Child support can be a sticky issue in any state—especially when a child’s education becomes a factor—but a recent Ohio Supreme Court ruling provides a bit of clarity for those whose situation may be made more complicated by home-schooling or distance-learning arrangements.
The Oct. 10 ruling involved a requirement under state law that such support continue beyond a child’s 18th birthday if that child is still enrolled in “any recognized and accredited program”—a category that the court said includes online and distance-learning programs that are accredited outside the state.
The court said, unanimously, that the law was meant to allow for the “mobility of individuals … [and for] the educational choices available to them.”
And that interpretation offers some solace for supporters of school choice in Ohio, where charter schools, in particular, have long faced resistance, including recent challenges by the state attorney general over their performance. (“Ohio Lawsuits Revive Long-Standing Clash Over States’ Charters,” Oct. 17, 2007.)
“We’re supportive of innovations that allow people to learn in the setting that works best for them and their children,” said Terry Ryan, the director of Ohio programs and policy for the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a Washington-based policy group that is the authorizer of nine charter schools in Ohio.
The Ohio Supreme Court decision stemmed from a ruling by the Geauga County Domestic Relations Court, in Chardon, Ohio, that a man was not responsible under state law to pay child support for his two daughters, both over the age of 18, who were home-schooled through a high-school and college-prep distance-learning program.
The mother returned $696 in child support—but appealed, saying that the distance-learning program was accredited in the state of Illinois and by other education agencies, although not in Ohio. The state supreme court reversed that ruling.
Staff members at the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services anticipate only minor ripples for child-support collection in their state.
“We will send out an update on this ruling and what it pertains to, so that county child-support-enforcement agencies will be aware of this decision,” spokesman Dennis Evans said last week.
A version of this article appeared in the November 14, 2007 edition of Education Week