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Computing High Income Child Support

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high income child supportIn order to determine the amount of child support one parent must pay to another, Ohio courts utilize a formula to ensure both parents are providing for any minor children. The formula computes a worksheet for child support and the court merely applies the computed results to the individual case. However, not all earners are covered by the worksheet, those parents whose combined earnings are less than $6,600 per year or more than $150,000 per year must utilize other methods to find an equitable support amount.

The legislature enacted Ohio Revised Code §3119.04 to deal with this very issue. The statute provides that the courts must review the child support amount on a case-by-case basis when the combined income falls outside of the worksheet amounts. This means the court does not have to follow the guidelines of the child support worksheet exactly. Instead, the court will consider the needs and standard of living for the children and for each parent and use that information to determine the appropriate amount of monetary support the child or children require.

In considering the standard of living for the child or children, the court may look to a number of factors, including: any special health care or related services; physical and emotional needs of the child; educational and extracurricular needs of the child; the lifestyle the child was accustomed to during the marriage or relationship of the parties; and any other factor the court determines to be relevant. The court must ensure that the amount is not inappropriately low. To make this determination, the court should not award an obligation lower than that of the $150,000 level. However, if the court finds that the amount should be lower, it must explain to the parties in the final decision why the obligation was set below the guideline. Likewise, a court should put forth reasoning behind a large support amount.

To see R.C. 3119.04 in action, we turn to Lanham v. Mierzwiak:

{¶ 14} In his first assignment of error, Mierzwiak contends:

{¶ 15} “It was reversible error for the trial court to utilize the extrapolation method to calculate child support, without considering the qualitative needs and standard of living of the child and parents.”

{¶ 16} A trial court is vested with broad discretion in deciding child-support matters and will be reversed only upon a finding that the trial court abused its discretion. Dunbar v. Dunbar (1994), 68 Ohio St.3d 369, 371, 627 N.E.2d 532, citing Booth v. Booth (1989), 44 Ohio St.3d 142, 144, 541 N.E.2d 1028; Kendall v. Kendall, 6th Dist. No. OT–04–004, 2005-Ohio-1777, 2005 WL 859447, ¶ 8. An abuse of discretion connotes that the court’s attitude is “unreasonable, arbitrary or unconscionable and not merely an error of law or judgment.” Kunkle v. Kunkle (1990), 51 Ohio St.3d 64, 67, 554 N.E.2d 83, citing Blakemore v. Blakemore (1983), 5 Ohio St.3d 217, 219, 450 N.E.2d 1140. “Where a judgment is supported by some competent, credible evidence, there is no abuse of discretion.” Barone v. Barone, 6th Dist. No. L–07–1336, 2008-Ohio-5793, 2008 WL 4823343, ¶ 15, citing Van Vorce v. Van Vorce, 3d Dist. No. 2–04–11, 2004-Ohio-5646, 2004 WL 2377839, ¶ 15.

{¶ 17} In his first assignment of error, Mierzwiak argues that it was reversible error for the trial court to use the **1259 extrapolation method to calculate his modified child-support obligation under R.C. 3119.04(B), “without considering the qualitative needs and standard of living of the child and parents… {¶ 19} Our analysis of the trial court’s judgment that adopted the magistrate’s decision begins with R.C. 3119.04(B)[.]…

{¶ 21} We have construed this provision to mean that the trial court must “‘(1) set the child support amount based on the qualitative needs and standard of living of the children and parents; (2) ensure that the amount set is not less than the *431 $150,000–equivalent, unless awarding the $150,000–equivalent would be inappropriate (i.e. would be too much); and (3) if it decides the $150,000–equivalent is inappropriate or unjust (i.e. awards less), then journalize the justification for that decision.’” […]

{¶ 22} In fact, this court has specifically stated, “‘“Nothing in the new version of the statute, however, prohibits the court from using [extrapolation] to determine the amount of support due in high income cases; it merely no longer mandates that the court use this method. Moreover, the statute does not require any explanation of its decision unless it awards less than the **1260 amount awarded for combined incomes of $150,000. [A] trial court [does not err] therefore, if it used the extrapolation method to determine the amount of child support due.”’” […]

{¶ 23} Applying existing case law to Mierzwiak’s assignment of error, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in making the child-support award. Because the amount set is not less than the $150,000 equivalent, the trial court was not required to make any findings. […] Rather, the trial court was required only to “consider the needs and the standard of living of the children who are the subject of the child support order and of the parents.” R.C. 3119.04(B).

