Cincinnati Family Law & Divorce Blog: What Are Some Differences Between Child Support and Spousal Support?

Child support and spousal support have different tax consequences. Child support is not tax-deductible to the payor and is not taxable income to the payee. Whereas, spousal support is tax deductible to the payor and is taxable income to the payee. One’s tax bracket determines the after tax impact of spousal support. For example, a man who is in a 25% tax bracket, will actually be paying 75 cents out of pocket for every dollar paid as spousal support. If the recipient is in a 20% bracket, she will be receiving 80 cents net for every dollar received.  In this scenario, the IRS will receive 5% less in taxes than they would normally be entitled to. It is for this reason that divorce attorneys pay special attention to the manner in which child and spousal support are structured.


Child support ends upon a child’s 18th birthday or graduation from high school, whichever is later. In most cases, child support will not extend beyond a child’s 19th birthday, even if the student is still in high school, unless it is determined that the child is a dependent child, meaning he is unable to support himself. In Ohio, a parent cannot be ordered to provide support, or pay for college expenses for an emancipated child. However, if the parties voluntarily agree to do so, in a legal document, the courts will enforce these agreements.


Spousal support can end at a specific date or it can be of indefinite duration. Indefinite awards of spousal support are unusual, because the law favors finality but in cases of long term marriages, such as 30 years or more, a court may order the support to continue indefinitely. This would allow a court to terminate the support in the future, if the circumstances warrant it, or could result in a lifetime award.


Child support is always subject to modification by a court, upon a significant change of circumstances, as are all matters concerning children. When a court issues a spousal support order, or when the parties, in a dissolution, agree to spousal support, the amount may be certain (i.e. unchangeable) or it may be subject to modification. When subject to modification, the reasons can be open-ended, or they can be limited. For example, it is common for people to agree to the possibility of modification only in the event of unfortunate and uncontrollable circumstances such as disability, or loss of a job due to reasons outside of one’s control. The longer the period of spousal support, the more likely it is that there will be a reservation of jurisdiction to modify the amount.


Child support in Ohio is subject to a formula. Parties, or the court, may deviate from the formula, but the guidelines must be submitted to the court, and an explanation given when an amount is ordered different than the formula. There are many reasons for deviation, including the amount of time each parent spends with the children, and cases with high incomes, typically greater than $150,000. There is no formula for setting spousal support in Ohio, although there have been many legislative efforts to do so. The law requires that many factors be considered, but the most important are the length of the marriage, the earning potential of each party, sacrifices made by either party to their own career, the education of the parties and their health.