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How Do RI Family Courts Calculate Child Support?

Usually Child Support is Determined Using a Formula

Child support is calculated using a formula that is created and periodically revised by the Rhode Island Family Court. The process of calculating child support is started when either a divorce case is started or when a parent files a motion for child support. You can find the child support guidelines here.

In order to file a motion for child support, or even a motion to modify child support, a parent must also file a form known as a Statement of Assets, Liabilities, Income and Expenses, otherwise known as form DR-6.  This statement must be completed, signed and notarized by the parent completing the form and the parent responding to the motion for child support must complete the form and file it, as well.  

The form is overly complicated and requires information that is usually not even needed to calculate child support, but the form is required, nonetheless. In most circumstance, the court plugs the gross income of the parties into a formula which results in what is called the minimum child support requirement and that’s what is ordered. 

Sometimes There Are Deviations From The Formula

Sometimes there are deviations from the formula, often when placement and visitation are closer to equal than one parent having placement and the other parent having visitation. The Rhode Island Family Court has joined with many other jurisdictions in creating an additional formula that helps calculate child support when there is equal placement of the children. However, there are still times when the parties, their lawyers and the court have to be adaptable in calculating a child support that fairly accounts for any special circumstances and the law does allow for that when there is proper justification.

There are also deviations in calculating child support when a parent’s income is not consistent such as when parents are self-employed or when parents have seasonal changes in their employment or income. The Rhode Island Supreme Court has indicated that ” [t]he guiding principle in setting a child-support award is to balance the needs of the child against the financial ability of the absent parent.” Paradiso v. Paradiso, 122 R.I. 1, 3, 404 A.2d 60, 61 (1979).

The Family Court Must Consider All Relevant Factors to Calculate Child Support

The Rhode Island Family Court may consider all relevant factors, including the financial resources and needs of the child and each of the parents to calculate child support. It may consider every factor that would address the totality of the circumstances and conditions related to the welfare of the children. To do this the Court will determine a parent’s ability to pay very broadly in order to provide the children with the most possible support.

Income “[I]ncludes, but is not limited to, income from salaries, wages, commissions, bonuses, dividends, severance pay, pensions, interest, trust income, annuities, capital gains, social security benefits, worker’s compensation benefits, unemployment insurance benefits, disability insurance benefits, gifts, prizes, and alimony or maintenance received, and all other forms of earned [or] unearned income. Specifically excluded are benefits received from means-tested public assistance programs * * *.” Family Court Administrative Order 87-2, IV.B.1.

What does this mean?  The Family Court must consider all the income to calculate child support that is available to the parties, not just taxable income.  If a party has rental income, for instance, but the rental income runs at a loss for tax purposes the Family Court must consider whether or not there is net income available to the party from the rental property regardless of whether or not “paper” losses, such as depreciation, result in a net paper loss.  The definition of income is not in any way related to whether it is reportable to the IRS, so non-taxable gifts and benefits must also be considered in the gross income used to calculate the support.

The Formula Primarily Relies on the Gross Incomes of the Parents

But in most cases, we take the parties’ income from their pay stubs, their tax returns, etc, run the numbers through the formula to calculate the appropriate child support. There are some adjustments made in calculating child support, for instance for health insurance costs, pre-existing child support orders for other children, etc, but those are directly addressed in the formula, as well. There’s no guesswork or any varying treatment of these factors.

Once a child support order is calculated and entered it can only be changed when and if there is a substantial change in circumstances. Typically, if a party’s income significantly changes that will be sufficient grounds to modify a support order. If there is a new and justifiable change in the expenses of a party, particularly if it’s on behalf of the child or children being supported, that will also be sufficient grounds for a modification. A change in placement and/or visitation would also likely justify a modification.

Do Not Delay in Filing A Motion to Modify Child Support If you Lose Your Income.

One of the most important things to remember in filing a motion to modify a child support order is to do it as soon as possible. It can take weeks and even months for a motion to be heard. That’s bad enough. But the court can only make the change in child support retroactive to day the motion is filed. They cannot go back to the date of the change in circumstances that justifies the modification. They have to calculate child support and modify the order retroactively to the date the motion is filed.

In other words, if you lose your job on January 1 and don’t file your motion to modify until February 15, any modification will be retroactive to February 15. You will still be responsible to pay the child support at the original rate for the period between January 1 and February 15 even though you weren’t working then.  So, if you believe that you are entitled to a modification, do not delay in filing the motion! 

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