Changes in income, cost of living, and family structure have taken place in the last quarter century but Ohio’s Child Support Guidelines have not kept pace with changing times. HB 366, effective March 28, 2019, addresses persistent issues unresolved since 1987. The new law is a breakthrough in ensuring child support orders adequately provide for the economic needs of children consistent with a parent’s ability to pay. This article summarizes these important changes.
Basic Child Support Schedule (R.C. 3119.021)
Ohio’s income shares model now incorporates a more modern child rearing methodology and recent economic data to accurately reflect the cost of raising a child. The new methodology, Betson-Rothbarth 4, developed in 2011, utilizes Consumer Expenditure Survey data from 2004-2009 updated to current price levels. The old methodology relied on data collected in the early 1980s and contained a flaw that negatively affected low-income obligors.
A new Basic Child Support Schedule covers combined incomes from $8,400 to $336,000. Families with combined income in the $32,000-$105,000 range are likely to experience an increase in support but changes in the way costs like health insurance and child care are handled may temper those increases.
ODJFS Mandate (R.C. 3119.021)
The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services will now update the Schedule and support worksheets according to a legislatively prescribed method, at least every four years. The Schedule was last updated in 1992. The Schedule and worksheets are now part of Chapter 5101:12 of the Ohio Administrative Code, not the Revised Code. ODJFS must also create a Guidelines Manual to serve as a resource for courts, child support agencies, attorneys, and others. The manual (JFS 07766) describes the income shares model, methodology for estimating child rearing expenditures, and self-sufficiency reserve. It also includes an overview of the worksheets (JFS 07768, JFS 07769); Revised Code child support definitions; tables utilized in the calculation; and line-by-line instructions for completing the worksheets. Placing this responsibility with ODJFS guarantees routine review of issues and the flexibility to make changes in a timely fashion.
Self‐Sufficiency Reserve (R.C. 3119.021)
The self-sufficiency reserve (an adjustment of the guideline amount that ensures a low-income parent has enough money to live at a sustainable level after paying child support and taxes) built into the Schedule has been updated from $6,810 to $12,060 per year (116% of the 2016 federal poverty guideline), with a gradual phase-out of the adjustment as income increases. The SSR is visible as shaded areas of the Schedule.
Minimum Child Support (R.C. 3119.06)
The minimum order has increased from $50 to $80 per month. The thrust of many of the changes was to protect low-income obligors; this is sensitive to the needs of obligees. It recognizes the high cost of raising children and emphasizes that even low-income parents must be reasonably accountable for their support.
Parenting Time (R.C. 3119.051, 3119.231)
Child support is now adjusted for significant parenting time. Parents with at least 90 overnights annually (~25% of time) are now automatically entitled to a 10% credit to the calculated support amount, within the worksheet. Courts must proactively consider a deviation in cases where a parent has more than 90 overnights, on top of the automatic adjustment. If there are 91 to 146 overnights (~40%), the court must issue findings if a deviation is granted. For 147 overnights or more, courts must issue findings whether or not a deviation is granted. The adjustment and deviation can be eliminated if the obligor does not exercise parenting time.
Contrary to popular belief, the Basic Schedule has never accounted for expenses paid by obligors during parenting time, like food and entertainment, because the income shares model assumes children are always with the obligee. Obligors were paying these expenses twice. The only way to address this was through deviation which required litigation. This problem has become pressing with the trend toward shared parenting and the law now requires greater attention be paid to this issue. The credit values this direct financial contribution in a reasonably objective manner and encourages parents to spend time with their children. Addressing more substantial parenting time through deviation avoids a formulaic solution to a complex issue.
Health Insurance (R.C. 3119.30)
The custodial parent is now rebuttably presumed to be the health insurance obligor. Health insurance is costly, and the total out-of-pocket cost of health insurance must now be used in deciding whether the cost of coverage is reasonable, under the 5% of income maximum test (45 CFR 303.31), not just the contributing cost. Likewise, the total cost for coverage must be factored in the calculation, instead of the marginal cost. Cost is now treated as an adjustment to income, not an add-on to the basic obligation.
Cash Medical Support (R.C. 3119.01, 3119.30, 3119.302)
Cash medical support is no longer tied to the availability of health insurance, making it less cumbersome. All obligors now pay child support and cash medical support all the time with no exception for obligors with income under 150% of federal poverty level. Cash medical support is now subject to deviation. Cash medical support is defined as the amount paid toward ordinary medical expenses and is $388.70 per year per child based on ODJFS’ National Medical Expenditure Survey. The definition of ordinary medical expenses as the first $100 per child per calendar year is eliminated. Each parent has an obligation for cash medical support according to income shares. Cash medical support is still assignable to the state when Medicaid is involved.
Multiple Family Obligations (R.C. 3119.05)
Adjustments for children of other relationships are handled uniformly, whether the children live in the parent’s home or are the subject of a support order, as all children have an equal right to share in their parents’ income. Parents now receive a standardized deduction from income, instead of a deduction in the amount of the dependency exemption less child support received, or child support paid. The adjustment is the economic cost of raising the children based on the parent’s income per the Schedule. The Schedule amount for all children of a parent is divided by the number of children. The per capita amount is then multiplied by the number of children of other relationships. Parents can still request a deviation for supporting other children, on top of the adjustment.
