e).

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