Ohio child support can be complicated, but the courts follow specific guidelines when determining the amount of support and which parent should pay. It is a child's right to receive support from both parents. Generally, however, only the noncustodial parent makes payments. The custodial parent (sometimes called the residential parent) remains responsible for child support too, but the law assumes that this parent spends the required amount directly on the child.
Where parents split custody—meaning the parents divide the kids between them (mom takes the older child while dad has the younger child, for example), it works differently. In that case, the parent with the higher income is the one who makes payments, but only at a rate that makes up the difference between what each parent must provide. Child support is not a punishment for making more money; it simply protects the children's standard of living with each of the parents.
You can estimate a basic amount of child support by using Ohio's child support guidelines. The guidelines are a fee schedule based on the combined income of both parents and the number of children to support. A court may adjust the guideline amount up or down if doing so would be in the child's best interest. Also, one or both parents must cover the cost of the child's health insurance.
To use the guidelines, you need to know both parents' incomes for the past three years. For child support purposes, income is all earned and unearned income during a calendar year, regardless of whether it is taxable. It includes your salary, wages, commissions, overtime pay, and sometimes bonuses, too. Additionally, it is any royalties, tips, rents, dividends, severance pay, and pensions, among other things. (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 3119.01 (C)(12).)
Although you can exclude some benefits, like means-tested assistance, for example, chances are you still have income even if you are unemployed. For child support purposes, you must include workers' compensation, unemployment, or disability benefits. Also, a court or state agency could impute income – meaning, assign an amount – to a parent who voluntarily works less or not at all, unless that parent has a good reason for doing so. (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 3119.01 (C)(a).)
Once you have both parents' gross income, you make deductions to determine the adjusted income for each. Deductions include items like spousal support paid, union dues, and state and federal income taxes.
Typically, child support covers a child's basic needs—like clothes, food, shelter, educational fees, transportation costs, entertainment, and childcare. Additionally, the court will include coverage for the child's ordinary and reasonable medical expenses but will also make a separate order detailing which parent should pay the costs of extraordinary medical and dental expenses. The court will typically order both parents to share the cost, but the parent earning a higher wage will usually be responsible for a higher percentage of the costs.
Even though a court must presume that the amount of child support given by the guidelines is appropriate, that doesn't mean you can't ask the court – before a child support order is in place – to change the amount based on your child's best interest. A judge decides whether to deviate from the guidelines based on the following factors:
Only where the parents have a shared-parenting order can a judge choose to deviate from the guidelines based on the factors above or because of the parents' extraordinary circumstances. Extraordinary circumstances include the amount of time children spend with each parent, the ability of each parent to maintain adequate housing, each parent's expenses—such as childcare expenses, school tuition, medical and dental costs, and anything else that is relevant.
Once a child support order is in place, you can still ask a court to modify (change) it. If it has been 36 months since the court issued (or modified) the order, you can ask your local Child Support Enforcement Agency for an administrative review. A caseworker will check both parents' current income to recalculate the amount of support based on the guidelines.
If it has been fewer than 36 months, you can still request an administrative review if the order does not account for the child's health insurance or because of specific changes in circumstances. For a list of justifiable reasons, see the Ohio Department of Job and Family, Office of Child Support information page titled Change to a Child Support Order.
In Ohio, both parents have a duty to support their child (or children) until the child reaches 18, or perhaps longer if the child is still in high school, has a physical or mental disability, or if the parents agree to support the child for an extended time.
Learn about how to enforce your child support order in our article Child Support Enforcement in Ohio.
You can find Ohio's Child Support Guidelines and other helpful tools on the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services website.
If you would like to read the law on child support, see Chapter 3119 of the Ohio Revised Code.