There are several essential things to understand about child support laws in Rhode Island to help you navigate the process.
- Who Must Pay Child Support in Rhode Island?
- How is Child Support Determined in Rhode Island?
- Which Agency Oversees Child Support in Rhode Island?
- How Do I Ask for Child Support?
- Does Alimony Affect Child Support?
- Is Health Insurance Considered a Part of Child Support?
- Establishing Parentage
- Consequences of Not Paying Child Support
- Modifying Child Support Payments
- Child Support and Taxes
- When Does Child Support End in Rhode Island?
Who Must Pay Child Support in Rhode Island?
Both parents must financially support their minor children under Rhode Island family law. This is true even if the parent and child live in different households, either parent remarries, or the parents were not married to each other when the child was born.
Child support is also required for the parent who does not provide the child’s primary residence and lives or works in another state. In addition, support is required even if the parent who provides the child’s primary residence refuses to allow visitation by the noncustodial parent.
All child support orders contain a provision requiring either or both parents to obtain or maintain health insurance coverage for the child when coverage is available through their employment at no cost or a reasonable cost.
How is Child Support Determined in Rhode Island?
The amount of child support a parent must pay is determined by the Family Court and is based on the gross income of both parents and Child Support Formula and Guidelines established by the state.
The Rhode Island Department of Social Services provides a child support Guideline Worksheet to help you estimate your fair share of child support.
To start, you’ll need to know the monthly gross income of both parents. Gross income is your salary, wages, bonuses and commissions from your job, and any pension or severance pay. Income is also money that comes from any royalties, dividends, a trust, or rents.
Even if you’re unemployed, you may still have income from social security, workers’ compensation, and unemployment or disability benefits for child support purposes.
You are also entitled to several deductions, including:
- preexisting child support payments
- health insurance premiums or medical payments the parents make on the child’s behalf
- if there are additional minor dependents
- work-related child care costs.
You will arrive at an adjusted gross income with all these things factored in.
The court can 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.
After adjusted gross incomes are determined, the court will refer to the guidelines to find the amount due based on the number of children to be supported. That is the baseline for child support, split proportionally between the parents based on their respective incomes.
Calculations of child support are 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 resides with both parents during the year.
Sometimes parents attempt to duck their responsibility for child support by intentionally decreasing their income. 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.
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.
Relevant factors to make that decision include, but are not limited to:
- the child’s financial resources
- the custodial parent’s financial resources
- the standard of living the child would have enjoyed if the marriage hadn’t been dissolved
- the child’s physical and emotional condition and educational needs, and
- the noncustodial parent’s financial resources and needs.
When the court deviates from the guidelines, judges must provide a written explanation as to why they concluded that following the guidelines was inappropriate.
It’s worth noting that the other parent will not be guaranteed visitation and custody rights just because parentage and child support has been established. These issues are treated separately by the court based on the child’s best interest. OCSS cannot assist you with this process.
Read More: The Ultimate Guide to Child Support
Which Agency Oversees Child Support in Rhode Island?
The Office of Child Support Services oversees all child support matters in Rhode Island. It is located at:
77 Dorrance Street
Providence, RI 02903
Phone: (401) 458-4400
Fax: (401) 458-4465
TTY (Relay RI): (800) 745-5555
Most issues are addressed by calling the agency’s main phone number at
Most of the issues you might have can be addressed by contacting our office using the main telephone number (401) 458-4400 or by calling the direct phone number after being assigned to a caseworker.
The agency also has a Child Support Interactive Voice Response (IVR) System to answer questions about frequently asked questions.
If you have a case number and PIN, you can access specific information about your case, including recent payment history, court dates, and other case information, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you do not have a child support case, you can request an application thru the automated IVR System.
You can also contact the agency online using the online contact form to send an email to your child support caseworker.
You can go here for a directory of direct phone numbers
How Do I Ask for Child Support?
Any parent or guardian of a child may complete an application for child support services. There is a $20 fee for non-public assistance cases.
Parents or guardians receiving benefits from the RI Works, TANF, benefits, RIte Care, or state medical assistance will have their case automatically referred to OCSS. Once the case has been referred, it will be a full-service case, and a “Welcome Letter” will automatically be mailed to both the custodial and noncustodial parent.
OCSS will assist a case that has a Full-Service level with:
- locating the noncustodial parent
- establishing parentage
- establishing a child support and medical order
- and enforcement of the order
All forms and the application for service are available for download from the CSS website. To open a case, you can download the forms you need or call OCSS at 401-458-4400 and request an application be sent to you in the mail.
As part of the process, be prepared to provide detailed information about the other parent. The more complete the information you provide, the easier it will be to locate the noncustodial or custodial parent and provide services.
