Family

How child support works

When parents live separate lives, they must each make sure their kids are provided for. That's called child support. Learn more about what it is and how to request it.

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Child support is money that you or the other parent pays to help meet the financial needs of your children. 

Child support is usually paid to the parent who has custody

Having custody means that your child or children live with you most, or all, of the time. 

If you don’t have custody, you may still have visitation rights. That means your kids spend time with you—including regular overnight visits, but their primary residence is with the other parent or a guardian. Learn more about custody arrangements.

Usually child support is paid to the parent who has custody of the children by the parent without custody. However, there are exceptions.

  • A parent can have custody and not receive child support.
  • A parent can pay child support and not have visitation rights.
  • The child is raised via "shared parenting," but only one parent pays child support. 

While child support payments are generally meant to help with the child or children’s costs, the decision is for how that money is used it up to the parent with custody.

Child support is complicated to determine

Calculating how much a spouse will have to pay for child support is complicated. How much each parent earns, the child or children’s expenses and the number of nights spent in each household all go into figuring out the amount. This makes child support unique for each family.

Because the calculations are complex and usually standardized, if you are filing for divorce it's often easiest to ask the court to calculate it. Use language like, “I request child support as determined by Ohio state law.” The court will use the financial documents that you and your spouse have submitted to make a decision. If you are filing for dissolution, you will not be able to ask the court to calculate it for you.

If your income is low, for instance, less than minimum wage, let the court know why. For instance, you may have a disability, or the cost of child care is more than you earn. The court assumes that you could make minimum wage if you wanted. It will calculate child support with that in mind, unless you tell the court why it's it's not possible for you to work full-time.

Consider healthcare and taxes as well

Whenever the court considers child support, it also has to determine how any uninsured health expenses for the child will be paid.

Courts have standard ways to deal with this. In many counties, the responsibility for these expenses are divided based on the difference in the parents’ income. For instance, if your spouse makes twice as much as you, your spouse would pay twice as much of uninsured health expenses for the child. The standard for how these costs are divided may vary from county to county.

It can be useful to make sure the court takes into account a difference in income when it comes to healthcare costs. You can include  this in your request for child support using language like, “I request that any payment for uninsured medical expenses be divided as per the court's standard practice.”

It's also important to think through which parent can say the child is their "dependent" for tax and other purposes. A dependent is a member of your household who relies on your income. The parent who has custody is usually the one who claims the child as a dependent. A child can only be a “dependent” for one parent.

This has a number of important impacts. Having an another "member of your household" from a legal perspective can mean decreases to your taxes. You could gain access to more low-cost health care options for yourself as well as for your child. You could gain increased benefits from programs like SNAP.

To ask the court to name your child as your dependent, use language like, “I request that I receive the child’s tax dependency exemption, as custodial parent, due to the tax effects, as well as possible Affordable Care act effects.”