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Court Weighs Including Perks In Child Support Payments
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The Ohio Supreme Court will decide whether benefits such as a company car offered to a parent should count when it comes to calculating child support.
When his income fell in 2009, Jeffrey Morrow of Medina had asked for a reduction in his payments to his ex-wife for their his two children, one of whom had special needs. But a court had ruled that the company car and paid insurance, the company provided cell phone and the company-paid OSU football tickets â€“ together worth more than $16,000 â€“ counted toward his income and refused his request.
Morrowâ€™s attorney John Ragnar told the justices that state law is clear on this.
Company benefits should be included as income, but only under circumstances stem from employment, self-employment or where the parent shared some ownership interest in the business providing the benefits. So thatâ€™s not the case here with Mr. Morrow.
Ragnar said as Morrowâ€™s income fell, his ex-wifeâ€™s increased a bit. And Ragner said the car, phone and tickets were provided for business purposes, but Justice Paul Pfeifer wasnâ€™t sure.
Pfiefer: â€œI donâ€™t understand your argument why thatâ€™s not part of the familyâ€™s package – $16,000 worth of stuff comes to him â€“ â€œ
Ragner: â€œThatâ€™s correct. Those are benefits.â€
Pfiefer: â€œItâ€™s stuff. Itâ€™s a car. Itâ€™s tickets. Itâ€™s a cell phone. Everyone else pays for it. He doesnâ€™t pay for it. He gets it for free.â€
Ragner: â€œWell, he gets it for free, as you would say, because he needs it to do his business.â€
Tom Morris represents Morrowâ€™s ex-wife Sherri Becker. He said thereâ€™s a category called â€œother sources of incomeâ€, and that these kinds of benefits fall under that catch-all provision.
â€œI think that if you get a benefit that provides a reduction in your living expense and itâ€™s significant, of significant benefit that reduces your living expense, I think that should be counted towards your gross income, because weâ€™re talking about for the kids. Itâ€™s their child support that weâ€™re trying to figure out,” Morris says.
And Morris said though the law includes a list of items that canâ€™t be used to calculate income, such as other child support or disability payments, it doesnâ€™t matter whether the parent is self-employed or owns the company, or if the parent works for someone else.
â€œNowhere in that list did it come out and say, ‘hey, collateral benefits or company benefits, we donâ€™t want you to do that for some policy reason,’ which I would submit there is no policy reason why weâ€™d want to treat children differently depending on the corporate structure of Mom and Dad.â€
Bottom line, said Morris â€“ a parent can have a lot of extra cash if his or her employer is providing a car, and that should be factored in.
If you are given one to use at your discretion, then it absolutely should count because those are dollars that you do not have to spend on your own vehicle.
But Morrow said lawmakers wrote the law this way on purpose â€“ to stop one parent from taking advantage of the other, and a precedent in this case could hurt lower-income parents who need the benefits.
â€œThey never intended, the General Assembly, to exclude company benefits. They just wanted to limit how it was used.â€
The court will rule on this case in the next few months.