By Chris Beers...Massillion Independant Staff Writer...Massillion, Ohio
The perceived inequeities in Ohio's divorce laws are not limited to custody and visitation issues. Child support, and to a lesser extent spousal support (alimony), are sources of anger and great frustration in today's divorce courts.
The so-called "deadbeat dad" scenario and its coresponding "wanted" posters have made headlins in recent years. One common scenario plays out like this: Mom gets the kids. Dad is ordered to pay child and spousal support. Dad refuses to pay and leave the area to avoid detection. Mom is forced to raise the children on her own at poverty or near poverty levels.
There is another, less publized area of extreme financial hardship that can also have a devastating effect on the once-united family. Call it the "deadbroke dad" scenario. It play out like this: Mom files for divorce and is awarded custody of the kids. Dad is ordered to pay 50% or more of his income as child and spousal support. Dad, unable to meet his new financial oblications, loses the house and many of his possessions. Dad, unable to survive the avalanche of bills, flees the area and abandons any hope of seeing his kids again.
Another scenario goes like this: Mom is awarded custody of the kids and dad is ordered to pay child support. The kids, on there own, choose to return to live with dad. Dad, despite raising the kids, is forced to continue to pay mom "child support" for months or even years at a time. Mom is never ordered to pay child support for her children or even to reimburse dad for the child support he paid her.
All of the above stories are true. So is the one about divorced parents who remain and share equally in the financial raising of their children as well as the parenting. But that scenario is the most rare.
For every "deadbeat dad" in Stark County, there is probably a "deadbroke dad" too.
Child support, in effect, is the gut-wrencher in most divorce proceedings. Child support can also have the greatest longterm negative impact on the children, as well as both custodial and non-custodial parents.
Ohio's current Child Support Guidelines, established by the Legislature, contain a complicated formula involving the income of the two parties.
A child support order can devastate the non-custodial parent financially, expecially if the custodial parent cannot or refuses to work outside the home.
Many non-custodial parents are ordered to pay their ex-spouses 50% or more of their income for child and spousal support. The money is automatically deducted from their paychecks and sent to the Child Enforcement Agency in Canton for distribution to the custodial parent.
"If there are inequities in the child support system, it is much better than it used to be," insisted Stark County Family Court Judge Julie Edwards. "Is the current system perfect?, I don't think so. But the child support guidelines are more realistic and more consistent than they have been in the past."
Bob McDonald, director of the Stark County Child Support Enforcement Agency, agrees with Edwards. "I know of no inequities that are automatically built into the system. But there are always individual cases where it might seem unfair," said McDonald. "We are required by satae law to serve the needs of the obligees (the recipients). Although 95% of the obligees are women, we are required to pursue a female obligor (the payer), just as we do te men.
"The amount of mony the obligor is required to pay is based on a complicated formula in relation to the obligee's income," added McDonald. "The philosophy behind child support payments is to try to provide for the children. as though the mother and father are still together. "The courts can take into consideration any extenuating circumstances in deviating from the state's Child Support Guidelines," he said.
"But even with shared parenting, the custodial parent does not pay child support under the state's current Child Support Guidelines. In many cases, both parties may feel the court's decicions are inequitable."
John McKinley, treasure of the Columbus-based Fathers and Children for Equality (FACE), said a big problem with Ohio's current child support policy is the money does not follow the kids," McKinley said.
"Under the current child support guidelines, the custodial parent gets 100% of the child support money. We feel the money should go where the children are."
According to McKinley, an excellent example of this problem was recently published in Feb. 24 edition of the Ohio Lawyers Weekly newsletter. The story was headlined "Dad pays full support despite 46% visitation."
Here is what the story had to say...
Even though it was "unjust" and "inappropraite" not to decrease a non-custodial father's child support obligatations to account for the fact his children spent 46% of their time with him, a trial judge's refusal to deviate from the Child Support Guidelines and lower the father's support obligations was not an abuse of discreation, Ohio's 2nd District Court of Appeals has ruled. "We believe the father's child support obligation is inappropriate because it requires him to cut a monthly check for the full support of his children, when he is already bearing half of the burden of their support," Judge Frederick N. Young wrote. "The child support oredr is not in the best interests of the children because it deprives their father of adequate means to provide for them while they are under his care." However, Young said the Court of Appeals would not sobstitute its judgement for the trial judges ruling. "The fact that we moght have ruled differently than the trial court, does not render the judges decision arbitrary, unreasonable, or unconscionable such that it constitutes an abuses of discreation," said Young.
The court proceeded to reject the father's contention that his expanded visitation constituted a "shared parenting arrangment" that obligated the mpther to pay him support during the time the children were in his care.