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Should I Modify My Child Support Now that COVID Orders are Being Lifted?

On Behalf of | Oct 20, 2021 | Child custody, Divorce, Family law

Ohio has lifted most of the restrictive rules due to COVID-19. What does that mean for anyone paying or receiving child support. If you have had a change in income due to COVID-19, you may want to seek a modification of your Ohio child support order. You may also be able to request a modification if you had a change in your family size, day care expenses and/or medical insurance. Each state has specific requirements that must be met to qualify for a modification of child support. This article will focus on the qualifications, process, and reasons to modify an Ohio child support order.

There are two ways to modify a child support order in Ohio: request an administrative review through the CSEA administering the child support order or file a motion with the Court to request a review. There are many positive and negative aspects for both processes, but it is my recommendation to consult an attorney before beginning the process because an attorney can represent you in actions before both the CSEA and the Court.

There are currently 88 CSEA’s in Ohio, and all of them have their own forms and internal procedures for the administrative modification process. The Hamilton County CSEA requires the requesting party to complete and return the “Request for an Administrative Review of the Child Support Order” (JFS 01849) to start the modification process through the CSEA. It is important to note that the requesting party will be required to demonstrate that one of the 15 factors to qualify for an administrative review (i.e. 30% increase or decrease in income which is beyond the party’s control and is reasonably expected to continue for an extended period of time) has been met if the child support order was set less 36 months prior. So make sure to attach documentation to establish that this criteria has been met when submitting the JFS 01849 Form or it is likely that the CSEA will dismiss your request for a modification.
Once the CSEA receives the completed form and determines that it has authority under Ohio Revised Code § 3119.60 et al to complete a review of the child support order, a review date will be set usually 45 days out and all parties will be notified of the time and date for the desk/paper review. The parties will be required to provide their financial information pursuant to Ohio Revised Code § 3119.60(C) prior to the review date. If a party does not provide their financial information, the CSEA modification technician may make reasonable and necessary assumptions regarding the non-providing party’s information. So it is always a good idea (and actually required under all court orders) to notify both the CSEA and the Court when you move because the CSEA will send all notices requesting modifications of support to the address on file with the CSEA.

On the date of the desk/paper review, the CSEA modification technician will conduct the review without either party being physically present. It is important to make sure that there is a clear deviation guideline in any child support order because the CSEA modification technician shall apply any prior deviation from a past order to the new child support calculations as long as the modification technician can determine the monetary value or percentage of the deviation. For example, if your past child support order contained a 20% deviation due to the fact that the obligor pays the child’s private school tuition, then the modification technician would apply a 20% deviation when calculating the new child support amount. Prior to March 28, 2019, the CSEA had no discretion to apply a deviation if it could determine the monetary amount or percentage. If your child support order was set prior to the law change, don’t be surprised if the CSEA doesn’t apply a prior deviation to the new child support calculations.

The CSEA modification will make a recommendation to increase, decrease or have the child support remain the same and notify the parties of their rights regarding this decision. The parties have a right to request an administrative or court hearing if they disagree with the CSEA’s decision. It is important to note that the effective date of any change in support will be the first day of the month following the date certain on which the review of the child support order began. So if the CSEA set and held the review on May 15, 2021, the child support modification would be effective June 1, 2021.

As you can see by the multiple paragraphs set above, the process of modifying a child support order through the CSEA is very long and time consuming. Thus, it could take up to 6 months if not longer for the CSEA to complete this process, and even longer before the modification takes affect if either party disagrees with the calculations and requests an administrative or court hearing.

A party can request the Court modify child support by filing of a motion with the Court. In Hamilton County, the Court will set the motion for a hearing 6-8 weeks after the motion is filed. This 6-8 week time frame allows for the requesting party to obtain service on the other party. Usually, the first hearing will be used as a pre-trial hearing in order for the Court to ensure that all parties have been served and allow the parties to exchange financial documentation through a process called discovery. The Court sets the matter for a full evidentiary hearing to determine if the child support should be modified in accordance with Ohio Revised Code § 3119 unless the parties can come to an agreement about the amount of child support to be paid. The effective date of the child support order as modified by the Court would be the date of filing unless otherwise agree upon by the parties.

Filing a motion with the Court will ensure a timelier result and effective date if the child support is able to be modified. However, discovery will have to be conducted in order to present the evidence necessary (i.e. tax returns, W2s, health insurance cost, childcare cost), and the Court system can be difficult to navigate without an attorney. A secondary benefit of filing directly with the Court, although you will incur court costs whereas the administrative process is free, is that your case will be heard by a Magistrate. A Magistrate is an appointed official, who is experienced with child support laws. The CSEA’s modification technicians and administrative hearing officers are not usually licensed attorneys and are not as familiar with the child support laws, especially in cases where there was a prior deviation or a party is self-employed. The Court also has more flexibility to consider the personal circumstances of the parties (i.e. deviating from the guidelines because it is in the best interests of the minor child/ren) and when deciding if a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed.

My recommendation is to consult with an attorney prior to requesting a modification administratively or through the Court. Since there were major changes to the child support laws effective March 28, 2019, it is possible that the result you are anticipating due to your financial change in circumstance is not the result received when calculating the revised amount of child support pursuant to the new guidelines. An experienced child support attorney can prepare a child support worksheet and navigate through the administrative process of the CSEA or motion before the Court to increase your chances of modifying the child support order.

Written by Janice H. Barr, Attorney