Child Support FAQs
CHILD SUPPORT ENFORCEMENT AGENCY (CSEA)
Q: What services can a Child Support Enforcement Agency provide?
A: Ohio’s child support program is based on the fundamental belief that children deserve financial support. Nearly one million children are directly impacted by this program.
The Child Support Enforcement Agency (CSEA) can assist parents by providing services that include:
• establishment of paternity by acknowledgment of the parties or by genetic testing;
• establishment of a child support and medical support order;
• collection and disbursement of ordered payments and an accurate record of payments;
• location of a non-custodial parent;
• modification of an existing support order, if specific criteria are met;
• enforcement of orders by administrative and judicial methods (i.e., through license suspension, freezing and seizing of bank accounts, liens against real and personal property, contempt actions and felony indictments);
• initiation of interstate actions when the person responsible to pay support lives in another state;
• interception of federal and state tax refunds to collect on past due support;
• referrals to other agencies for additional government and community services.
Q: Who is eligible to receive these services?
A: Unmarried parents may apply for services to establish paternity as well as for child support and medical support. Parties that are married but living apart and parents that are divorced may also apply for services. In some circumstances, grandparents and caretakers of minor children may also be eligible for services.
Q: How do I apply for services?
A: If you are interested in services, you will be asked to complete a IV-D (pronounced “four-D”) application. You must submit your application to the CSEA in the county where you live. If you are a parent who currently receives certain types of state assistance (i.e., Ohio Works First, Medicaid), your case may be referred automatically for services through CSEA.
Q: Are there services that a CSEA cannot provide?
A: Yes. A CSEA cannot:
• mediate visitation rights or disputes or become involved with custody disputes or changes in custody;
• collect or enforce property settlements or collect medical bills other than those that the court has previously ordered to be paid;
• determine who is entitled to claim a child on tax returns or help to locate estranged children; or
• act as your private attorney or personally represent you.
Q: Where can I get more information about child support issues?
A: The Ohio CSEA Directors’ Association provides information on a variety of child support topics through its Web site at www.ocda.us/ (click on “Fact Sheets”).
Q: When are child support orders terminated?
A: A child support order may be terminated for many reasons, including:
• the death of either the child or the person paying child support;
• the child’s marriage;
• the child’s deportation;
• adoption of the child;
• the child’s emancipation (for purposes of child support, a child is “emancipated” when he/she reaches 18 years of age and is not a full-time student, or 19 years of age regardless of school enrollment);
• the child’s enlistment in the armed services when no longer a full-time student;
• a change in the legal (court-ordered) custody of the child (for example, if permanent custody is awarded to a public children services agency or a court order terminates the parental rights of the person who has been paying child support).
In addition, a Child Support Enforcement Agency (CSEA) may pursue child support termination if the parties to the child support order marry or re-marry one another and no other person has legal custody of the child.
A CSEA may pursue termination for the above-listed reasons through the administrative process. If a party wishes to terminate child support for a reason that is not listed above, that termination would have to be pursued privately through the court.
Q: How does the CSEA know when to terminate support for my child?
A: Both parents are responsible for notifying the CSEA if there is any reason that support should be terminated. While written notification is preferable, either parent may report this information to the CSEA by phone or in person. Within 20 calendar days of receiving this information, the CSEA must complete an investigation to verify it. If the child is near the age of emancipation for child support purposes and neither parent has notified the CSEA that support should be terminated, then the CSEA will complete an investigation near the child’s 18th birthday to determine if the support should continue or be terminated based upon the child’s high school attendance.
Q: What if my child is home-schooled or attends an alternative education program?
A: Most home-schooling and alternative education programs are state-approved, but the CSEA requires proof of this when notified that a child is receiving this type of schooling. The CSEA will consider all information from both parties when determining whether support should continue or end.
Q: Will the CSEA tell me whether support will continue or end?
A: Yes. Once the CSEA has completed an investigation, both parties will receive a Notice of Termination of Support or a Notice of Continuation of Support. If termination is recommended, the notice will include:
• the reason for the termination;
• the amount of back child support owed and how much should be paid towards this amount;
• whether there is still an existing child support order for any remaining “unemancipated” children; and
• a report of any overpayments that may have been made to the person receiving child support.
If the CSEA recommends that support be continued, the notice will include the reason for this decision.
