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Appeals Court: Child Support for Disabled Child May Be Imposed After 18th Birthday

A divorcing parent may be ordered to pay child support for a disabled son or daughter who has already passed his or her 18th birthday prior to the date of the parents’ divorce, according to a September 10 decision of the Twelfth District Court Appeals.  In its opinion, the Twelfth District noted that its decision is at odds with a ruling by the Tenth District in a similar case.

The court’s 3-0 decision, authored by Judge Robert N. Piper III, affirmed a ruling by the Clermont County Domestic Relations Court ordering Donovan L. Donohoo Jr., the divorcing father of a disabled 23-year-old, to pay monthly child support for his son, Tyler Donohoo, despite the fact that Tyler achieved the age of legal majority before his parents were divorced.

The court of appeals also affirmed the trial court’s award of spousal support to Donavan’s ex-wife, Jill Donohoo, and affirmed the denial of a cross-claim by Jill disputing the trial court’s valuation of her ex-husband’s accounting practice.

With regard to the child support issue, Judge Piper rejected the legal analysis of Geygan v. Geygan, a decision issued earlier this year by the Tenth District Court of Appeals.  In Geygan, Judge Piper noted,  the Tenth District held that when the General Assembly enacted R.C. 3119.86, which recognizes a parent’s continuing duty to support a disabled child, the legislature specifically authorized domestic relations courts to “extend” child support orders that were included in a divorce decree issued prior to a disabled child’s 18th birthday, but did not mention the imposition of  a new child support order for a disabled person who had already achieved adult legal status prior to his or her parents’ divorce.  

Judge Piper wrote: “(T)he Geygan court reasoned that had the Legislature intended to permit the domestic relations court to impose child support orders during a divorce proceeding after the disabled child has already reached 18 years old, it would have stated as such. ... We disagree with the Tenth District.  Contrary to the Geygan court's strict textual analysis, we do not read anything in R.C. 3119.86 that prohibits a domestic relations court from ordering child support for disabled children after the child turns 18.  The statute merely codified the Ohio Supreme Court's decision (in Castle v. Castle, 1984) that the moral and legal obligation to support disabled children does not stop simply because the disabled child turns 18, as do traditional support orders regarding children with no disabilities.”

“Nor do we believe that the statute was written in such a way as to create two distinct classes of disabled children, those who did not turn 18 before their parents' divorce and therefore are entitled to support, and those who just happened to turn 18 after the divorce and therefore are not entitled to support. Hinging a disabled person's entitlement to support, regardless of the need, upon the timing of the divorce makes no sense. ... (N)othing from the Castle decision or the current version of R.C. 3119.86 limits the duty to support disabled children to parents who divorce before their child turns 18. Nor does the language or policy of Castle or R.C. 3119.86 prohibit a court from ordering support for a disabled child simply because that child's parents chose to divorce after the child turned 18.”

Judge Piper’s opinion was joined by Judge Stephen W. Powell and retired Twelfth District Judge William W. Young, who sat on the case by assignment.

Donohoo v. Donohoo, 2012-Ohio-4105
Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/3/2012/2012-ohio-4105.pdf
Civil Appeal From: Clermont County Domestic Relations Court
Judgment Appealed From Is: Affirmed
Date of Judgment Entry on Appeal: September 10, 2012

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