How long does family come first?
by Isabel A. Suarez
I have been paying child support since my divorce 10 years ago. The amount is so high relative to my income that it barely leaves me enough money to sustain myself, never mind stop sleeping on the couch and get a one-bedroom apartment. Do not get me wrong, I love my child dearly and wish to provide him with everything I possibly can. He turns 18 at the end of this month, and I was very excited about finally having more disposable income until a friend told me that I was wrong. Can you clarify my obligation?
Generally, you are right. I wish you could enjoy the extra disposable income. Unfortunately, you cannot start spending that money yet. There are at least three instances where your obligation continues after the age 18. The first is where your child is 18, but still attending high school. The school must be an accredited school, and the child continues to attend on a full-time basis. If your child is being home-schooled, your obligation may require further research. The home-school program has to be one approved by the State of Ohio. Keep in mind that there are very specific requirements that must be met in order for your child to be considered “home-schooled” and your obligation to support continues.
The second situation is fairly straightforward. If, at the time of the divorce, or if by agreement in juvenile court (if the parents are unmarried), the parties can agree to continue child support after the 18th birthday and high school graduation. It is not unusual for parents to make an agreement for support to continue if, for example, the child pursues a college education and lives with one of the parents. Normally, these agreed orders have language that specifically provides that no changes can be made unless agreed to in writing and approved by the court.
The final situation where a parent must pay child support beyond the child’s 18th birthday is when the child is unable to support himself due to a mental or physical disability, which must have existed before reaching the age of 18. The statutory requirement is generally known in legal circles as “Castle Children.” It is derived from an Ohio case, Castle v. Castle, and its principle has been codified by most states in the union. The rationale for the Castle doctrine is essentially derived from an equitable parental obligation to continue to support a child who is unable to take care of himself after coming of age, remains unmarried, and resides in a parent’s home. The famous legalist Blackstone wrote that “the principle of [the] natural law,” “an obligation laid on them not only by nature herself, but by their own proper act, in bringing them into the world. By begetting them, therefore, they have entered into a voluntary obligation to endeavor, as far as in them lies, that the life which they have bestowed shall be support and preserved.” 1 Blackstone’s Commentaries (Lewis Ed. 1897) 419, added for lovers of legalese.
Just in case it was unclear to you, child support obligation continues even during holiday and summer visitation. The exception to this rule is when one of the parents after petitioning the court (which is a requirement) moves out of state. If you receive a Notice to Relocate from the other parent, it is a good idea to request a hearing from the court. At this hearing you should be prepared to address the issue of travel expenses (be specific) to the child’s new residence. This can be done by either having the parents meet halfway, sharing equally in the cost of transportation, alternating pick-up and drop-off, or by reducing child support to offset the cost of exercising visitation rights if one parent is doing all the driving or flying.
Keep in mind that the child support obligation can be either increased or decreased if there is a substantial change in circumstances in either parent’s financial situation. If this is the case, consult an attorney to assess your particular situation and file the proper documentation. There are very specific circumstances under which these petitions can be made and not just because you need more money.
Finally, a parent’s obligation to pay child support ends if the child becomes emancipated. The most common situation is when the child gets married and is either self-sustaining or supported by the spouse. Of course, you can always get lucky and have raised an extremely self-motivated child who is able and willing to support himself so that he does not have to listen to your demands – after all, parents are never right.
Isabel Suarez is a Cuban-born American who has been practicing law since 1984. Her diverse multicultural and multilingual practice Suarez & Carlin in Old North Dayton especially serves the regions working poor. Isabel is also a board member of and volunteer for the Ohio Intervention Program. You can reach Isabel by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling her office located at 765 Troy St. in Dayton at (937) 258-1800.
The content herein is for entertainment and informative purposes only, and should not be interpreted as a legal consultation. Readers act on this information solely at their own risk and are advised to seek an attorney if legal consultation is needed. The accuracy of this information cannot be guaranteed as laws are subject to change. Neither the author, the Dayton City Paper, nor any of its affiliates shall have any liability stemming from this article.