November 6, 2019 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
The State of Ohio has made some changes to its child support guidelines. Some of those are much-needed and right egregious wrongs. Others fail to correct long-term flaws in a deeply flawed system.
The good news includes the fact that parents paying child support will now be permitted to retain a minimal amount of their income. That’s called a “self-sufficiency reserve,” and should be an integral part of every state’s child support calculations. As we’ve seen elsewhere, judges can find remarkable ways of getting around the clear intent of a state’s legislature when it established such a reserve. Still, having an SSR on the books is far better than not having one.
The new law also deals better with cases in which a payor parent is subject to more than one child support order at a time. Plus, it caps the amount of money an obligor parent would have to contribute to daycare expenses and it allows for administrative review of deviations from the guidelines where circumstances that gave rise to the deviation remain in place. That latter provision will save parents the time and money involved in returning to court.
Now for the good/bad news. The new law allows for minor modifications to child support orders to reflect parenting time. That’s good news because, insupportably, prior to the new law, no such modification was required. A parent with 50% of the parenting time could be made to pay as much as one with none. This article makes the point (Columbus Dispatch, 10/31/19).
Prior to March, 100% of the support for the children transferred into one household, regardless of the parenting time split. A 50/50 parent could have been ordered to pay the same amount in child support as an absentee parent.
But that’s where the good news ends and where the linked-to article goes off the rails. The article’s author, attorney Matthew Rinear, claims that the above-mentioned inequity has been “rectified.” It hasn’t.
Now, an obligor who has at least 90 overnights with the children, which usually is the court’s minimum “standard” parenting time order, is granted a mandatory 10% reduction in his/her child support obligation.
Now, 90 overnights with the child is about 25% of the year. The payor of course presumptively pays about 25% of the child’s daily expenses because he/she has the child that amount of time, but only receives a 10% break on his/her obligation. That means a net transfer of funds from the non-custodial parent to the custodial one. Why do that? Why not simply establish the total amount the parents will have to pay to support the child for, say, a year and then adjust the amount transferred from one to the other based on parenting time?
In his response to the bill prior to its becoming law, NPO’s Don Hubin noted this:
Suppose the Obligor and Obligee each earn $50,100 per year and have two children subject to the child support order. Their combined annual child support obligation under the new tables would be $17,631; each would have an obligation of $8,815.50 per year. Now, suppose that Obligor has the children 164 overnights per year (45% of the overnights). Applying the standard parenting time adjustment, as specified in SB 125, the Obligor’s guideline child support obligation would be $7,933.95.
In that case, the obligor would incur 45% of the direct costs of raising the child, i.e. $7,933.95 and would pay that same amount to the custodial parent, for a total child support outlay of $15,867.90. That’s plainly not child support, but support for the custodial parent. Plus, it places an undue burden on the payor. This, according to Rinear constitutes “rectifying” the old bad law.
Astute readers will already have noticed that, under this regimen, child support has little to do with what a child needs and everything to do with what parents earn. The idea that a child who’s brought into the world by parents earning, in Hubin’s example, $100,200 per year requires over $17,000 to support, but one whose parents earn, say, half that, automatically requires less makes no sense. Seemingly there’s no longer any thought given to what child support was originally meant to be – child support. Whenever child support reform advocates bring up the subject, we’re indignantly asked whether we think children of divorce need support. Of course we do, but clearly, child support laws and guidelines have little to do with ensuring that children receive what they need.
The usual excuse offered for that is the one offered by Rinear.
If an obligor, who by choice only occasionally sees the children, requests the court’s standard parenting time schedule, it raises the question as to whether the obligor’s incentive is to become more involved in the children’s lives or to simply trigger the 10% reduction in child support.
Yes, it’s the old claim that fathers only want to see their children in order to reduce their child support payments. The claim is backed by no evidence whatsoever. The Office of Child Support Enforcement has studied every possible aspect of child support and its enforcement and never found any such phenomenon that Rinear and reform opponents take for granted. Way back in the late 90’s, Sanford Braver studied the matter in depth and detail and found that what fathers wanted above all was meaningful time with their kids. They were happy to pay support if only they could maintain that. But here it is 20 years later and we’re still fighting the same fight.
The changes in Ohio are welcome, but they’re far from sufficient to treat non-custodial parents