For some parents, child support may be easier to establish than to collect. However, a "deadbeat" parent - that is, one who fails to pay the full amount of child support every month - can face significant fines and even jail time in some circumstances. A child support obligation continues as long as the child support order is in place or until the child reaches the age of majority. Parents cannot simply avoid their child support obligations without facing severe consequences.
This article provides a general overview of how to establish and enforce your child support order in Rhode Island. If after reading this article you have questions, you should contact a local family law attorney for advice.
When parents separate, their child will typically spend more or the majority time with one parent, while the other parent will be required to pay child support. The parent required to pay child support is generally referred to as the obligor or non-custodial parent.
A valid and enforceable child support order is not automatically granted upon a divorce or separation. It must be requested and established by a judge or through Rhode Island’s Office of Child Support Services (CSS).
A child support order sets the monthly amount to be paid by the non-custodial parent. In Rhode Island, the amount of child support paid is largely dependent upon the parents’ incomes. For more information on how child support is calculated, see Child Support in Rhode Island.
A parent that simply ignores the child support order is making a big mistake, because the child support order must be obeyed, typically until the child reaches the age of majority or some other point in time as set by the language of the order.
Rhode Island’s CSS assists parents who need to establish child support. Access the Application for Child Support Services to begin the process. Additionally, CSS also provides the following services:
CSS can enforce child support orders through a variety of enforcement tools (see below), including automatically deducting child support from the non-custodial parent’s wages or paychecks.
A child support order must be obeyed by the non-custodial or "paying' parent. If child support payments are overdue or stop altogether, a custodial parent may need some help collecting payments. Parents seeking to enforce child support obligations have several options.
For child support orders that are registered with CSS, CSS’s enforcement program is automatic. CSS can withhold child support from a delinquent parent’s unemployment payments, Worker’s Compensation funds, Social Security benefits or veteran’s disability benefits. Alternatively, a parent can go to CSS and ask for assistance collecting overdue child support.
Another alternative is to go to court and ask a judge for help. A custodial parent who is not receiving court-ordered child support may file a court action to enforce the child support order. You can file this action on your own or with the help of an attorney. An attorney will prepare and file the requisite enforcement paperwork and will represent you at the enforcement hearing.
However, if you are unable to afford an attorney, you can file the necessary paperwork yourself. The forms needed to file a child support enforcement action, also called an Order to Show Cause, are generally available in hard copy form at the local county courthouse.
Once the enforcement paperwork has been filed and properly delivered to the delinquent parent, the court will hold a hearing in your case. Read the following article on What is a Show Cause Hearing for information on how to prepare for your hearing. If you have additional questions on what forms to file or how to prepare for your child support enforcement hearing, contact a local family law attorney for advice.
CSS and family law judges in Rhode Island have a variety of tools available for enforcing child support and collecting overdue payments. These include:
A judge may also find a parent in contempt of court if he or she has failed to pay the full amount of child support required. Contempt is a decision by the court that a parent has willfully disobeyed an order. A contempt finding carries with it monetary fines and jail time of up to 6 months for first the violation and up to 2 years for subsequent violations.
If you have additional questions about how to enforce a child support order in Rhode Island, contact an experienced family law attorney for assistance.
For more information on the enforcement of child support orders in Rhode Island and to read the relevant child support statute, see Rhode Island Statutes, Title 15, Chapter 11.1.