Articles Posted in Child Support

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Divorce and parentage settlements and orders in Rhode Island often contain provisions for the parents to split private school or other childcare expenses that are incurred by a parent while the child is under the age of 18. Divorcing parents may also agree to share expenses for children after they reach the age of majority, however, such orders may not be enforceable by the family court. The Rhode Island Supreme Court recently entered a ruling in a case revolving around a father’s agreement to pay for his child’s college as part of a divorce settlement.

The plaintiff in the recently decided case was married to the defendant, and the parties had one child together. According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the parties reached a settlement for their divorce terms, including issues such as child support, payment of private school expenses, as well as custody and visitation. Several years after the parties divorced, they modified the agreement with what is called a consent order. Under the consent order, the father’s child support obligation would be reduced by approximately $400 per month, and he would agree to pay for one-half of the cost of post-high school education for the child.

After the consent order was put into place, the father reduced his child support payment as agreed. When the child entered college, however, the father refused to pay for one-half of the tuition as discussed in the consent order. The mother sued the father in family court, arguing that he was in contempt of the consent order and should be ordered to pay his share of college tuition. The family court agreed with the mother and ordered the father to pay one-half of the college costs.

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The Rhode Island Supreme Court recently issued a decision in a family law case discussing the calculation of child support. According to the court’s opinion, the couple in the case married in 1990 and began divorce proceedings in 2014. The mother subsequently petitioned the court for child support. After a hearing, the family court ordered the father to pay $1,796 per month in child support for his minor child. The mother appealed, claiming that the family court failed to properly calculate and order child support while the divorce proceeding was pending and on the day the marital settlement agreement had been entered.

The appellate court found that the lower court did not err in declining to award child support while the divorce proceeding was pending because the mother was using funds from a joint marital account to support herself at the time, which had been divided equally between the parties, and amounted to about $505,000. In addition, shortly thereafter, the husband voluntarily agreed to pay, and the mother accepted, $2,444 per month in interim child support while the divorce proceeding was pending. The mother also argued that the court incorrectly calculated the child support obligation, in part because the court excluded income that the father received related to an S-corporation he owned.

Section 15-5-16.2 states that a child support obligation shall be calculated based upon the family court’s formula and guidelines. If, after doing so, the court finds that it would be inequitable to the child or to either parent, the court shall make findings of fact and shall order a child support obligation “reasonable or necessary for the child’s support after considering all relevant factors,” including but not limited to, certain enumerated factors. Those factors include the standard of living established for the child before the divorce, the child’s emotional and educational needs, the financial resources of the child, and of the parents. Gross income, as defined by the child support guidelines, includes income from sources such as salaries, wages, bonuses, gifts, prizes, social security benefits, and “all other forms of earned/unearned income,” excluding means-tested public assistance benefits. It also includes business income defined as gross receipts minus ordinary and necessary expenses.

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When a couple with children divorces, one spouse will retain custody of the children and the other spouse will likely be required to make Rhode Island child support payments. In Rhode Island, the right to child support payments belongs to the child, rather than the receiving spouse, so parties are unable to negotiate a pre-determined amount of child support in the event of an upcoming divorce.

Instead, Rhode Island courts employ an income shares model in which the adjusted gross income of both parents is used to determine the child support amount owed by the non-custodial parent. Courts must begin by using the model, but can always order the non-custodial parent to pay additional child support.

Rhode Island Child Support Calculations

To begin, courts will consider the monthly gross income of each of the parties. Then, the court will subtract out any mandatory deductions, such as child support payments to other children, health insurance premiums, and the cost of childcare. Courts may also consider a number of discretionary deductions, such as retirement benefits, life insurance payments, income tax adjustments, significant medical expenses, and the payment of marital debts. However, it is important to note that judges will not consider these factors as a matter of course, and the decision of whether to subtract discretionary deductions is made on a case-by-case basis.

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When a couple divorces and there are children from the marriage, in almost all cases one of the parents will be required to pay child support to the other parent. This obligation remains in place even if one or both of the parties moves to another state. Your experienced Rhode Island child support attorney can help you understand your obligations or the obligations of the other parent.

Uniform Interstate Family Support Act

Sometimes one party is ordered to pay child support to another party, but then one of the parties moves out of state. In the past, it would be very difficult to hold the payor accountable for any child support they owed in these scenarios. In fact, sometimes the payor would move out of state for the primary purpose of avoiding child support. In order to address this issue, Congress passed a law to help make it easier for child support obligations to be enforced across states.

This law is called the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA). The first version was created in 1992 and it has been revised several times since then. The act helps to determine which state’s laws should govern any given child support situation. State laws regarding child support can differ significantly, so it is important for courts to know which laws to apply.

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