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Juvenile Court May Order Retroactive Child Support If Parentage Action Filed by Child’s 23rd Birthday

2003-2116 and 2003-2183. Carnes v. Kemp, 2004-Ohio-7107.
Auglaize App. No. 2-03-10 , 2003-Ohio-5884. Judgment reversed and cause remanded.
Moyer, C.J., Resnick, F.E. Sweeney, Pfeifer and O'Connor, JJ., concur.
Lundberg Stratton and O'Donnell, JJ., dissent.
Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/newpdf/0/2004/2004-Ohio-7107.pdf

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(Dec. 30, 2004) The Supreme Court of Ohio ruled today that a juvenile court has jurisdiction to award retroactive child support payments to an adult emancipated child if a parentage action is filed prior to the child's 23rd birthday.

In a 5-2 decision written by Justice Francis E. Sweeney Sr., the Court held that the Auglaize County Juvenile Court was acting within its jurisdiction when it ordered Barrett Kemp II to pay more than $52,000 in retroactive child support to Jessica Schaefer, his biological daughter.

In 2001, after her 18th birthday, Schaefer located Kemp through an Internet search and provided information about him to the Auglaize County Child Support Enforcement Agency. Subsequent DNA tests established a 99.99 percent probability that Kemp was Schaefer's father. In February 2003, when Schaefer was 20 years old, the juvenile court ordered Kemp to pay her more than $52,000 in retroactive child support for the years prior to her 18th birthday.

Kemp appealed that order to the 3rd District Court of Appeals, which reversed the lower court's ruling on the basis that a juvenile court lacked jurisdiction to award retroactive child support to Schaefer because she did not seek support until after she turned 18, the age at which Kemp's legal obligation to provide child support had terminated.

Schaefer appealed the 3rd District's decision to the Supreme Court, which accepted jurisdiction to resolve divergent rulings by several courts of appeals on this issue.

Writing for the Court in today's decision, Justice Sweeney considered but rejected the rationale of the 3rd District in this case and its reliance on a 1997 appellate decision from Hamilton County, Snider v. Lillie , which held that “(t)here is no provision in R.C. Chapter 3111 that provides for retroactive child support to an adult child. Since the legal duty to support exists only during the child's age of minority, the support action must be commenced before the child turns 18.”

Instead, Justice Sweeney cited with approval decisions by five other courts of appeals which found that, when R.C. 3111.05, which extends the statute of limitations for filing parentage actions to age 23, is read in conjunction with R.C. 3111.13, which gives juvenile courts authority to order retroactive child support, “it appears that the legislature envisioned an award of retroactive child support to an adult emancipated child under R.C. 3111.”

“R.C. 3111.05 expressly provides that a paternity action may be commenced up to age 23, five years after the child has reached age 18. R.C. 3111.13(C) provides that a juvenile court has the authority to make a support order once a parentage determination is made. Thus, R.C. 3111.05 extends the length of time in which to bring a parentage action, while R.C. 3111.13(C) is couched in broad language and does not limit a juvenile court's jurisdiction in a parentage action to award retroactive support to minor children only,” Justice Sweeney wrote.

“Not only does the statutory language dictate this result, but we also believe that since the law specifically allows a child age 18 to 23 to file a paternity action, noncustodial parents should be accountable to their children up until the child's 23rd birthday and should not be able to shirk their responsibility as parents simply because the child may not have contacted or found the parent during the child's younger years,” he concluded.

Justice Sweeney's opinion was joined by Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer and Justices Alice Robie Resnick, Paul E. Pfeifer and Maureen O'Connor.

Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton entered a dissent in which she disputed the majority opinion that a juvenile court has the authority to award retroactive child support to a child who files after reaching the age of majority. She recognized that the parentage statute analyzed by the majority expressly provides that an adult can seek his or her parentage. However, she also recognized that the parentage statute is silent regarding the right of an adult to collect retroactive child support. and said she believes that the majority reached its conclusion by improperly interpreting the parentage statute in pari materia (by reading it together with) child support statutes.

“Juvenile courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and their powers are created by statute. R.C. 2151.23 defines that jurisdiction but refers only to a support order for a ‘child,' which is defined as ‘a person who is under eighteen years of age,' R.C. 2151.011(B)(5), while an adult is defined as ‘an individual who is eighteen years of age or older.' R.C. 2151.011(B)(2),” Justice Stratton wrote. Therefore, Justice Stratton said she believes that these statutes provide no right for an adult to seek retroactive child support.

Justice Terrence O'Donnell joined Justice Stratton's opinion and also entered a separate dissent in which he disputed the majority's interpretation of the General Assembly's intent when creating R.C. 3111.05 and R.C. 3111.13(C). “The different views expressed among appellate districts recognize the difficulty of determining legislative intent and suggest to me that this is a matter of state policy better left to the legislative branch of government for resolution,” Justice O'Donnell wrote.

Byron Bonar, 937.325.5991, for Jessica Schaefer.

Max Kravitz, 614.464.2000, for Barrett Kemp II.