Child Care (R.C. 3119.05)
There are now caps on allowable child care expenses added to the basic obligation because high child care built into the calculation made support unaffordable to low income obligors.
These caps are determined by ODJFS based on statewide averages of Ohio child care costs tilted toward the upper end of the market. Only work and employment training child care can be added, not education-related expenses. Child care greater than the cap may now qualify for a deviation.
|Age of child
|| Maximum allowable expenses
| Newborn through 17 months
| 18 months through 35 months
| Three through five years
| Six through 12 years
Deviation Factors (R.C. 3119.23)
The factors justifying deviation from the presumptive support amount have been refined. Four were eliminated or consolidated, and five new ones added. The factors, with affected provisions in italics, are:
- Special and unusual needs of the child or children, including needs arising from the physical or psychological condition of the child or children
- Other court ordered payments
- Extended parenting time or extraordinary costs associated with parenting time, including extraordinary travel expenses when exchanging the child or children for parenting time
- The financial resources and the earning ability of the child or children
- The relative financial resources, including the disparity in income between parties or households, other assets, and the needs of each parent
- The obligee’s income, if the obligee’s annual income is equal to or less than one hundred per cent of the federal poverty level
- Benefits that either parent receives from remarriage or sharing living expenses with another person
- The amount of federal, state, and local taxes actually paid or estimated to be paid by a parent or both of the parents
- Significant in-kind contributions from a parent, including, but not limited to, direct payment for lessons, sports equipment, schooling, or clothing
- Extraordinary work-related expenses incurred by either parent
- The standard of living and circumstances of each parent and the standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the marriage continued or had the parents been married
- The educational opportunities that would have been available to the child had the circumstances requiring a child support order not arisen
- The responsibility of each parent for the support of others, including support of a child or children with disabilities who are not subject to the support order
- Post-secondary educational expenses paid for by a parent for the parent’s own child or children, regardless of whether the child or children are emancipated
- Costs incurred or reasonably anticipated to be incurred by the parents in compliance with court-ordered reunification efforts in child abuse, neglect, or dependency cases
- Extraordinary child care costs required for the child or children that exceed the maximum state-wide average cost estimate provided in division (O)(1)(d) of section 3119.05 of the Revised Code including extraordinary costs associated with caring for a child or children with specified physical, psychological, or education needs
- Any other relevant factor.
Administrative Review of Deviations (R.C. 3119.63)
Child support agencies may maintain a deviation when reviewing a court order if the monetary or percentage value of the deviation can be unequivocally determined. In the past, parents automatically lost their deviation in an agency review. Agencies still cannot establish or modify a deviation.
Imputing Income (R.C. 3119.05)
Before, imputing potential income to incarcerated and institutionalized parents and those receiving means-tested public assistance was prohibited. Now, income also cannot be imputed to a parent approved for SSDI; unable to work based on medical documentation that includes a physician’s diagnosis and opinion regarding inability to work; who has made continuous and diligent efforts without success to find new employment at less than previous salary or wage; or when complying with court-ordered reunification efforts in child abuse, neglect or dependency proceedings.
Worksheet Changes (R.C. 3119.05, 3119.27; JFS 07768, 07769)
Local taxes and deductions like union dues and uniform fees have been removed as worksheet adjustments to income but mandatory work-related expenses are still excluded under R.C. 3119.01(C)(12). Only current spousal support paid can be deducted, not arrears. Processing charges are imposed by the court or administrative order but are no longer part of the worksheet. Child support in Ohio has matured over the last 30 years. The common law way of establishing support through adversary proceedings has given way to a largely administrative process. With presumptive numeric guidelines, a structured mathematical method built on what it actually costs to raise children and produces consistently uniform orders has replaced a judicial balancing test that weighed a child’s need with a parent’s ability to pay and led to variable outcomes. Child support is now predictable and more child-focused. It is also easier for parents to obtain and modify orders.
As child support policy makers fine tune how best to allocate the financial responsibility of raising children between parents and protect children’s financial security, HB 366’s great achievement is guaranteeing a way to update the Guidelines so support orders are always based on valid economic data and changing needs. The legislative and executive branches now share this responsibility with the General Assembly specifying the methodology and ODJFS charged with execution.
Child support is still complex, but clear rules, more transparent assumptions, and a simplified, more straightforward approach make orders fairer and easier to calculate. HB 366 corrects longstanding inequities bringing Ohio orders closer to the intended goals of the child support program.
Serpil Ergun is a magistrate and Executive Director of Judicial Operations at the Domestic Relations Court in Cuyahoga County. Hon. Ergun has a special interest in family justice reform and problem-solving processes. She currently serves as the Co-Chair of the Ohio Supreme Court’s Subcommittee on Family Law Reform Implementation and is a frequent lecturer for the Ohio Judicial College. She is a lifetime member of the 8th District Judicial Conference, and a CMBA member since 2011. She can be reached at (216) 443-8820 or email@example.com.