Both notices will explain administrative and court hearing rights and how to request a hearing if you do not agree with a decision about your child support.
Q: When does support continue after a child reaches 18 years of age?
A: There are many reasons why support may continue past the age of 18, including the following:
• the child has not yet graduated but still attends a recognized and accredited high school or program;
• a court has determined that the child has a mental or physical disability regardless of age and for as long as the disability lasts;
• the parents’ separation agreement or divorce or dissolution decree says that child support will continue past the age of emancipation (such as while the child is in college).
Q: A court has ordered me to carry medical insurance for my child. Does this obligation end when my child is emancipated for child support purposes?
A: Yes. If your child support obligation ends when your child reaches the age of emancipation, you no longer have to carry medical insurance for the child unless your court order says otherwise. If a National Medical Support Notice has been issued to your employer requiring your child to be enrolled in the employer’s plan, then the CSEA must notify your employer that your obligation has ended and that the employer should consult you about whether insurance should stop or continue.
Q: I’ve just lost my job, but I owe child support. Can I get my support obligation reduced?
A: You may be able to have your support obligation modified, either by asking your Child Support Enforcement Agency (CSEA) for an administrative review or by going to court to ask that your support order be modified. Whether you ask for a CSEA review or go to court to request a modification, there is no guarantee of a particular outcome. By asking for a review, parties always assume the risk that a modification may increase their child support obligation, although it also may go down or remain the same.
Q: What, exactly, is a child support modification?
A: Through the CSEA’s administrative review process, also known as the “modification” process, the child support obligation is reviewed to reflect the current financial situation of both parties. The amount of child support paid may be modified, depending on the result of the review. Either parent or guardian can ask for a change in the support order.
If either party decides to seek child support modification through court, or either party has filed a court action that might have an impact on the administrative review, the CSEA is not required to review or adjust a child support order.
Q: Can I ask for a CSEA review anytime I want?
A: No. Child support orders may be reviewed every 36 months from the date the order was established or from the date of the last review, and the review process takes up to several months to complete from the time of the initial request. Under certain circumstances, some orders may be reviewed sooner.
Q: Under what circumstances can I request a review before the 36-month period is over?
A: There are many circumstances that would allow you to ask for an early review, including (to name a few): unemployment or a layoff from work for 30 days or longer, a permanent disability, a significant (30 percent) decrease or increase in income, incarceration without chance of parole, active military duty, and an increase or decrease in the cost of child care or health insurance.
Q: How will I know if my case is eligible for the CSEA’s review?
A: If the CSEA finds that your case is eligible, the CSEA will contact both parties within 15 days from the time of your request. The CSEA will ask you and the other party to submit information within 45 days (or sooner if you both waive the 45-day period). Based on that information, the CSEA will determine if the agency can modify the support order. If, however, you have requested a review, but fail to return the requested paperwork, the review will be dismissed.
Q: What are the possible outcomes of a CSEA review?
A: The CSEA may recommend: 1) no change; 2) increase in current child support; 3) decrease in current child support; and/or 4) addition of a medical support order. If there is a change in the amount of child support to be paid, the paying party will start paying the new amount on the first day of the month after the modification was scheduled for review.
Q: What if I disagree with the results of the CSEA’s review and modification recommendation?
A: If you disagree with the CSEA’s finding, you may request an administrative hearing. A request form will be included with the notification of the CSEA’s recommendation. A hearing officer for the CSEA will conduct the hearing, which is usually scheduled 15 days or less from the time you requested it. The hearing officer will consider the information you submitted, as well as any other evidence presented at the hearing. The hearing officer will then issue an administrative order and mail the decision to each party within 14 days of the time of the hearing. If you disagree with the administrative hearing decision, you may appeal that decision and request an additional hearing. Check with your local CSEA for proper procedure and forms.
Q: Where can I get more information?
A: Visit www.ocda.us or contact your local Child Support Enforcement Agency.
Q: What can be done if child support payments are not made?
A: All support orders must be secured in one of three ways. Most common is the wage-order (garnishment of the payor's income source or bank account). Self-employed persons have bond orders (a requirement to post a cash bond, which is used if the payor misses a payment. The payee is paid from the bond, and the payor is then called in to reimburse the bond fund). A "reporting" order is used for unemployed parents. If a parent is not working at the time the child support order is issued by the court, then that parent is required to report regularly to state what he or she is doing to find work, and to report any income received or job obtained.
