NEWARK -- A proposal from the Licking County Prosecutor's Office might put an end to an Upper Arlington man making child support payments to his ex-wife -- even though she died in April, and he has custody of their three children.
Joe Randolph, 44, has been instructed by Licking County Child Support Enforcement Agency officials that he must continue the payments until a court tells him he can stop. Thus, he has been paying more than $1,300 per month to nobody in particular.
Sharon Buckingham, a Newark woman who had custody of the couple's children, died April 25 at age 40.
"I ask the burning question, 'Who are they going to send the money to?'" said Randolph's attorney, Jerry Swank. "I think it's just pure silliness. We have a court date in January. I hope it will be resolved before then."
Assistant Prosecutor Ken Oswalt said Friday a proposal, if approved by Swank and Randolph, would end the child support payments and return to Randolph payments held in escrow.
"We might have a resolution early next week," Oswalt said. "This proposal is something child support has signed off on already."
Nancy Johnson, director of the Licking County CSEA, said the situation is unusual but can't be resolved through an administrative order.
"When a custodial parent dies, we really don't have the statutory authority to terminate child support," Johnson said. "The CSEA doesn't terminate child support; the court order does. It's certainly a very unfortunate situation and something we've done everything we can to rectify."
The case was set for court, but with 2,000 cases per year in Domestic Relations Court, the earliest date was six months away.
"I'm not sure they knew what to do," Randolph said. "I got the impression that they were going to terminate the order and they had the authority to do that."
Randolph said the combination of making the payments and having custody of the children seriously has stretched his finances.
"We've tried to make sure (the children) didn't have to cut back in anything they do," Randolph said. "We don't have stores of cash to draw on. Month to month, we have to look at some other sources of cash, borrowing from relatives or home equity loans."
Randolph said he's also been forced to borrow from his ex-wife's investment funds.
In the future, a parent in Randolph's situation may not have to wait as long to get a resolution. The prosecutor's office, as well as the Ohio General Assembly, are addressing such situations.
Oswalt said CSEA officials will notify the prosecutor's office sooner if a similar situation arises, cutting the time before a possible resolution can be proposed.
Kim Newsom Bridges, director of the Ohio CSEA Director's Association, said a bill sponsored by State Sen. Steve Stivers, R-Columbus, would prevent a repeat of the Randolph case.
The bill could provide two solutions: CSEA notifies the court immediately, a 60- to 90-day process; or CSEA takes care of it themselves without going to court, a 30- to 60-day process.
"We've been working with Sen. Stivers for quite a while," Newsom Bridges said. "We're exploring if there is a way to help counties clear up a situation like this as expeditiously as we can. Child support agencies could notify the court of a custody change until a state law took that power away from the agencies about five years ago," Newsom Bridges said. "Since the statute was revised, we've talked about it. We were not in favor of that language being removed."