Child support can be a very complicated area. While the state formulas can churn out numbers for the actual monthly payments, there are a lot of other issues that aren’t so black and white. It’s good to talk to your lawyer up front about the range of child support concerns that might develop in your situation. Depending on the age of your children, any specific plans you have for their schooling, among other issues, there may be actions you can take before you finalize the divorce, to head off problems ahead.
What Expenses Are Covered by Child Support?
Child support is intended to cover a broad range of expenses. The Ohio Child Support Guidelines provide that support payments are intended to cover overall costs of living. These include costs related to food, housing, transportation and medical expenses.
Although the formulas establishing support amounts are driven largely by salaries, there is also room for adjustments for various scenarios. The Ohio child support formula mandates specific adjustments for the following considerations:
- Health insurance for minor children;
- Child care costs incurred by a parent enabling that parent to maintain employment;
- Other children that a parent has living in their household;
- Child or spousal support paid either from this divorce or a prior one;
- Local income taxes paid by a parent;
- Overtime or bonuses, averaged over the last three years; and,
- Other reasons to deviate from the schedules, which must be extraordinary.
In general, the amount of child support is calculated based on the income level of both parents, and designed to maintain the child’s standard of living while the parents were together. If one person is the primary parent, the non-custodial parent pays their portion through a child support payment, while the custodial parent pays their portion in the daily care of the child.
In cases of shared custody, after the amount of child support is estimated and apportioned based on your income and your ex-spouse’s income, you and the other parent will agree upon the number of overnights each of you will have with the kids. Deviation will then be applied to your payment based on the number of overnights the children spend with you. The payment credits for overnights take into account the fact that the parent who has the overnight is responsible for additional child-related costs such as food and shelter expenses.
In most cases, child support can be expected to cover general expenses for the child including shelter, food, clothing, transportation, as well entertainment, and standard extracurricular activities. The parent who receives the child support can spend the money on the child indirectly. Therefore support expenses can include housing payments, and utilities, etc.
There are several items which are considered separate from the child support payments, that are expected to be paid by the parents. These can include: education costs, camps, unreimbursed medical costs, or prescription medicines.
You can clarify in your child support agreement which expenses are not covered by child support, and what percentage of those expenses each parent will pay. Each case is unique so be sure your lawyer is aware of all the key details in your family’s situation. If done properly, this can save you significant future legal bills.
Can I get child support during the divorce proceeding?
Yes, a temporary award of child support can be made during the divorce. There are also other types of temporary support available, such as agreements to continue paying the mortgage, rent, or other bills.
This period of temporary support is known as “pendente lite,” a Latin term that means, “while litigation is pending.” A pendente lite order is intended to ensure support for the children until a final settlement is reached or a judgment of divorce is entered.
Examples of payments and costs that may be addressed with a pendent lite order include:
- The higher-earning spouse may be required to continue paying expenses such as the mortgage or rent, credit cards, medical and/or life insurance premiums;
- Immediate temporary support may be ordered for the lower-earning spouse and children;
- Payment responsibilities for professional retainers may be established, which can include attorneys, appraisers, business valuation experts, pension valuations, custody expert fees, etc.;
- Permission may be granted to tap into home equity resources or financial accounts in order to meet expenses; and
- At this time, a temporary child visitation schedule may be also fixed, even if both spouses live under the same roof.
The spouses can come to agreement themselves on the terms of temporary support, or motions can be filed in court for decision by a judge.
All temporary support awards are just that – temporary. They are intended mostly to maintain the status quo while the divorce is underway. Be aware that post-divorce awards may look very different. The final divorce terms will be made after a complete review of the finances, needs and earning potential of all parties.
How long do parents pay child support?
In Ohio, a parent is obligated to support their children until the age of majority, which is 18. If a child turns 18 while still in high school, support would normally continue until high school graduation. But in any case, support requirements normally end at age 19, regardless of high school graduation. There are circumstances where a parent can be required to provide support past 19, such as if the child is disabled or otherwise not able to become self-supporting.
So while a support order typically continues until age 18 and high school graduation, there are special circumstances that could cause a parent’s obligation for support to end. These can include:
- The child is 18 and no longer attends an accredited high school full-time
- If the child has a change in legal custody
- If the child gets married
- If the child chooses to be legally emancipated
- If the child enlists in the armed services.
Other states allow a court to order parents to pay child support during college, but Ohio does not have this requirement. Parents in Ohio can choose to come to their own agreement about mutual obligation to pay for their child’s college education, and they can make this agreement part of their divorce settlement.
What do I need to know about planning for education costs?
If you are divorcing when your children are young, many important decisions about their future may be overlooked in your divorce judgment. These issues may seem too far away to worry about now, but having to re-open litigation to resolve them later can cost thousands of dollars.
Payment of private K-12 school tuition – Parents may have different expectations about how to school children when they’re older. What if one parent wants the child to attend private school – does the other have to pay half of it? While the custody agreement will clarify whether one or both parents will make decisions about the child’s education, talk to your lawyer about your thoughts on private schooling and whether you would want your settlement agreement to clarify anything about paying for private schooling.
Payment of college tuition and expenses – Other states can allow a judge to require payment of child support through college, and sometimes even college expenses. But Ohio does not have this requirement. Ohio law does not require parents to pay child support past the age of emancipation, which is typically when the child becomes 18 and has graduated from high school. If you want to be sure that your ex contributes to your child’s college expenses, you will need to talk with your lawyer and address this issue when you finalize the property settlement.
Because Ohio law does not require post-high school support, it won’t be possible to wait until that time and then ask the court to order your spouse to do it. It has to be a voluntary agreement, made during divorce negotiations and written down as part of the divorce settlement.
One example would be an agreement that both parents will contribute a certain percentage towards the cost of college tuition. Once this becomes part of the Divorce Decree, it is an enforceable order – an ex-spouse would be in contempt of the order if they later failed to uphold the agreement.
Two popular methods to address college payments are:
- Create an agreement covering payment of college expenses in the future, or
- If there will be enough money at the time of divorce, you can set up a trust or an escrow account and deposit the money to be held until college.
Consider some parameters to be more specific about college payment obligations:
- Will the parents have say over whether the child attends a public or private college? Would you want to set a limit at the cost of in-state public tuition?
- Are costs beyond tuition going to be covered? Will the parents pay for room and board or daily expenses?
- Do you want to impose any requirements – for example, if your child is getting Cs, would either of you want to have your tuition obligation canceled?
- Do you want to set a limited number of years – for example four years, or longer if the child is also working to help pay for expenses?
The best way to plan for these future events is to consult an attorney who is familiar with Ohio child support laws and cases. Planning ahead now can save you a lot of time and money, and it can also help you start a conversation with your soon-to-be ex-spouse about future expectations for your children.