Any person involved in a support order has a support officer at the Child Support Enforcement Agency (CSEA). Without cost, the CSEA officer will attempt to enforce a support order by filing contempt motions on behalf of the payee and by garnishing wages or bank accounts.
Certain sources of income can be usurped by the CSEA agency to meet past due support. For example, any tax refund, company bonus or similar lump sum of money received by a delinquent payor can be taken to pay overdue child support.
There are now "teeth" in the law which prohibit renewal of certain licenses for those who are delinquent in paying their child support obligations. For instance, recreational, professional and drivers' licenses cannot be renewed if a license-holder owes delinquent child support.
Q: Can a parent collect unpaid child support after the child turns 18 and the support order has expired?
A: Yes. The fact that a parent's obligation to pay support has terminated does not prevent the other parent from trying to collect past unpaid support. Also, it does not prevent the court from holding any person in contempt for failing to pay any previous support order.
Q: May one parent prevent a child from seeing a parent who doesn't pay child support?
A: No. A parent who deliberately denies court-ordered parenting time rights may be considered in contempt of court, which is punishable by a jail sentence, a fine, attorney fees, and court costs. Also, if the parent who is denied parenting time seeks a change of custody, the custodial parent's deliberate withholding of parenting time rights may be an important factor to the court in deciding who will receive custody. Depriving a parent of time with a child is not one of the ways to get legal help in collecting child support.
Q: May a parent whose rights of parenting time are denied withhold child support from the custodial parent?
A: No. In the same way that a custodial parent may not deliberately disobey court-ordered parenting time rights in order to attempt to collect child support from a non-paying parent, the non-custodial parent also may not willfully disobey a child support order. Withholding support payments may be considered contempt of court, which is punishable by a jail sentence, fines, attorney fees, and court costs. Also, if the parent who withholds child support seeks custody, the deliberate non-payment of support may become an important factor in deciding that issue. The law provides remedies for denial or interference with parenting time. Depriving a child of support is not one of them.
Q: How do I locate an absent parent?
A: Federal law provides that the local child support enforcement agency may use the federal parent locator service, and state laws may allow the use of certain state agency records.
Q: What is the tax offset program?
A: The tax offset program is a child support enforcement technique that allows a nonresidential parent’s tax refund to be intercepted to help repay child support debt. Effective October 1, 2007, the law was amended to allow federal income tax refunds to be offset for past due support owed to any child regardless of age. Before this change in the law, federal tax refunds were only intercepted and sent to the family if the case included a child under the age of 18.
Q: Under what circumstances can a federal tax refund be intercepted to pay back child support?
A: Your federal tax refund can be intercepted to pay back child support only if:
• an application for services is on file with the Child Support Enforcement Agency (CSEA);
• you did not file for bankruptcy before October 17, 2005 (filings after 10/17/05 are eligible for the tax offset program according to the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention Consumer Protection Act of 2005);
• you owe a minimum of $500 in arrears to the family or $150 in arrears to the State of Ohio (if you have more than one case, all arrears combined must meet the minimum submittal amount);
• in an interstate case, Ohio is the “initiating” state;
• your case is delinquent for 30 days or longer after the tax offset application was submitted.
Q: What if the amount of my federal tax refund is greater than the amount I owe in back child support?
A: If the refund amount is greater than the amount of back support you owe, you will receive the difference, provided there are no other debts that are eligible for either the federal or state tax offset. Because regular updates are submitted to the IRS and Ohio Department of Taxation, only the amount of the arrears should be sent to the CSEA. (If you pay the child support arrears off yourself to avoid having your refund intercepted, you should wait at least three weeks to file your tax return from the date you made the support payment to avoid having your refund taken by mistake.)
Q: How will I know if my federal tax refund is being intercepted to pay back child support?
A: Once a case is determined to be eligible, you will receive a “pre-offset notice,” and you will have a chance to request a tax offset review with the submitting child support agency if you disagree with the information contained in your notice.
If the arrearage amount remains eligible for the tax offset program 30 days after the initial submission, your tax refund then becomes eligible for offset. The IRS will notify you when the actual offset of the refund occurs, and will let you know the specific dollar amount that is being forwarded to the county child support agency for your child support debt. There is no objection/dispute process available.
Q: I am the residential parent and am owed back child support. How will I know I will receive my former spouse’s tax refund?