{¶ 24} Lanham is a registered nurse and massage therapist. She is currently employed by St. Vincent Medical Center, Mercy Home Care, and Northwest Ohio Emergency Services. In regard to her needs and standard of living, the court considered that Lanham must work 80 hours per week in order to maintain a level of income to provide for her daughter’s basic needs. […]

{¶ 37} The trial court also considered that Lanham had refinanced her home twice and that she wished to reduce her working hours but would not be able to provide the basic needs of her child if she reduced her hours. Lanham also testified that she has had to use the equity in her home to meet her monthly expenses.

{¶ 38} Mierzwiak is a physician employed by Omni Health Services Limited, a partnership, and Omni Administrative Service Corporation. Mierzwiak is paid an hourly wage by Omni Health Services and also received bonus payments from Omni Administrative Services. As to his needs and standard of living, Mierzwiak testified that his corporation took on additional partners so that he would not have to work more than 60 hours per week. Despite this, Mierzwiak’s annual income has increased from $315,000 in 2003 to $545,829 in 2009. Mierzwiak also testified that this **1261 new child-support payment causes a financial hardship. In support of this, Mierzwiak testified that he spends approximately $3,500 per month paying for the college educational expenses of his three older children. At the time of the hearing, however, Mierzwiak had paid all tuition due for the year for his older children, with $2,000 remaining in a college savings fund. Further, Mierzwiak testified that he took out education loans for his oldest child in the amount of $114,000. He argues on appeal that it was not necessary for Lanham to take out any educational loans. However, Mierzwiak took out the loans, not out of necessity, but rather with the intention of investing the proceeds in an education account earning a higher interest rate than the loan interest rate to “hopefully come out ahead.” We note that Mierzwiak went on to testify that “when the market tanked last year so did the fund, and that’s why I’m just leaving that money in that fund and that’s the money that I’m going to use to pay back the college loans.” Despite this, at the time of the hearing, Mierzwiak had managed to save $45,000 to repay the educational loan that would not be due until after December 2010. Mierzwiak also testified that he was able to contribute the maximum amount to his 401(k), approximately $46,000 in 2009. Evidence admitted in the trial court also shows that Mierzwiak contributed $9,730 into a health savings account in 2009.

{¶ 39} Finally, in regard to the needs and standard of living of the remaining minor child, the magistrate plainly stated that he reviewed the “standard of living, educational costs, sports, and other enrichment activities for the minor child” as well as “the actual time share of the parents in conjunction with the parties’ responsibilities pursuant to their Shared Parenting Plan.” Testimony was elicited in the trial court that the minor child spends four days per week with Lanham and three days with Mierzwiak, but she spends some time each day at Lanham’s house eating and doing laundry. Testimony reveals that the minor child takes art classes and that Lanham’s work schedule made it difficult for the minor child to participate in travel volleyball. Thus, it is evident that the trial court considered the needs and lifestyle of the child, but also the needs and lifestyle of both parents when extrapolating the child-support payment.

{¶ 40} Therefore, because the trial court considered the needs and standard of living of both parties and the children as required by R.C. 3119.04(B), we cannot hold that the trial court erred.

Lanham v. Mierzwiak, 967 N.E.2d 1256, (Ohio Ct. App. Dec. 2, 2011).

If you feel your support amount is unreasonably high or unreasonably low, an attorney can review your information to determine if the determination was reached equitably. Zachary D. Smith, LLC, has experience in high income child support in Cincinnati and is available to talk more specifically about your case. To schedule an appointment please contact the office of Zachary D. Smith, LLC, at (513) 275-1164 or visit www.ZDSLaw.com for further information.

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