You will also be required to provide essential documents such as the child’s birth certificate, any court orders that pertain to the child, and any information regarding the location of the noncustodial parent.
The most important information is the following:
- Noncustodial parent’s name
- Noncustodial parent’s complete address and telephone number
- Noncustodial parent’s employer information and address
- Noncustodial parent’s social security number
- Information about the noncustodial parent’s earnings and investments
- Names and addresses of the noncustodial parent’s relatives
- Names of unions and clubs that the noncustodial parent is affiliated
- Custodial parent’s identification
- Information about the custodial parent’s income
- Divorce decree or custody papers
- Birth certificate for the child
- Proof of any money provided for the child
- Paternity affidavit
You will be assigned a caseworker after your case is entered into the child support system. This is your child support representative – the person to contact with any case-specific questions. This person may change periodically due to caseload numbers.
To be processed correctly, fill out both the Application for Child Support Services and the Family Court Statement of Assets form.
Does Alimony Affect Child Support?
Spousal support is separate from child support or other payments under a child custody agreement. However, they are also interconnected because if you can prove you’ll also need more financial support as a custodial parent, you can legally request alimony payments in addition to child support payments.
Also, the parents or the court must determine who will have custody of a child to understand a parent’s ability to work and their overall financial needs.
A judge also looks at a spouse’s ability to pay. For example, if the higher-income spouse is already paying child support for previous children, they may not have as much additional ability to pay spousal maintenance, and this may be considered a factor.
Read More: Everything You Need to Know About Alimony
Is Health Insurance Considered a Part of Child Support?
According to Federal and State law, OCSS is obligated to secure medical coverage or a cash medical order in every child support case. Before child support and medical support can be ordered, parentage must be established for the child
If the child is receiving Rite Care or Rite share benefits from the State of Rhode Island or other types of medical assistance, OCSS must pursue the noncustodial parent for private medical coverage for the child if it is provided to the parent as part of employment at no or at a reasonable cost.
Reasonable cost means that the coverage for the minor child is less than, or equal, to 5% of the noncustodial parent’s gross income per month. Once medical coverage is ordered, the parent’s employer will be notified using the National Medical Support Notice (NMSN) to enroll the child in the plan. The custodial parent then must present the private coverage insurance information to the physician.
If the Court finds that the coverage would cost the noncustodial parent more than 5% of their gross income per month, the Court may order the noncustodial parent to pay 5% and the child support monthly order. This contributes to the cost of Rite care coverage that the State of RI pays.
Establishing parentage means establishing a legal parent/child relationship.
In Rhode Island, paternity can be established by Marriage, a Court Order, or a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage (VAP).
If parents are married when a child is born, whether same gender or not, the law presumes that they are the child’s legal parents.
Unmarried parents can agree to sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage form to establish parentage immediately following the birth of a child at the birthing hospital. If another person is the parent, the spouse may sign a Denial of Parentage form at the hospital. Hospital records staff are trained to assist in the voluntary process, explain the parents’ rights and responsibilities, provide informational pamphlets, and answer questions.
Signing the Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage declares both parents acknowledge that they are the child’s parents. It will ensure the acknowledged parents’ names will be listed on the child’s birth certificate.
A parent can rescind the acknowledgment by commencing a court challenge within 60 days after the VAP is signed or the date of the first court hearing related to the child for which the person who signed the acknowledgment is a party.
Married parents can also sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage if they would like to have a legal document equivalent to a court decree of parentage.
If parentage was not voluntarily established by signing the Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage form, and if the State is providing benefits to your child through the Rhode Island Works Program (RI Works), Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), or medical assistance through Rite Care, then the State will establish parentage by filing a Complaint for Parentage and Child Support.
Genetic testing can exclude a father as the parent or show a high probability that the individual is the child’s biological parent. If the parent is the alleged father and denies parentage, the State will schedule Genetic testing. If the genetic testing tests show a high likelihood of parentage, the court will likely establish parentage through a court order.
If RI Works is not being provided to the child, the parent can request services, and the OCSS will proceed to establish parentage legally. If the case goes to court, the court can order Genetic testing for the parents and child to determine the biological parenthood of the child.
If you have not yet established parentage for an older brother and sister of your new baby, you and the child’s parent can sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage form at any time for the other child(ren).
Consequences of Not Paying Child Support
Once a child support order has been established, it remains in force until modified or suspended by the Rhode Island Family Court.
When parents fall behind in payments, the court has several actions it can take to force compliance. All enforcement is automatically generated when a specific dollar amount is met or upon a certain event. That means a custodial parent does not need to contact OCSS to request enforcement
The following are the enforcement tools that the Office of Child Support Services has available:
- Administrative Offset Program. This tool is triggered when the noncustodial parent owes at least $25 and is at least 30 days delinquent in his child support payments.
