Remarriage and Child Support Rhode Island

Learn how remarriage affects child support in Rhode Island.

By , Retired Judge
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Whether you live in Rhode Island or anywhere else, remarriage after divorce is a big step. There's so much to think about. If you are subject to a child support order in Rhode Island, one of the things you should consider is how remarriage might affect that obligation. This article will cover a few common issues that arise when divorced parents remarry.

Child Support in Rhode Island

The Rhode Island family courts have authority to determine child support. An administrative order of the court established a formula and guidelines to be followed in calculating a child support figure. These guidelines take into consideration the parents' incomes, as well as several other items which are contained in a guidelines support worksheet. Some of these items are:

  • preexisting child support payments
  • health insurance premiums or medical cash contributions, and
  • additional minor dependents.

A copy of the worksheet can be found at the State of Rhode Island Office of Child Support Services website.

In addition to the guidelines support amount, the law states that a child support order must contain a provision requiring either or both parents to obtain health insurance coverage for the child. However, this requirement only applies when the parent can obtain coverage through employment, either without cost or at a reasonable cost.

The Court May Deviate From the Guidelines

Although using the guidelines is the norm for determining child support, Rhode Island law gives the courts some leeway. If the court finds that using the guidelines in a particular case would be unfair to the child or either parent, it can order a different amount of support. In making this decision, the court considers all relevant factors in the case, including, but not limited to:

  • the child's financial resources
  • the custodial parent's financial resources (the custodial parent is the one with whom the child primarily resides)
  • the standard of living the child would have enjoyed if the marriage hadn't been dissolved
  • the physical and emotional condition of the child, and his or her educational needs, and
  • the non-custodial parent's financial resources and needs.

If the court varies from the guidelines, it must specify the facts it relied on in making its decision.

Courts Can Modify Support Orders

Rhode Island law permits parents to make a formal request to the court for modification of a child support order. To be successful, the party must prove that a sufficient change of circumstances has occurred since the time the existing support order was issued. The parent seeking modification must prove this change of circumstances by a "preponderance of the evidence". This means the argument in favor of the request must have greater weight than the argument against it.

It's up to the court to decide whether a sufficient change of circumstances has occurred. In making that decision, the court will attempt to determine if there's been a change in the child's needs, a change in a parent's ability to meet those needs, or both.

Once the court reviews the parties' financial documentation and other relevant evidence, it applies the applicable law and determines whether (and how much) the existing support order should be changed.

So if a parent remarries, is that the kind of changed circumstances that justifies amending a child support order?

Remarriage Can Be an Element in a Modification Request

If you're basing your request for child support modification on remarriage, your chance of winning is no sure thing. In In Rhode Island, whether you, your ex, or both, have remarried, the new spouse has no duty to support your children from a prior relationship. So in that sense, remarriage shouldn't make a difference.

An Increase in Expenses May Be Relevant

But what if remarriage adds to your expenses? That situation, if considered with other factors, could have an impact. For example, in one Rhode Island case, a parent showed an increase in expenses arising out of a second marriage, plus a decrease in income due to a disability. The court held that the increase in expenses alone wouldn't justify a modification of support, but the two facts taken together were enough to prove a sufficient change of circumstances.

A New Child May Impact a Child Support Order

In the past, under what is known as common law, having a new child wasn't a valid basis for changing a support order. The reasoning was that your primary duty was to the children of your prior relationship, and no one forced you to remarry and have more children. Today, there's a trend away from that thinking.

In the Rhode Island case referenced above, one of the additional costs the parent was dealing with in his remarriage was having a new child. The court acknowledged that fact in making its decision. So even though having a new child may not, in and of itself, justify a child support modification, it's something a court can consider.

A New Spouse's Income May Also Be Considered

Why should a new spouse's income be a factor in awarding child support? After all, as mentioned above, your new spouse has no duty to support your children from a prior relationship. In Rhode Island, the courts have ruled that a new spouse's income is relevant because it more fully shows the parent's ability to pay child support. How so? Well, in all likelihood, your new spouse is contributing to household expenses, such as mortgage or rent, utilities and groceries. That means that you have to spend less of your individual income on those expenses, leaving more of your income available for your children's support.

The topic of remarriage and child support in Rhode Island is a complicated one. This article is meant to give you just a general idea of the issues involved. If you find yourself in this situation, be sure to consult a qualified family law attorney with any questions you may have.

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