A lot can change in a quarter of a century: presidential administrations, fashions, hairlines and waistlines, to name a few. One thing that had not changed in a quarter-century was Ohio’s child support guidelines. In 2018, the Ohio House passed House Bill 366, bringing Ohio child support law into the 21st century at last. HB 366 made many changes, including changes to imputing income for Ohio child support purposes. Here’s what you need to know.
What Does It Mean to “Impute Income?”
Child support is calculated in large part based on parents’ income. But what if a parent is deliberately earning less than he or she could in order to avoid paying more child support, or in order to receive more child support? Obviously, it is unfair for a person to slash their earning capacity in order to dodge child support. It is also unfair to ask someone to contribute more to child support than they can afford based on their current income. Ohio walks the line between these two possibilities by imputing income to parents under some circumstances.
Essentially, imputing income for child support purposes means to calculate child support as if a parent has more income than he or she actually does at the present time. There are a number of reasons this might happen. In Ohio, both parents are considered to have a financial responsibility to their children. A court may consider it inequitable to place the entire financial burden of support on one parent if the other is not working, but may decide to do so depending on circumstances. A court may impute to the unemployed or underemployed parent the income it believes he or she could reasonably earn, such as for full-time employment at minimum wage, or a past wage earned before quitting a job.
Another scenario in which a court might impute income to a party in a child support matter is if a parent who has been employed appears to be deliberately reducing his or her income in order to pay less child support.
Of course, a parent may be unemployed or underemployed for a variety of reasons. In some of those circumstances, it would be unjust to impute income to him or her.
When imputing income to a parent in a child support calculation, a court may consider income a parent would have earned if fully employed as determined by these criteria:
- Prior employment experience;
- Any physical or mental disabilities;
- Available employment in the parent’s geographical area;
- Any special skills or training;
- Evidence in support of the parent having the ability to earn the income imputed to him or her;
- The age and any special needs of the child or children for whom child support is being calculated;
- Any increased earning capacity because of experience;
- Any decreased earning capacity because of a felony conviction; and
- Any other relevant factor.
As you might suspect, the question of whether income will be imputed, and how much, is a complex one. You cannot assume that you can calculate how much child support you will pay (or receive) based on what you or the other parent are actually earning.
The numbers on a child support worksheet are only a starting point, and people often run into trouble when trying to calculate child support on their own. It is essential to have the help of an experienced family law attorney who understands the nuances of Ohio child support to make sure your child support payment is accurate and fair.
What’s New in the Law
Under the updated law, a court or CSEA is prevented from finding that a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed under certain circumstances. If a parent is receiving recurring monetary income from means-tested public assistance, including cash assistance, a court or CSEA cannot impute income. Likewise, a parent cannot be considered voluntarily unemployed or underemployed if he or she is approved for Social Security Disability due to a physical or mental disability.
If a court or CSEA determines a parent is unable to work based on medical documents including a physician’s diagnosis of mental or physical disability, income will not be imputed. Income will also not be imputed if the parent is complying with court-ordered family reunification efforts in a child abuse, neglect, or dependency proceeding, if these efforts limit the parent’s earning capacity.
Lastly, if a parent has proven to the court or CSEA that he or she has tried, continuously and diligently to find work—even part-time, temporary, or at a lower wage than previously earned—without success, income should not be imputed. This is good news for parents who are earning less than they might otherwise be, through no fault of their own.
When faced with a child support question, do not try to figure out the result on your own. Online calculators may be handy for an approximation, but the help of skilled lawyers with experience in these matters is of utmost importance to avoid an unjust result. If you have other questions about Ohio child support, including the imputation of income, please contact our law office.
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