In 2018, there was a major overhaul to Ohio child support law, in an effort to bring it (literally) into the 21st century and account for the realities that modern families must deal with. While the new guidelines more closely reflect the needs of Ohio families, there remain some situations in which ordering child support as dictated by the guidelines would still be unjust. Fortunately, the Ohio Legislature anticipated the occasional unfair outcome and provided for deviations from the guidelines when appropriate.
A deviation from guideline child support is a change to the monthly amount calculated on the worksheet. A deviation can increase or decrease the support amount depending on the specific facts of the case. They are always discretionary—meaning the Court never “has to” provide for one, however, in some scenarios it is much more likely or appropriate to change the monthly amount. So, when is it “appropriate” to deviate from the Ohio child support guidelines? First and foremost, the court looks to a series of factors to ensure a deviation would be in the best interests of the child. Fairness to parents is also considered, but as with child custody issues, is secondary to the child’s interests.
Factors Considered in Deviation From the Ohio Child Support Guidelines
Ohio Revised Code section 3119.23 sets forth a number of factors that a court might consider in deciding to deviate from the child support guidelines. They include:
- Any special needs of the child or children, including those stemming from a physical or psychological condition;
- Other court-ordered payments the parent is required to make;
- Extended parenting time or extraordinary costs associated with parenting time, including extraordinary travel expenses when exchanging the child or children for parenting time;
- The child’s financial resources and his or her earning ability;
- The parents’ relative financial resources, including the disparity in the parents’ income or the income of each parent’s household, other assets, and the needs of each parent;
- The income of the parent receiving child support, if that parent’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 one or both parents has paid or estimated to be required to pay;
- 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;
- Each parent’s standard of living and circumstances, as well as the standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the marriage continued or had the parents been married;
- The educational opportunities the child would have had access to, 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, whether or not the child or children are emancipated;
- Costs incurred or likely 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 as described in section 2119.05(P)(1)(d) of the Ohio Revised Code, including extraordinary costs associated with caring for a child or children with specialized physical, psychological, or educational needs; or
- Any other relevant factor.
These factors provide specific guidance to courts, and the inclusion of “any other relevant factor” lets courts take into account a circumstance the legislature might not have contemplated, but which nonetheless affects the fairness of a child support award.
As to the factors listed, they encompass a wide range of circumstances, such as:
- The parent paying child support is already paying several thousand dollars per year in private school tuition and fees for the child(ren);
- The parent paying support lives in another country and has significant expenses for travel and lodging in order to exercise parenting time;
- The parent paying support has huge employment-related but unreimbursed expenses;
- One parent has a child with special needs from a different relationship, and supporting that child consumes much of that parent’s resources;
- The child being supported is a child actor whose own significant income means the guideline-recommended amount of support is not necessary;
- Even with guideline child support, there is significant disparity between households (hot dogs for dinner in one house and steak in the other house);
- The parent paying support is paying college education expenses for older children.
If the court decides to deviate from the child support guidelines in a case, it needs to specify in writing the reason for the deviation.
If You Think a Deviation is Appropriate in Your Case
If you think the amount of child support the Ohio child support guidelines would dictate in your case is unfair, it’s time to talk to your attorney. Many people are shocked or disappointed about the amount of child support they are expected to pay, but that, in and of itself, doesn’t justify a deviation from the guidelines.
Talking to your family law attorney about your situation and concerns can help you know whether it’s appropriate to request a deviation from the Ohio child support guidelines, or to adjust your expectations. If it is reasonable to ask for a deviation, your attorney will present evidence to give the court a strong foundation for a decision in your favor.