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. Health insurance and child care costs are included in the guideline calculation.

The guidelines produces 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 unusual factors that merit it.

Extraordinary factors that a Court may consider in order to increase a child support obligation above the minimum guidelines include:

  • Extraordinary medical costs not covered by insurance
  • Reasonable extra costs for the care of the child not otherwise considered in the calculations
  • Costs to care for other dependent children
  • Unusually high income ( A Court may actually reduce support for very high wage earners based upon the presumption that a child will only need so much money to meet their basic needs).
  • A minor child’s income
  • Disability of a party

The parent responsible for paying child support is considered the obligor, while the parent receiving the child support is 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 substantial change in circumstances. There is no set definition of what substantial means, but generally is a moderate change in income of either party, the birth of another child or the reaching of the age of majority of a child. 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, and has graduated from high school. If the child is still in high school when they turn 18, the support will continue until graduation. However, child support generally cannot extend beyond the child’s 19th birthday, regardless of the child’s education status. The support order can be extended indefinitely 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 (obligor) 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.

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