If you're splitting up with your child's other parent (or you were never together), one of your biggest concerns will be whether you'll pay or receive child support—and how much the child support will be. Like all states, Ohio has guidelines that courts or state agencies use to calculate child support and decide which parent will pay.
A few years back, the state made some major changes to the child support guidelines in Ohio law. Those changes affect all support orders established or modified after March 2019. Also, now there's a regular schedule for reviewing and potentially adjusting the support schedules.
The rules in the state's guidelines will apply whether parents agree on child support, a judge sets the amount for them, or Ohio's child support enforcement agency (CSEA) establishes an administrative support order outside of the divorce context. So all Ohio parents who are or might be paying or receiving child support should understand the current rules.
All parents have a legal obligation to support their children. But Ohio law assumes that parents who have the children living with them most of the time ("the primary residential parents") spend their support obligation directly on the kids. So the noncustodial (or nonresidential) parents are typically the ones who pay child support, even when they have shared parenting.
It works differently with split custody arrangements—when parents who have more than one child divide the kids between them. In this situation, the parent with the higher income pays child support, 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.
Here are the basic steps used in calculating each parent's individual child support obligation under Ohio's guidelines. As we explained above, the noncustodial parent typically pays that amount to the resident parent.
You can use the official Ohio Child Support Calculator to get an estimate of the amount of child support you will either owe or receive. The calculator includes the main adjustments allowed in Ohio law. But if you want accurate results, you should understand what goes into the numbers, so that you can gather all the necessary information ahead of time.
Also, be aware that the actual child support order in your case could be different than the amount calculated under the guidelines (more on that below).
To use the guidelines, you need to know both parents' incomes for the past three years. Regardless of whether it's taxable, all earned and unearned income in a calendar year counts, including:
Some of the items that are not included in income:
(Ohio Rev. Code § 3119.01(C)(12) (2022).)
Ohio law allows certain adjustments to income for the purpose of calculating child support, such as:
(Ohio Rev. Code §§ 3119.05(B), (C), 3119.30 (2022).)
Unfortunately some parents try to avoid paying child support by quitting their jobs or working less than they could. Ohio law has a way of dealing with those parents. When a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, the child support calculation may include "imputed" income—basically, the amount that parent should be earning in light of things like education, training, experience, and the local job market. Imputed income may also be used in the calculation for any parent who refuses to provide financial information.
But imputed income won't usually be included in some situations, such as when a parent:
(Ohio Rev. Code §§ 3119.01(C)(17), 3119.05(I), (J) (2022).)
Ohio's child support chart shows only the basic child support obligation based on the parents' adjusted incomes. That basic obligation may be adjusted for various reasons, including:
As a general rule, Ohio sets a minimum of $80 a month for all the children covered by a child support order. However, an order could be for less than that minimum—or even for zero dollars—in appropriate circumstances, such as when a noncustodial parent has a physical or mental disability. (Ohio Rev. Code § 3119.06 (2022).)
In addition to basic child support, Ohio parents will also be required to pay the following for their children:
If the amount of child support that's calculated under Ohio's guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate—and therefore not in the child's best interests—a judge may order a different amount of support. (Ohio Rev. Code § 3119.22 (2022).)
When judges are deciding whether to order an amount of support that's different than the guidelines calculation, they may consider any relevant factors, including:
(Ohio Rev. Code § 3119.23 (2022).)
Ohio parents may—and often do—agree between themselves on the amount of child support one of them will pay. But a judge must review and approve their agreement before making it a formal support order. And judges won't approve these agreements unless they meet the requirements in the child support guidelines. That means that if parents agree on an amount that's lower than what would be calculated under the guidelines, they'll need to justify the amount as being in the child's best interests.
Either parent may request a change (modification) in the amount of child support. The judge will modify support if there was a substantial change of circumstances since the order was established or last modified. When a recalculation of support under the current schedule and guidelines results in an amount that's at least 10% higher or lower than the existing support order, that will qualify as a substantial change of circumstances. (Ohio Rev. Code § 3119.79 (2022).)
You may request an administrative review of your child support order if it's been 36 months since it was issued or last modified, or if you qualify for a review based on certain changed circumstances. If the CSEA conducts a review and neither parent objects to its recommendation, the agency will forward the recommendation and supporting documentation to the court that issued the order. The judge will usually make the recommended changes and modify the support order. (If the existing order was established by the CSEA rather than ordered by the court, the agency will simply make the adjustments itself to the order.)
If either parent requests it, the judge must hold a hearing to decide whether the child support order should be modified and whether the revised amount recommended by the CSEA is appropriate. (Ohio Rev. Code §§ 3119.64, 3119.66 (2022).)
Child support orders in Ohio may end for a number of reasons, including when:
(Ohio Rev. Code § 3119.88 (2020).)
If you're seeking child support when your marriage is ending, you'll simply make the request when you file for divorce or dissolution in Ohio. You may also apply for temporary child support while your case is proceeding.
When you aren't married to your child's other parent, you may ask your local CSEA for child support services. The agency will need to establish the child's legal paternity before it can establish an administrative support order.
The agency may also help with enforcing child support in Ohio.
The Child Support Guideline Manual, from the Office of Child Support in the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, gives all the details on exactly how courts and agencies fill in the worksheets to calculate child support.