Imputing Income for Child Support in Rhode Island

A look at the process of imputing income in Rhode Island and how it impacts child support.

Both parents have a duty to support their children, whether they are married to one another or not. Generally, the parent without custody (or less custodial time) of the children will pay child support to the custodial parent.

When a parent refuses to provide financial support, or the parents can’t agree on the appropriate amount of support, a court can set the amount of child support based on the laws of the state where the children reside.

Although many parents have no problem supporting their children, sometimes, a parent will quit a job or take a lower-paying job in order to intentionally reduce income and thereby lower his or her child support obligation. In these cases, however, the court may “impute” or attribute income to that parent, which can then be used in child support calculations.

This article explains how courts impute income in Rhode Island. If you have additional questions after reading this article, please contact a family law attorney in your state.

Overview of Child Support in Rhode Island

Rhode Island uses a  child support schedule  to determine a “basic child support obligation,” which is based on the combined income of the parents and the number of children. Each parent is responsible for a share of the basic child support obligation based on how much of the combined income that parent earns. Generally, the non-custodial parent pays their share of child support to the custodial parent.

The court considers the following factors when calculating child support:

  • the financial resources of the child and each parent
  • the standard of living the child would have enjoyed if the parents together
  • the physical and emotional condition of the child
  • whether the child has physical or mental impairment, and
  • the child’s educational needs.

The amount of child support the non-custodial parent pays can be adjusted up or down depending on other factors like who pays for the children’s health insurance and how much time each parent has with the children. To learn more, read  Child Support in Rhode Island.

When a parent loses employment, or changes jobs, the court may modify the amount of child support. If a non-custodial parent wants to lower child support based on a job loss or lower income, however, the court will likely look into the reasons for the change in employment before lowering child support.

What is Imputed Income?

Rhode Island courts won’t allow a parent to simply quit working or voluntarily take a lower paying job to try to pay less child support. When a court believes that a parent is deliberately unemployed or earning less than what that parent  could  earn to financially support his or her children, the court can refuse to use the parent’s actual income to calculate child support. Some examples of situations where a court may impute income include the following:

  • the parent intentionally quits a job or reduces work hours
  • the parent leaves a high-paying job to take a low-paying job or volunteer position, and
  • the parent quits work to go back to school.

Instead of simply accepting the parent’s claims of sudden poverty or inability to pay support in such cases, the court will determine the parent’s “earning capacity” or “earning potential” - the amount that parent has the potential to earn. The court will then use that figure in the child support calculations. The amount of income a court determines a parent should be earning is called imputed income.

The Important Difference Between Voluntary and Involuntary Unemployment

As stated above, courts may impute income to parents that are voluntarily unemployed. But it’s important to note that the court won’t necessarily impute income to parents that have suffered a legitimate job loss or who are involuntarily unemployed or underemployed. Examples of these situations include the following:

  • a physical or mental disability that prevents the parent from working (or from working at full capacity), and
  • a legitimate job loss - being fired or laid off for example.

A court will still want to see that an unemployed parent has been diligent about trying to find work. Otherwise, it may start to look like the parent is choosing to be voluntary unemployed. A diligent job search means filling out applications, sending out resumes and going to interviews.

Similarly, the court won’t punish someone for being underemployed if the parent is making genuine efforts to earn more income. In such cases, where a parent legitimately suffers a loss of income, the court will use that parent’s present income when calculating child support.

How Does Rhode Island Calculate Imputed Income?

If a court finds that a parent is deliberately earning less money than he or she is able to earn, the court will impute income to that parent by considering the following factors:

  • the paying parent’s previous income
  • the paying parent’s education
  • efforts the parent has taken to gain employment
  • circumstances surrounding a job change or loss, and
  • the paying parent’s assets and property.

For example, in one case where a father’s income suddenly dropped 75% from where it had been for 10 years before the divorce proceedings, a Rhode Island court ordered him to pay child support based on what he had been earning prior to the divorce. The court listened to testimony about how the father voluntarily left his job. Based on this evidence, the court determined that the father intentionally quit his job to reduce his income and avoid child support payments.

In another Rhode Island case, a father retired from the military leaving his pension as his only source of income. The court found that even though he didn’t retire from the military just to reduce his income, his failure to get a job after leaving the Navy amounted to voluntary underemployment – which will also form the basis for an imputation order. The court then calculated his ability to pay child support based on his earning potential, rather than his actual income.


If you have additional questions about imputed income in Rhode Island, contact a local family law attorney.

To read the full text of the law on child support in Rhode Island, see the  Rhode Island General Laws, § 15-5-16.2.

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