A: If your case meets the criteria listed above, the case will automatically be submitted. You will not receive any official notification that a tax offset will occur or when you will receive it. Contact your county CSEA with specific questions about tax refunds.
Q: I owe child support as a nonresidential parent. I’m remarried now, and my current spouse and I file a joint tax return. How can I prevent my spouse’s portion of the tax refund from being intercepted to pay my child support debt?
A: Your current spouse should complete and file IRS Form 8379 (“injured spouse allocation”) with your actual tax return. The IRS gives your current spouse up to six months to file an “injured spouse” claim if Form 8379 is not filed with the initial tax return.
Q: How soon will I receive the federal tax refund money from my former spouse for back child support?
A: Once the federal IRS receives a tax collection, it takes approximately 30 - 45 days to complete the processing and post the payments to child support cases. If the tax intercept was received from a joint tax return, monies are automatically held for six months from the date of processing to allow an injured spouse claim to be filed. Federal tax refunds are used to pay child support arrears only. Currently, any arrears owed to the State of Ohio will be paid before arrears are paid to the family.
Q: Where can I get more information about the tax offset program?
A: For more information, visit www.ocda.us, the Web site of the Ohio CSEA Directors’ Association (OCDA), a statewide organization representing county child support enforcement agencies (CSEAs) in Ohio.
Q: How is the amount of child support determined?
A: Child support is calculated according to a formula written into state law. That formula combines the father's and mother's gross income. There are certain allowable deductions from each parent's gross income. These deductions include the sum of local income tax actually paid, any child or spousal support order for other children or former spouses, and the value of a federal dependency exemption for each dependent of his or her household (not including the dependents for whom child support has been ordered). For example, if you are remarried and have a child by your new marriage, $3500 (for the tax year 2008) will be deducted from your gross income before calculating child support of your earlier marriage. Additionally, if there is an order for spousal support, the annual sum of spousal support is deducted from the spousal support payor's gross income and added to the income of the recipient.
The total of this adjusted gross income of both parents is then applied to a chart, which identifies the amount of support required to raise children in their parents' income category. The paying parent will pay his or her pro-rated share of that charted amount. For example, if Mom earns $10,000 per year, and Dad earns $30,000, the combined gross is $40,000. For one child, the charted amount is approximately $6,500 of child support per year. If Dad is the parent paying support, he must pay $4,875 per year, or 75 percent of the charted amount, because he earns 75 percent of the total combined parental income.
Q: What about day care and health insurance?
A: Factored into the charted amount of child support is the cost of work-related or education-related day care expense and major medical insurance coverage for the child. Thus, if the charted amount is $4,000 child support per year, but Mom also pays $1500 per year in day care to go to work, and dad also pays $500 per year for medical insurance to cover the child, the total child support cost is $6,000 per year. It is this total cost which is divided between the parents on their relative share of earnings.
The court will typically order one or both parents to carry health coverage, if available at reasonable cost. If no affordable coverage is available, then parents will be ordered to share in some way the costs of health care. Uncovered medical costs are usually ordered to be paid in pro-rated shares of the parents' income, after the residential parent pays the first $100 per year.
Though federal tax law provides the dependency exemption to the custodial parent, state courts have the power to allocate the exemption to the non-custodial parent if it will result in a net tax savings that will benefit the child.
Q: How long can my children expect to receive support?
A: Child support is payable until the child reaches the age of 18, or until he or she graduates from high school, whichever is later. If a child is no longer attending high school, however, and is not living with or dependent upon a parent (i.e., married), then child support may end before the age of 18. If a child is more than 18 years of age and still attends high school, support will continue until the child has completed high school, up to age 19 unless otherwise ordered or agreed.
Special rules apply to handicapped children who will not be expected to be self-sufficient by the age of 18. If a child is handicapped, child support can be ordered to be paid well beyond the child's 18th birthday.
The court's jurisdiction to order child support ends at age 18, with the exception of handicapped children and those still in high school after age 18. This is true even when a child over 18 is entirely dependent upon his parents while attending college. If, however, parents agree in their divorce decree to support a child beyond the age of 18, such as to pay for college, then the court can enforce that agreement.
For children born out of wedlock, support generally is due from the date of birth to the date of "emancipation" (age 18 or independence), only after the fatherhood of the child is legally determined.