Singer v. Dickinson – Case Brief Summary (Ohio)

In Singer v. Dickinson, 63 Ohio St. 3d 408, 588 N.E.2d 806, 811-12 (Ohio 1992), the Ohio Supreme Court observed that, given the amendments to Section 152(e)'s administrative convenience, 26 U.S.C. § 152(e) "does not limit the state court's authority to allocate the exemption," because the allocation of the exemption concerns the support of the child. Singer, 588 N.E.2d at 809, 811.

The court's evaluation of the Section 152(e) resulted in a determination that "the exemption is clearly meant to provide a federal tax allowance for the costs attributable to supporting children." Id. at 811 (reasoning that such a purpose is apparent from the plain language of the statute, "which recognizes the custodial parent presumption only if the child received over half of his support from his parents").

The court rejected, however, the juvenile court's stated reasons for the allocation of the tax exemption, premised on an analysis of the percentages of support. Id. at 812.

It reasoned that an allocation of the dependency exemption that only "marginally increased the non-custodial parent's ability to pay child support equates to no more than a "zero-sum transaction," resulting in infinitesimal benefit to the child's interests. Id.

Specifically, it concluded:

The juvenile court's analysis of percentages of support is inadequate when the dependency exemption is at issue. The allocation of the dependency exemption provided by Section 152(e) . . . may be awarded to the non-custodial parent when that allocation would produce a net tax savings for the parents, thereby furthering the best interest of the child. Such savings would occur through allocation to the non-custodial parent only if the non-custodial parent's taxable income falls into a higher tax bracket than the tax bracket of the custodial parent . . . . If both parents' incomes are taxed in the same tax bracket, no net savings are realized by allocating the exemption to the non-custodial parent. . . .

The juvenile court's analysis assumes that the parent having the greater support obligation under the guidelines should have the exemption. However, we do not perceive how it serves the child's best interest to allow the non-custodial parent to claim the exemption when there will be no net tax savings. While an additional exemption for the non-custodial parent may marginally increase his ability to pay support, the removal of an exemption would equally decrease the custodial parent's ability to support the child. The child's best interest is not furthered by the zero-sum transaction. Singer, 558 N.E.2d at 812.

Therefore, the court recognized that even where the non-custodial parent's share of support was greater, "it would make little sense to allocate the exemption to the non-custodial parent merely because that parent is responsible for a higher percentage of the support obligations under the guidelines" when that benefit to the non-custodial parent was weighed against a custodial parent's lesser income and closer day-to-day support relationship with the child. Id.