Article 9 of Chapter 110 of the North Carolina General Statutes is the North Carolina child support law, passed by the General Assembly in 1975. G.S. 110-133 is the section of that law which creates voluntary support agreements, tailor-made for the purposes of this new law. Although G.S. 110-134 indicates that any filing fees are to be taxed to the responsible parent signing the agreement, nowhere in Chapter 110 or elsewhere in the General Statutes is it specified what this filing fee should be.
A careful reading of G.S. 110-133 in conjunction with Article 28 of Chapter 7A (Uniform Costs and Fees in the Trial Division) and Rule 68.1 of the Rules of Civil Procedure (Confession of Judgment) provides sufficient indication of the proper fee. It is clear that the voluntary support agreement of Chapter 110 is actually a specialized version of a confession of judgment. Before the enactment of the child support law, confessions of judgment were in fact used to voluntarily establish child support orders. Indeed, they continue to be used for this purpose. The language of Rule 68.1 of the Rules of Civil Procedure mentions child support specifically -- "Such judgment may also be entered . . . for support of minor children." Both the voluntary support agreement and the confession of judgment (for child support) have the full force and effect of orders of the court, enforceable by contempt. G.S. 110-133 and G.S. 1A-1, Rule 68.1(e). The confession of judgment is entered "without action;" the voluntary support agreement is "in lieu of . . . any legal proceeding." G.S. 1A-1, Rule 68.1(a); G.S. 110-133. In essence, both orders are substitutes for full legal actions, therefore the language of G.S. 7A-305 (Costs in civil actions) is not applicable.
G.S. 7A-308 (Miscellaneous fees and commissions) specifies that $4.00 is the cost of a confession judgment. The rationale is that $4.00 is more representative of the quantity of clerk services involved, rather than $24.00, the cost of an in-court, civil district action. The voluntary support agreement likewise is an out-of-court substitute for legal action, and should be treated accordingly. Statutes dealing with the same subject matter must be construed in pari materia, and harmonized, if possible to give effect to each. 7 N.C. Index 2d, Statutes § 5. Also, the fact that the child support law is so new has created ambiguity regarding the filing fee. In construing an ambiguous statute, earlier statutes on the subject and the history of legislation in regard thereto, including statutory changes over a period of years, may be considered in connection with the object, purpose, and language of the statute. 7 N.C. Index 2d, Statutes § 5. Accordingly, $4.00 is the most logical filing fee for a voluntary support agreement.
Rufus L. Edmisten Attorney General
William F. Briley Assistant Attorney General