Both parents have a continuing duty to support their children after a separation or divorce. While most parents have no problem with this obligation, some fall behind on child support or simply stop paying. As a result, many children lose out on the financial support they need to thrive.
This article will explain how child support is enforced and overdue payments are collected in Ohio. If you still have questions about child support enforcement, you should contact a local family law attorney for help.
Both parents have an ongoing duty to provide financial support for their children, whether they are married to one another or not. When a couple separates or divorces, one parent will usually be obligated to make support payments to the other parent.
In Ohio, courts use child support guidelines to determine the appropriate amount of support. These guidelines take into account both parents' incomes and the number of children they must support. For more information on how child support is set, see Child Support in Ohio.
Parents can agree on a child support amount in a written separation agreement or divorce settlement agreement, but they must be sure to make this agreement official by converting it into a court order so that the child support obligation may be enforced at a later date. A judge can't hold a non-custodial parent in "contempt of court" (see below) for violating a written agreement with his or her ex. But a judge can hold a parent in contempt if he or she has ignored a court order to pay support.
When there is no agreement, parents seeking child support can represent themselves (or hire an attorney) and ask a judge to set an appropriate amount and issue a child support order. Alternatively, parents can ask their local child support enforcement agency to open a case and seek a support order on behalf of their child(ren). Check the Ohio Office of Child Support website for more information on various services offered to parents seeking child support.
If the parent ordered to pay child support, (sometimes called the "non-custodial" or "paying parent") fails to make payments, the parent receiving support (the "custodial" or "receiving parent") can request that the non-custodial parent be held in "contempt of court," which basically means a judge will punish the non-custodial parent for violating the court's original order to pay.
A contempt finding is serious as it can result in fines and even jail time. The length of the sentence or amount of the fine will depend on the specific circumstances of the case, including any previous contempt findings.
The custodial parent must file a "motion" (written legal request) asking a judge to order the now delinquent, non-custodial parent to appear in court and explain why he or she hasn't paid. Both parents have the right to an attorney, but many courts have motion forms available on their websites for those parents who want to represent themselves.
Support contempt is a civil action, but is unlike other debt collection matters, because it carries with it a potential jail sentence. If a parent is held in contempt, he or she may receive jail time, which typically lasts between 30 to 90 days. The parent may also be fined or ordered to complete community service instead of jail time. The purpose of the sentence is to encourage payment, so the delinquent parent can get out of jail by paying an agreed-upon amount of his or her support obligation, usually in one lump sum.
Each county in Ohio has its own Child Support Enforcement Agency (CSEA). (Many county CSEAs have their own websites, which are fairly easy to find by running an internet search using "your county and state name and CSEA.")
CSEA provides a variety of services, including:
If a non-custodial parent fails to pay court-ordered child support on time, the custodial parent can ask CSEA for help. Most child support payments are made through the local CSEA instead of directly to the other parent, so CSEA is usually aware when payments are late. In Ohio, CSEA will intervene when payments fall at least one month behind.
Ohio CSEAs also handle cases under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act ("UIFSA") when the non-custodial parent lives in Ohio and the custodial parent lives in another state. CSEA can establish a support order and enforce payment, so that child support can be sent to the custodial parent in another state.
CSEA can use the following enforcement methods to encourage parents to pay child support:
The most serious cases of non-payment are sometimes referred to the local county's Criminal Non-Support Units. Ohio law provides criminal penalties for parents who fail to pay support for more than 26 out of 104 weeks, or who owe "arrearages" (overdue child support payments) in excess of $5,000. Special prosecutors handle these matters, and extensive non-payment of support is considered a felony.
Federal law also requires Ohio CSEAs to pursue criminal non-support matters when support is unpaid for at least a year, the arrearages exceed $5,000, and the non-custodial parent and child live in different states. While only a misdemeanor, sentencing may include up to six months in jail, fines and restitution (payment) of the overdue child support.
You can locate the support enforcement agency in your county by visiting the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services website at http://jfs.ohio.gov/ocs/ and clicking on "County CSEA Directory."