- Federal Tax Refund Offset Program. This program collects past-due child support payments from parents who have fallen behind in RI Works cases of at least $150 and non-RI Works cases of $500.00 in child support payments and are owed a tax refund.
- Passport Denial. Persons who owe past-due child support of $2,500 or more will be sent a notice and be referred to the federal government for passport denial.
- Bank Match. The Office of Child Support Services will report a noncustodial parent in arrears of $500 to participating banks to match against their records. The banks will provide the information about the savings or checking account, and the agency will place a lien on that account per the lien procedure.
- Insurance proceeds Intercept. The “Insurance Intercept Act” provides that any insurance company making a settlement of any claim of $3,000 or more must look up the case on the Rhode Island Website to determine if the noncustodial parent is on the list of parents who owe past-due support of $500 or more.
- Credit Bureau Reporting. The Office of Child Support Services shall provide information regarding the amount of overdue support to consumer reporting agencies.
- Lottery Intercept. Any person who has a past due child support due of at least $500 is reported to the Director of the State Lottery. Upon a lottery winning of $600 or more, the proceeds will be offset up to the amount of past-due child support after payment of state and federal taxes.
- Motion to Adjudge in Contempt. The OCSS will first attempt all administrative enforcement measures described here and look at the history of the cases before filing a motion. If a noncustodial parent falls behind in their child support payments, the Office of Child Support Services may, if it is appropriate, file a Motion to Adjudge in contempt. If the court finds that the noncustodial parent could pay child support and willfully failed to do so, they may be found in willful contempt and maybe incarcerated until the contempt is “purged.”
- Driver’s License Suspension. OCSS will notify a noncustodial parent who owes 90 days’ worth of child support payments of the agency’s intention to submit their name for license revocation or suspension. License refers to a driver’s license, professional, business, or occupational license.
- Child Support Recovery Act. OCSS may refer a case to the United States Attorney’s Office for criminal prosecution if the noncustodial parent can pay child support, willfully fails to pay a known past due amount which has remained unpaid for longer than two years, or is an amount greater than $10,000, and the child resides in another state.
- Administrative Liens. No minimum amount of past-due support is required for the administrative lien process. OCSS may send written notice of an intent to lien personal or real property of the noncustodial parent for past-due support.
- State Criminal prosecution. An individual who has incurred past-due support of $10,000 or more, or who has willfully had the means to do so, fails to pay for over three years, shall be guilty of a felony for each instance of failure to pay and upon conviction, be punished by imprisonment for up to five years.
- Bonds. The Rhode Island Family Court may require a noncustodial parent to post a bond, which will be deposited with the court’s registry to satisfy or secure future support.
- Body Attachments. A body attachment is a civil warrant for a person’s arrest. A noncustodial parent is served with a witness subpoena and a summons to appear in court. Failure to appear may result in a body attachment issued for arrest.
Modifying Child Support Payments
Either parent or the State may file a motion for review and adjustment with the Rhode Island Family Court if it has been at least three years since the last child support order was reviewed or ordered. The party requesting the modification must show a substantial change in circumstances.
Complete the Custodial Parent Request for A Modification form to start the process. By doing so, you are requesting that OCSS file the paperwork called a Motion to Modify to increase your child support order.
You will be notified in writing if your request is rejected. You may, of course, file the motion “as a self-represented litigant” or on your own at any time. Legal counsel for this agency will not legally represent you at the hearing regardless of whether we file the motion for you or you file on your own.
You will be required to present your case to the Magistrate/Judge or retain legal counsel to present your case before the Court. If you do not appear, the motion may be denied or passed.
You can use these forms for the modification process:
- Custodial Parent Request for Modification Form
- Motion for Relief: Filing as a Self-Represented Litigant (For Yourself)
- Motion for Relief: OCSS Assists You in Filing Relief Motion
- Motion for Review and Adjustment
Child Support and Taxes
Child support payments are neither deductible by the payer nor taxable to the recipient. Don’t include child support payments received when you calculate your gross income.
Generally, the custodial parent is treated as the one who provides more than half of the child’s support. In some cases, the noncustodial parent may be treated as the parent who provided more than half of the child’s support. However, you may be able to claim the child as a dependent.
Many agreements include a provision that each parent declares half the children as dependents when there is an even number of children. The parents alternate years claiming the child for an odd number of children. In this situation, parents may need to submit Form 8332, Release/Revocation of Release of Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent, or a substantially similar statement.
When Does Child Support End in Rhode Island?
Child support ends in Rhode Island when a child turns 18 or becomes emancipated. Emancipation normally occurs when a child is self-supporting, married, or in 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 19. The court may also order parents to support a child with a severe physical or mental impairment up to 21.
For support to legally end, you must obtain an appropriate court order. You can contact the Office of Child Support Services when seeking to end support.