In Ohio, parental child support obligations when a couple divorces depend on what percentage each spouse contributes to the couple's total income. Below, you'll find answers to some frequently asked questions about child support determinations in Ohio.
For all of our articles on divorce in Ohio, see our Ohio Divorce and Family Law page.
Who has the duty to pay child support?
According to Ohio law, a biological parent of a child, a man determined to be the natural father of a child pursuant to law, an adoptive parent, a parent who acknowledged paternity on a child's birth certificate or a parent who acknowledged paternity in probate court has a duty to pay child support. This is in addition to the parental duty of support imposed on married people by Ohio law.
How long does the duty to pay child support last?
In general, the obligation continues until the child reaches the age of 18 or is otherwise emancipated before reaching the age of 18 (because the child is married, is living on his/her own, and so on). However, the obligation will continue beyond the age of 18 as long as the child continuously attends a recognized and accredited high school on a full time basis. A parent's duty to pay child support may continue beyond the age of 18 for a child with a physical or mental disability who is unable to support him/herself.
How is child support determined?
In all cases in which child support is ordered or modified, the court is legally required to calculate the amount of support in accordance with current child support guidelines established by the Ohio Supreme Court. The court must use specific worksheets to calculate the child support obligation. The child support guideline schedules are presumed to be the proper amount of child support to be paid unless the court finds that both of the following are true:
- after the court considers certain statutory facts and criteria that allow the court to deviate from the guideline amounts, the court determines that the guideline amount is unjust, inappropriate, and would not be in the best interests of the child, and
- the court, after entering the amount of the child support calculated pursuant to the guidelines, then issues specific findings of fact to support the determination that the amount would be unjust, inappropriate, and not in the best interests of the child.
How does the court determine a parent's income for child support purposes?
A parent's gross income is the total of all earned and unearned income from all sources during a calendar year, whether or not the income is taxable. It includes, but is not limited to:
- income from salaries, wages, overtime pay and bonuses
- commissions, royalties, tips, rents, dividends, severance pay, pensions, interest, trust income, and annuities
- social security benefits, including disability, retirement, and survivor benefits that are not means-tested
- workers' compensation benefits, unemployment insurance benefits, and disability insurance benefits
- benefits received by and in the possession of the veteran who is the beneficiary for any service-connected disability under a program or law administered by the United States department of veterans' affairs or veterans' administration
- spousal support actually received from a person not a party to the support proceeding for which actual gross income is being determined, and
- all other sources of income.
Gross income also includes income of members of any branch of the United States armed services or national guard, including, but not limited to, amounts representing base pay, basic allowance for quarters, basic allowance for subsistence, supplemental subsistence allowance, cost of living adjustment, specialty pay, variable housing allowance, and pay for training or other types of required drills; self-generated income ("self-generated income" means gross receipts received by a parent from self-employment, proprietorship of a business, joint ownership of a partnership or closely held corporation, and rents minus ordinary and necessary expenses incurred by the parent in generating the gross receipts); and potential cash flow from any source.
"Gross income" does not include:
- benefits received from means-tested public assistance programs, such as aid to families with dependent children, supplemental security income, food stamps, or disability assistance
- benefits for any service-connected disability under a program or law administered by the United States department of veterans' affairs or veterans' administration that have not been distributed to the veteran who is the beneficiary of the benefits and that are in the possession of the United States department of veterans' affairs or veterans' administration
- child support received for children who were not born or adopted during the marriage at issue
- amounts paid for mandatory deductions from wages other than taxes, social security, or retirement in lieu of social security, including, but not limited to, union dues, and
- nonrecurring or unsustainable income or cash flow items.
What if a parent quits a job or refuses to get one?
If a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, the court must calculate that parent's "potential income." Potential income" means imputed income that the court determines the parent would have earned if fully employed, as determined from the parent's employment potential and probable earnings based on the parent's recent work history, the parent's occupational qualifications, and the prevailing job opportunities and salary levels in the community in which the parent resides. It also includes income imputed from any non-income-producing assets of a parent, as determined from the local passbook savings rate or another appropriate rate as determined by the court, if the income is significant. The court then adds this amount to the parent's actual income to come up with the income figure to be used in calculating child support.
Can the amount of child support be modified later?
Child support is always modifiable if a material change in the circumstances of the child or the parent occurs not contemplated when the last order was issued. The court must decide if a change in circumstances exists and, if so, the court must determine the proper amount of the new support order. A material change includes a change in the needs of the child. When considering a motion for modification of child support, the court must recalculate the amount of support using the child support worksheet and the child support guidelines. If the recalculated amount is more than 10% greater or less than the amount of child support required under the existing child support order, this fact constitutes a change of circumstance that is substantial enough to require a modification of the amount of the child support order.
What about medical expenses and health insurance for the child?
In addition to child support orders, the court is required to order that one or both parents provide for the health care needs of the child. Either parent or both may be required to pay any amounts not covered by insurance.
The expected cost of ordinary and reasonable medical and dental expenses are already built in to the child support guidelines. The court will make a separate order with regard to who must pay the costs of extraordinary medical and dental expenses. The court may order one or both of the parents to pay the extraordinary medical and dental expenses, using a formula established by the court (in relation to the incomes of the parents).
How does the court assure payment of child support?
If the court has ordered child support, a "withholding order" must be made. A withholding order can be of several types, including an order requiring the employer of the person obligated to pay child support (the "obligor") to withhold the ordered amount from the paycheck of the obligor and to pay that amount directly to the bureau of support. The employer is then also required to notify the bureau of support of any benefit the obligor is to receive (including worker's compensation, severance pay, sick leave, bonuses, profit sharing, etc.) and any lump-sum payment of any kind that is $500 or more. If the employer fails to comply with the withholding order, the employer is liable for any support payment not made.
If the obligor is self-employed or unemployed, the court may issue an order requiring the obligor to post a cash bond with the court. The bond is intended to guarantee that the obligor makes payments as ordered and will pay any arrearages under any prior support order that pertained to the same child or spouse.
If the court determines that the obligor is receiving workers' compensation payments, the court may require the bureau of workers' compensation to withhold a specified amount for support in satisfaction of the support order.
Similarly, if the obligor is receiving retirement benefits, the court may require the entity paying the benefits to withhold from the obligor's pension benefits a specified amount for support in satisfaction of the support order.
What if a parent doesn't make his or her child support payments?
Initially, if a person fails to make his/her child support payments as ordered, the court can find that person in contempt of court. If found in contempt, the obligor can be ordered to pay the costs of the contempt hearing, including attorney fees. and can be ordered to jail under certain circumstances. If the obligor continually fails to pay child support (or spousal support), that parent can be charged criminally with penalties, including prison time.