Gavel sitting on stack of bills

Ohio Trial Court Ordered Procreation Ban for Child Support Arrears

When browsing my typical news sites, this headline from a Courthouse News article about a child support arrears case literally jumped off the page at me: “Ohio Supreme Court Rules Man Can’t Be Ordered to Abstain From Procreation.” It kind of reminded me of the old days when courts tried ordering those accused of sexual assault to undergo castration in return for a more lenient sentence – a practice now outlawed.

I have a strong professional curiosity in family law cases, even if they are not from Colorado. Readers of this blog may notice that we occasionally post on cases from other states, even divorce issues from the United Kingdom which we find interesting.

Per Courthouse News, a father with 11 children was convicted on six counts for failure to support the children, owing over $200,000 in child support arrears. As a condition of his sentence, the father was required to “to make all reasonable efforts to avoid impregnating a woman during the community control period” during his period of probation.

Judge's gavel next to open book and handcuffs.

That article certainly caught my attention, so I pulled the actual child support arrears decision issued by the Ohio Supreme Court. In Chapman,1State v. Chapman, 2020-Ohio-6730., the trial court issued that very order, and the state appellate court upheld it as reasonable, though it was remanded back to the trial court to consider the man’s constitutional arguments against the sentence.

The trial court upheld the sentence as constitutional, finding that “the condition was constitutional because it was narrowly tailored to serve the state’s interest in preventing Chapman from fathering more children than he could support.” Chapman.2State v. Chapman, 2020-Ohio-6730, ¶ 4.

Supreme Court – Not Appropriate Punishment for Child Support Arrears

The man appealed again, and appellate court affirmed the sentence. Finally, the case reached the Ohio Supreme Court, which threw out that portion of the child support arrears sentence on a 6-1 vote.

The Court defined the issue as:

“There is no question that procreation is a fundamental right protected under the United States Constitution. And the trial court’s requirement that Chapman take “all reasonable efforts to avoid” fathering more children while on community-control sanctions limits that right. The crucial question is how we review conditions of sentencing that limit a fundamental right.”

Chapman.3State v. Chapman, 2020-Ohio-6730, ¶ 10 (Cleaned Up).

The Court also noted that a person convicted of crimes necessarily gives up “key aspects of his liberty” when in prison, or on probation, and that “certain restrictions on fundamental rights are inherent in criminal punishment.” Chapman.4State v. Chapman, 2020-Ohio-6730, ¶ 14. However,

“a probation condition of this type that implicates a fundamental right imposes a more severe punishment than one that does not. Because the punishment is more severe, the justification must be more exacting so as to ensure that the condition does not limit the probationer’s liberty more than is necessary to achieve the goals of community control.”

Chapman.5State v. Chapman, 2020-Ohio-6730, ¶ 19.

And ultimately, the “no procreation” punishment for child support arrears failed the test of whether it was reasonably related to the state’s interest in securing support:

“No doubt fathering another child would increase Chapman’s support obligations, but it would have little effect on preventing the criminal conduct that the statute proscribes. The statute is clear-if Chapman’s means and ability only allow him to pay $1,000 per month to support his dependents and he does so, then his conduct complies with the statutory scheme. And that remains the case whether Chapman has 7 children, or 77.”

Chapman.6State v. Chapman, 2020-Ohio-6730, ¶ 26.

Non-Payment of Child Support Can Be Crime in Colorado

Believe it or not, there’s actually a statute in Colorado which makes maintenance or child support arrears a felony:

“Any person who willfully neglects, fails, or refuses to provide reasonable support and maintenance for his spouse or for his children under eighteen years of age, whether natural, adopted, or whose parentage has been judicially determined… or any man who willfully neglects, fails, or refuses to provide proper care, food, and clothing to the mother of his child during childbirth and attendant illness is guilty of a class 5 felony.”

C.R.S. 14-6-101
Judge with gavel in courtroom looking at defendant in handcuffs.

Note that criminal sanctions for non-payment of child support are rare – the undersigned has never seen a child support arrears case prosecuted in criminal courts. As we discuss in our Child Support Enforcement article in the Colorado Family Law Guide, more common remedies for non-payment of child support in Colorado include:

  • Contempt of Court, which could include incarceration
  • An income assignment (i.e. garnishing wages)
  • Entry of judgment, and then a lien on the obligor’s property
  • And, if Child Support Services is involved, other sanctions are possible, such as suspending passports, driver’s licenses, and professional licenses.

Finally, if you ever are convicted of the criminal offense of non-payment of support, just hope that the Colorado courts follow the Ohio Supreme Court example and don’t prohibit you from procreating!

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