Ohio Supreme Court: Child support calculation at issue in divorce case

Larry Limpf

News Editor

The Ohio Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week in a divorce case that originated in Wood County and centers on the income and employment status of a parent and the calculation of child support payments.
The couple in question had been married for 13 years and had three children when the wife filed for divorce in June 2019.
The husband lost his job in February, 2020 when his employer, CSX Transportation Intermodal, restructured.
Prior to his job being eliminated, the husband and wife, a school teacher, made comparable incomes. During the divorce hearings later that year in Wood County Domestic Relations Court, the husband claimed he was seeking work but the pandemic was making it difficult finding a job. He noted that CSX provided a separation payout after the restructuring but those benefits ended in August 2019 and his only income was $750 in unemployment benefits twice a month.
He argued his unemployment was involuntary and only his unemployment benefits should be used for calculating child support.
However, the court considered his income while employed at CSX as well as his average bonus and ordered him to pay $1,391 per month in child support. In its order, the court ruled there was no evidence he couldn’t earn the income used for the child support calculation.
The husband then appealed to the Ohio Sixth District Court of Appeals but it upheld the trial court’s calculation for child support payments, ruling the factors in state law that are to be considered were applied to the facts in the case. But the appeals court acknowledged its decision on the issue conflicted with a ruling by the Ninth District Court of Appeals.
The Supreme Court of Ohio then agreed to hear the case.
In his brief to the court, the husband argues that for a parent who is unemployed or underemployed, “income” for child support calculations is defined as “the sum of the gross income of the parent and any potential income of the parent. The brief says that Ohio Revised Code defines “potential income” to include income the court determines the parent would have earned if fully employed, as determined by a list of criteria.
He further argues the “potential income” definition applies to parents whom the court determines are unemployed and underemployed voluntarily. He contends his unemployment is involuntarily so the criteria – his prior employment and education, for example – don’t apply to his situation.
In her brief, the wife counters that the trial court made a factual determination given the evidence before it. Whether a parent is voluntarily unemployed and the parent’s potential income are factual issues to be determined by the trial court.


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