In Rhode Island, both parents have a duty to support their child. This means that both are expected to meet the child’s financial and other needs. Typically, however, the noncustodial parent—the parent who spends less than half the time with the child (or children)—makes child support payments. The custodial parent, who has the most time with the child, remains responsible for child support too, but the law assumes that this parent spends the required amount directly on the child.
The amount of support due depends on the child’s needs and the parents’ financial abilities. The state achieves this balance by a set of guidelines, which establish a baseline support amount. In addition to this amount, parents must also cover the child’s health insurance and medical expenses.
The Rhode Island Department of Social Services provides a child support Guideline Worksheet to help you estimate your fair share of child support.
To get started, you will need to know the monthly gross income of both parents. For child support purposes, gross income includes income from all sources—before taxes and any other deductions—although you can exclude benefits from the Family Independence Program.
Income is your salary, wages, bonuses, and commissions from your job, but also any pension or severance pay. Income is also money that comes from any royalties, dividends, a trust, or rents. If you are unemployed, chances are you still have income for child support purposes in the form of social security, workers’ compensation, and unemployment or disability benefits.
You also need to know the amounts for:
These items count as deductions that you can subtract from monthly gross income to get the parents’ adjusted gross incomes. A court could, however, make further deductions of retirement benefits, life insurance premium payments, a parent’s extraordinary medical expenses, income tax exemption adjustments, and payments of assigned marital debts.
Once you have both parents’ adjusted gross incomes, look at the guidelines to find the amount due for the number of children to be supported. That is the baseline for child support, which is split proportionally between the parents based on their respective incomes.
Note that calculations of child support will have to be adjusted in cases involving “split custody” and “shared custody.” Split custody is when there’s more than one child, and each parent has custody of at least one of the children. Shared custody exists when the child spends time residing with both parents during the year.
Be aware that new or modified orders for child support issued by the Rhode Island Family Court must contain a provision requiring either or both parents who owe a duty of support to the child to obtain or maintain health insurance coverage for the child when such coverage is available through their employment at no cost or at a reasonable cost.
Sometimes parents attempt to shirk their responsibility for child support by intentionally decreasing their income. That’s a fool’s errand, because if the court determines that a parent is voluntarily unemployed or under-employed, the court can base the parent’s child support obligation on an income amount it believes the parent could be earning.
In deciding this issue, the court will look at several factors, such as:
Note that there can be legitimate reasons for a parent not earning up to capacity. An example might be where a parent has become permanently disabled.
The law allows for a deviation from the child support guidelines when the court determines that adhering to the guidelines would be unfair to the child or either parent. In making that determination, the court must consider all relevant factors, including but not limited to:
In those situations where the court deviates from the guidelines, judges must provide a written explanation as to why they concluded that following the guidelines was inappropriate.
Rhode Island law requires income withholding with new or modified orders, unless a parent can prove that there’s good cause not to require the withholding, or the parents enter into a written agreement which provides for an alternative arrangement.
With income withholding, your employer withholds the amount of support from your pay, and sends it to the appropriate state agency. You’re required to notify the Office of Child Support Services if you change employment, and you must notify your new employer of the existing child support order.
In some cases, income withholding may not be viable. This often happens in cases involving self-employed individuals. In these situations, Rhode Island offers alternative payment methods. You can send a payment directly to the Rhode Island Child Support Payment Service Unit. Or, you can make payments using a credit or debit card.
Child support recipients can opt to receive a KIDS card, to which the support payments will be credited, or they can have the support amount direct-deposited into a savings or checking account.
Once a child support order is in place, you may still be able to change it at any time if you have experienced a substantial change in circumstances. Usually this happens with the loss of a job, but it could also be a life change, such as a new baby or a shift in the amount of time your child spends with you.
Without a change in circumstances, in order to obtain a review you need to wait three years from when the court issued the order. Even then, the court will review it according to the guidelines, which change from time to time, so be aware that the amount of your payments could go either down or up.
You can request a review from the Office of Child Support Services, which will evaluate the request to determine if there's sufficient evidence to meet the criteria to warrant a hearing in the Rhode Island Family Court, which is where the new order would emanate from. Sufficient criteria would be:
For general information on modifying a child support order, take a look at the article How to Increase Child Support Payments.
Generally, child support ends when a child turns 18 or becomes emancipated. (Rhode Island doesn’t have a formal emancipation statute, but emancipation normally occurs when a child is self-supporting, married, or in the military service.) If the child turns 18 while still in high school, a court could order support payments for up to 90 days after graduation, but not beyond the age of 19. However, the court may order parents to support a child with a severe physical or mental impairment, up to the age of 21.
Note that for your support obligation to legally end, you have to obtain an appropriate court order. So contact the Office of Child Support Services when seeking to end support.
Also, be aware that although you may no longer have to pay child support going forward, you’ll still be liable for any support arrearages that have accrued.
If a parent who is obligated to pay child support isn’t complying with the support order, Rhode Island has several methods of enforcing the order. Some of them are:
For a more in-depth discussion of child support enforcement, check the article Enforcing Child Support Orders: Dealing With a Deadbeat Parent.
You can find more information on Rhode Island child support, including helpful forms, by visiting the Office of Child Support Services website.