Tucked deep into the recently passed state budget is a new provision that will reduce driver’s license suspensions of alleged “deadbeat” parents. Currently, a parent owing more than a month in child support faces the possibility of the loss of his or her driver’s license and professional licenses. Under current law, neither the courts nor the Child Support Enforcement Agency can grant limited driving privileges for occupational purposes on a child support license suspension.
The new law, codified in Ohio Revised Code Chapter 3123, which went into effect on September 28, 2011, provides that parents who pay at least half of their court-ordered child support will no longer face suspension of their driver’s or professional licenses. Another provision will allow parents to have prior suspensions for failing to pay child support removed from their driving record. Benjamin Johnson, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, said that under the new law, county child-support enforcement agencies must look back 90 days to see if a parent has paid less than 50 percent of his/her child support obligation. If so, a pre-suspension notice, giving the parent the opportunity to pay up will be sent. A parent who fails to act then faces suspension of his/her driver’s license. Then in order to get it reinstated, he/she must pay in full or report new employment. Click on the link if you are interested in reading the new Ohio Child Support statutes 3123.44 through 3123.63
These changes came as a result of the recommendations of a task force and are in conformity with a sentence-reform law that encourages judges to sentence non-payers to community service or probation instead of jail. There are 341 inmates in Ohio prisons for failure to pay child support according to the Ohio Department of Corrections.
Donald Hubin, chairman of Fathers and Families of Ohio, said that “the problem is not going to be solved by putting parents in prison or taking away their ability to pay child support… The vast majority of overdue child support is owed by parents who can’t pay it. Two-thirds of the money is owed by people who earn less than $10,000 a year.”
Renuka Mayadev, director of the Children’s Defense Fund of Ohio, had one question when she found out about the change: Will it be effective? She said, “if the potential loss of a license motivates deadbeat parents to pay up, then the law should stay in place. What percentages of families aren’t receiving support?” she said. And now with the new law, “Are more children then getting support? In that case, I support it.”
Over the past year more than 100,000 parents had their driver’s licenses suspended for failing to pay child support. Not surprisingly, the collection of child support has dropped over the past few years. Kimberly C. Newsom, executive director of the Ohio Child Support Enforcement Agencies Directors’ Association, said the laws have been flexible and enforcement efforts have changed as the sinking economy made it harder for many parents to pay support. “As Ohio started going into an economic recession, counties weren’t suspending licenses as much. They were working with parents and trying to assist them with employment or getting them into work programs to try and get them employed.” Newsom believes that the new law should help create enforcement consistency across the state. The ability to remove suspensions from a parent’s driving record will help them with future employment opportunities. But she is concerned that if a parent knows that they only have to pay only half of their court-ordered support to avoid sanctions that may be all they will pay.
Even with this change in the law a person who habitually pays only 50 percent after the law takes effect could face other sanctions, including a “black mark” on their credit report, having a bank account seized, or being held in contempt of court.
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Robert L. Mues
Robert Mues is the managing partner of Dayton, Ohio, law firm, Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues, and has received the highest rating from the Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review for Ethical Standards and Legal Ability. Mr. Mues is also a founding member of the "International Academy of Attorneys for Divorce over 50" blog.