Rhode Island Family Law: Understanding Child Support

Child support is a court-ordered financial obligation ordered to be paid from one parent to another. When two parents of a child separate, the court will issue a judgment against the non-custodial parent (the parent with the lesser amount of parenting time) to make a monthly payment to the custodial parent (the parent with the greater amount of parenting time). If the parents are divorcing, the calculation and subsequent judgment are typically made during the divorce proceeding. If the parents were never married, the custodial parent will need to petition the Office of Child Support Services to create an order. The purpose of child support is to ensure that the child maintains the same standard of living they would have had the parents stayed together.

How is child support calculated?

The state of Rhode Island relies on an income share model to calculate child support. The support amount is determined by using the Rhode Island child support guidelines. The guidelines will be used to calculate a presumptive amount for support. Usually, this amount is determined to be appropriate, but either parent can request an adjustment to the amount if there are factors that merit it.

The parents’ gross income is the primary basis for the support calculation, however, there are other expenses that are considered when creating a child support order. These include:

  • Health insurance costs
  • Extraordinary medical costs not covered by insurance
  • Childcare services
  • Reasonable extra costs for the care of the child not otherwise considered in the calculations
  • Costs to care for other dependent children

Once the court has established these figures, they will run the numbers through the guidelines calculator and establish a judgment. The parent responsible for paying child support will be considered the obligor, while the parent receiving the child support will be the obligee. Once a judgment has been created, an order will be sent to the obligor’s employer to begin withholding the child support amount from the obligor’s earnings. Payments will be made from every paycheck rather than one lump sum. The child support order and withholding order will remain in effect until otherwise modified. If you are not employed or your employer has a verifiable reason for being unable to withhold from your paycheck, you are responsible for making payments to the Rhode Island family court.

Can the support order be modified?

A parent is allowed to request a modification of the child support order any time there is a change in circumstances or every three years. It is important to note that the change of circumstances must be substantial and directly related to the parent’s ability to provide for the child. A good example is typically a change in income. Increased costs for the child such as increased ongoing medical costs or the birth of a new child could also be considered.

When does the support obligation end?

Child support orders typically end when the child turns 18 or becomes legally emancipated. If the child is still in high school when they turn 18, the support will usually continue until graduation. However, child support cannot extend beyond the child’s 19th birthday, regardless of the child’s education status. The support order can be extended until the child turns 21 if the child is seriously disabled.

It is important to note that the child support order does not automatically end once the child turns 18 or graduates from high school. The paying parent must petition the court to terminate the support order. Failure to pay support before the order has been terminated can result in the parent being found in contempt.

There are many factors that are considered when determining an appropriate child support amount in Rhode Island. If you have circumstances that you think may impact your case, you should consult an experienced family law attorney. A qualified attorney can help you make sure all the appropriate facts are considered.