Imputing Income for Child Support in Ohio

A look at the process of imputing income in Ohio and how it impacts child support

Introduction

“Who’s going to pay for the kids?” It’s a question sure to sow the seeds of discord in any couple going through a break-up or a divorce.

Yet the question must be resolved. The law requires both parents to provide financial support for their children, but generally speaking, one parent (“the paying parent”) will wind up paying more child support to the other parent (“the receiving parent”) because of different earning levels.

Sometimes paying parents are so emotionally wounded by the break-up, that they avoid paying child support to get even with the other parent. But withholding child support only hurts the children. Child support belongs to the children and has to be used to pay their expenses. The receiving parent simply acts as a collection agent.

When paying parents don't work hard enough or don't pay any child support at all, the courts may respond by imputing income to them. This means that the court will issue a child support order that assumes paying parents are earning a certain amount of money, even when they really aren't.

This article will explain when and how courts impute income for child support purposes in Ohio. If you still have questions after reading this article, you should contact an experienced family law attorney for help.

What Do I Need to Know About an Ohio Child Support Order?

Ohio is a guidelines child support state. The court will calculate each parent’s gross income over the last three years. Gross income is all income a parent makes, regardless of the source. Gross income doesn’t include taxes or allowable deductions like union dues or retirement payments. It includes wages and salaries, unemployment and disability payments, and worker’s compensation, among other things. It doesn’t include public assistance.

Each parent must substantiate income by providing the judge with documentation such as pay stubs and tax returns. Based on each parent’s gross income and the amount of time spent with the child, the court will apply a mathematical formula and each parent will pay a percentage of the child's basic cash support, insurance, child care, and medical expenses.

The guidelines apply to all cases, so if you think the amount is unfair you have to ask the judge to change it. You’ll need to give the judge information about the following factors so the court can decide whether to grant your request:

  • any special or unusual needs the children may have
  • any extraordinary obligations a parent might have for underage children or handicapped children who aren’t stepchildren and are the product of another relationship
  • other court-ordered payments
  • any extended parenting time (visitation) or costs associated with parenting time
  • whether the paying parent obtained additional employment to support a second family
  • the child’s financial resources and earning ability
  • the difference in income between the paying parent’s household and the receiving parent’s household
  • the benefits that either parent received as the result of a remarriage or shared living expenses with another person
  • the amount of federal, state, and local taxes either parent has to pay
  • special contributions each parent makes for lessons, sports equipment, schooling, and clothing
  • the standard of living the child would have enjoyed if the parents were still together
  • the physical and emotional condition and needs of the child
  • the child’s need and capacity for education, and any educational opportunities that the child would have had if the parents had stayed together
  • the responsibility of each parent to support other people, and
  • any other relevant factor.

For more information about what's included in adjusted gross income and how child support is calculated in Ohio, please see Child Support in Ohio (Nolo).

What if the court issued a guidelines child support order, but things have changed and you need more or less money? You have two options. First, if 36 months have passed, you can go to your local Child Support Enforcement Agency and ask for an administrative review. Second, if less than 36 months have passed, you can still ask for an administrative review provided that there’s been a change of circumstances or the existing order doesn’t account for the child’s health insurance costs.

What If the Paying Parent Claims to Have no Income or Stops Working?

Paying parents who are non-compliant with child support orders usually try to avoid their responsibilities in one of two ways:

  • The paying parent voluntarily becomes unemployed. For example, paying parents might quit their jobs altogether or intentionally perform so badly that they’re fired.
  • The paying parent voluntarily becomes "underemployed." Underemployment means that the paying parent isn't working the usual amount of hours or earning pay at the regular rate. This usually happens because the paying parent asks for fewer hours or accepts a lower-paying job with less responsibility.

When parents are voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, judges will impute income to the paying parent. This means that the child support order will say that the paying parent earned a certain amount of money, regardless of what was actually earned.

But what if a paying parent is involuntarily unemployed or involuntarily underemployed? For example, what if hard-working parents become disabled or are laid off through no fault of their own? In these cases, the court makes sure that the unemployment or underemployment is truly involuntary. As long the parent's earning power hasn't diminished because of their own bad choices, the court won't impute income.

What is Imputed Income?

When the court computes the income that a paying parent could and should have been earning and includes it in a child support order, the court is "imputing" income to the paying parent. It doesn't matter that the parent hasn't actually earned the imputed amount. The judge believes that the parent is capable of paying child support and should have had earned money in the imputed amount.

In Ohio, judges use the following factors to determine how much income would have been earned if the paying parent had worked full-time instead of being voluntarily unemployed or underemployed:

  • the parent’s prior employment experience
  • the parent’s education
  • the parent’s physical and mental disabilities, if any
  • the availability of employment in the parent’s geographic area
  • the wage and salary levels in the parent’s geographic area
  • the parent’s special skills and training
  • whether there is evidence that the parent has the ability to earn the imputed income
  • the age and special needs of the child
  • the parent’s increased earning capacity because of experience
  • the parent’s decreased earning capacity because of a felony conviction, and
  • any other relevant factor.

If a paying parent is voluntarily unemployed, the parent’s total income will be imputed. If a paying parent is voluntarily underemployed, total income will be computed by adding what the parent actually earned to the additional amount the parent could have earned.

Ohio law forbids the court to impute income when it would be unjust, unfair, or not in the child’s best interests. Specifically, a parent can’t be found to be voluntarily unemployed or underemployed if:

  • the parent is receiving means-tested public assistance benefits, or
  • the parent is incarcerated in a prison for at least 12 months and has no other available assets, unless the parent is being imprisoned for an offense relating to the abuse or neglect of the child.

Resources

Check both the websites for the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services, Office of Child Support and Ohio Legal Services for additional information.

For the full text of the statutes that address these issues, see the following:

Ohio Rev. Code § 3119.01

Ohio Rev. Code § 3119.05

Ohio Rev. Code § 3119.23

Ohio Adm. Code 5101:12 (Child Support)

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