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Ohio Supreme Court rules in child support case

On Behalf of | Jun 6, 2024 | Child Support |

You might not expect the highest court in the state to weigh in on cases of family law. However, some cases make it up to that level. When they do, the justices’ rulings can affect families across the state.

In a case that was decided just last month, the high court ruled that a court needs to verify and officially state whether an unemployed parent is voluntarily or involuntarily unemployed before they determine how much child support they’re required to pay.  If a parent is determined to be voluntarily unemployed (or underemployed), their “imputed” income should be used to determine their child support payment. 

Considering imputed income

Imputed income is another way of saying “earning potential” or “potential income.” It’s often considered in making both child and spousal support determinations – for example, if a spouse could earn more than they are based on their education, experience and the job market and therefore require less spousal support (alimony).

While the majority of justices noted that they were basically just confirming what is already state law, they did reverse an appeals court decision in a specific case. The ruling concluded that “the domestic-relations court must expressly find that a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed as a condition precedent to imputing potential income for child-support-calculation purposes.”

Why unemployment/underemployment are scrutinized by the courts

The ruling brings up a larger issue that’s probably most important to understand, both for those seeking child support (as well as spousal support) and for those who are being expected to pay it. A person typically can’t get their support obligations reduced (or more support paid to them) if they’re choosing to remain unemployed or to earn less than they’re reasonably capable of earning. 

Certainly, things like health issues and child care or elder care obligations may keep someone from taking a full-time job or a more demanding job that pays a higher salary. However, they would need to show the court why they aren’t earning their imputed income (or challenge that imputed income determination).

Whichever side of the support order you’re on, it’s crucial to understand the law so that you can present the strongest possible case. Having sound legal guidance can help.