Major changes just took effect in the way the child support payments in Clark County and the rest of Ohio are calculated — the first overhaul of the system since 1992. The law now better reflects the economic times and acknowledges the support that non-custodial parents bring to child rearing, Clark County officials say.
Clark County parents owe about $25 million dollars in child support yearly, said Clark County Department of Jobs and Family Service Director Virginia Martycz, and about 35 percent of that money goes unpaid.
“It causes difficulty for the family trying to raise the child because there is a lack of funds,” Martycz said. “The (Child Support Enforcement Agency) is very involved in actively pursuing those cases. We work very closely with the courts in Clark County. But we also look at the reason for the non-payment. “
If an individual has lost their job or they have a medical hardship, for instance, the agency tries to work with them, Martycz said.
The child support guideline change was an important one, she said.
“It was a needed change because it was based upon data from the 1980s and obviously the cost of living has changed a lot since then,” she said.
The remade system will be fairer for the fathers and benefit their children, said Eli Williams, founder and CEO of Urban Light Ministries in Springfield. Williams runs programs in Clark and Montgomery counties for men striving to be good fathers, but who often fall short making child support payments.
“If it results in the child support payer being able to pay, that’s a good thing for his child,” he said. “Whereas, if it’s out of reach … and they just bail on it, that’s not helping anyone.”
The system statewide covered more than 1 million children and resulted in more than $1.6 billion in collections last year, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
But problems in the system run deep, including more than $4.9 billion in unpaid support, some as far back as 1976.
Most of the debt in Ohio— nearly 70 percent — is owed by parents who make less than $10,000 a year, child support enforcement officials say.
The new formula accounts for more factors such as credit for shared parenting time and out-of-pocket expenses associated with child care and medical bills.
The reform changed the system in additional ways:
• Economic data used to calculate orders — some from the early 1980s — was updated. New data allow for the calculation of orders for families with combined income of up to $300,000, up from $150,000;
• Changed the minimum order to $80 a month, up from $50 a month;
• Allows state workers to update child support formula tables, rather than require lawmakers to approve updates;
• Capped allowable credit given for child care expenses so low-income support payers are limited to sharing half of child care costs; and
• Established a “self-sufficiency reserve” to make sure low-income parents don’t face child support orders that far exceed their ability to pay.
Bill Beagle, a Republican former legislator from Tipp City, helped work on the Ohio Senate bill while also chairing the Ohio Commission on Fatherhood.
“We became familiar with the amount of arrearages that dads have and some of the struggles that dads have … in making ends meet,” Beagle said. “We knew that there was a big problem.”
Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed the bill last June, and the updated law took effect March 28.
The changes, however, are not retroactively applied across-the-board. The new rules apply to new child support orders, and those cases that undergo a triennial review.
The law — which had broad but not unanimous support — will eventually do what lawmakers intended, Beagle said.
“We think by having awards that recognized the appropriate income levels and expenses, you’re going to have a better collection rate, which means you’re going to have more money there to support the children, which is ultimately what we need,” he said.