Parents owe their biological or adopted children a legal duty of support. This means they must financially support their child. A support order has several components:
- An order to pay a monetary amount of support,
- An order to carry accessible private health insurance if the cost is reasonable,
- An order to pay cash medical support if accessible private health insurance is not available at a reasonable cost,
- An order to pay health care expenses that are not covered or reimbursed by insurance and are not covered by cash medical support, and
- An allocation of the right to claim the federal dependency exemption when filing taxes.
A support order can be established two ways, administratively or judicially.
The Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court has jurisdiction over the support orders of children whose parents’ marriage has terminated or is in the process of being terminated.
Child support orders are set according to the “Ohio Child Support Guidelines” set forth in Ohio Revised Code §3119.01-3119.27. The Guidelines are legislation passed by the Ohio General Assembly in response to federal law. The use of these guidelines is mandatory for the establishment or modification of all Ohio child support orders.
Child support is computed using a Child Support Computation Worksheets and tables that set forth the economic cost of raising children known as the “Basic Child Support Schedule” and the “Cash Medical Support Schedule.” The basic cost of raising children, work-and-education-related childcare costs, and the cost of providing health insurance for the children are factored into the computation. The amount computed according to the Worksheet is presumed to be the correct amount.
Under appropriate circumstances the Court may “deviate” from the “presumed” correct amount. The burden of proving why a deviation is appropriate rests on the parent seeking the deviation. The Court, but not the CSEA, has the power to deviate from the amount computed on the worksheet. The reasons why the Court may deviate from the statutorily computed amount are stated in Ohio Revised Code §3119.23. The amount of the deviation the Court grants, if there is a valid reason to deviate, depends on the particular facts and circumstances of the case.
All support orders must include medical support. Major changes were made in child support law in July 2008 that require the Court and the CSEA to order a parent to purchase health insurance to cover the children if the insurance is:
- private (not publicly funded)
- primary care services provided through the insurance are accessible to the child, and
- the cost is reasonable to the parent ordered to purchase it.
"Accessible" means primary care services are available within 30 miles of the residence of the child. Health insurance is also considered accessible if residents in the immediate geographic area customarily travel farther than 30 miles for primary care services or primary care services are only available to the children by public transportation.
The cost is considered reasonable if the contributing cost to the parent who will be ordered to carry coverage does not exceed 5% of the person’s annual gross income. If the cost does exceed 5%, the Court may still order a parent or both parents to buy coverage if one parent asks to carry the higher cost coverage, both parties agree that one or both should carry the higher cost coverage, or if the Court decides it is in the best interest of the children and will not cause undue financial hardship to the person.
If there is no private health insurance the Court will require the parent paying child support to pay an additional amount, called “cash medical support”, in addition to child support.
The parents may agree who should claim the federal tax dependency exemption. If the parents cannot agree, the Court will award the dependency exemption to the parent such that the child’s best interest is furthered.
A child support order can be modified if the parent requesting the modification can demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances has occurred since the order was established or last modified.
Once a support order is made, the case is open for collection. Child support cases remain open until the children are emancipated and arrearages that may have accrued are paid.
The Cuyahoga Support Enforcement Agency
(CSEA) is the administrative agency responsible for monitoring, collecting and distributing child support payments. Each support case is assigned a number under Ohio’s statewide Support Enforcement Tracking System (SETS). Payments must be made to Ohio Child Support Payment Central (“OCSPC”), a centralized processing center in Columbus, Ohio.
State law requires that the parent ordered to pay support secure the obligation. The most common and preferred method of securing collection is by mandatory income withholding from the parent’s paycheck or other income source. A parent may also be required to fund a bank account from which deductions can be regularly made, to post a cash bond, or to seek work and report employment efforts to the CSEA.
If these methods are ineffective, a variety of enforcement mechanisms are available to the CSEA, without a court order. If the CSEA determines that the person paying support is in default the CSEA can:
- Intercept a federal and state tax refund
- Attach a lump sum payment due to be paid
- Suspend driver’s license (including commercial license), professional license, or recreational license
- Seize a financial account
- Place a lien on real or personal property
- Report delinquency to a credit bureau
- Publish a delinquent parent’s name and picture on a “Wanted” poster
- Notify the United States Department not to issue or renew a passport.
The Domestic Relations Court has the power to find a parent who does not obey its order to pay support in contempt of court upon motion filed by a party. Under Ohio Revised Code §2705.05 the penalties are:
- A fine of up to $250 and a jail sentence of up to 30 days for a first offense
- A fine of up to $500 and a jail sentence of up to 60 days for a second offense
- A fine of up to $1,000 and a jail sentence of up to 90 days for a third or subsequent offense.
Domestic Relations Local Rule 20 sets forth the Court’s requirements when filing non-support motions.
Severe cases of nonpayment may be referred by the CSEA to the Office of the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor for charges of criminal non-support.