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Discover why calculating Rhode Island Child Support is more complicated than you think!

Child support

When a parent finds out that he or she is going to have to pay child support, the parent usually just wants a straight answer to the two questions below without any hassle or fuss. 

1.  How much will I have to pay?

2.  How often will I have to pay it? 

Many people think child support is both simple and easy to calculate.  In most cases, this is not true. 

I will give you a quick idea of why seeking out an experienced divorce and/or family law lawyer in Rhode Island is crucial to understanding how Rhode Island child support works and determining what the right amount of your child support obligation will be.

The second question is easier to answer than the first to answer and so I will address it first. 

2.  How often will you have to pay your child support?  Unless otherwise ordered by the court, child support is to be garnished from your paycheck according to the Administrative Orders of the Court.  Therefore, you typically have to pay it with each paycheck.  Therefore, if you are paid weekly then it would be taken out of your paycheck weekly.  If you are paid bi-weekly, then child support would be calculated for the amount of a bi-weekly payment and the bi-weekly amount would come out of your check. 

Moving on to the first question, "How much will I have to pay in child support?"  The answer is dependent upon the circumstances of each case yet even in the simpler cases it may require various disclosures of information in order to do the calculations and, frankly, sometimes the parties do not want to disclose the information necessary for a proper computation because they consider it personal to them or otherwise invasive.

Rhode Island has adopted federal guidelines.  These guidelines have been expanded by Administrative Orders issued by the Rhode Island Family Court.

Rhode Island Guidelines are based upon our state's Child Support Guidelines and one or more Child Support Guidelines Worksheets generated by the parties or the court depending upon whether the parties are represented by counsel or are acting as their own attorneys.   

        This not, nor is it intended to be, a full and comprehensive analysis of all the factors that can and should be factored into proper Rhode Island Child Support calculation.  Such an analysis would take far longer than the time available for a single article.

    However, this glimpse into the process should give you an idea as to why it is more complicated than you may think and why you should have an experienced divorce and/or family law attorney to assist you in calculating child support to avoid overpayment or underpayment depending upon which party you may be. 

  • GROSS INCOMES -  In order to calculate child support, the gross income of each of the parents of the minor children must be disclosed.   If one or both parties are fully or partially self-employed then sometimes the gross income must be proven if the amount of a parties' gross income is challenged by the other parent as being underestimated or misrepresented.  This may require the production of paystubs, employer payroll records, business records (if self-employed) or bank statements.
      
  • WORK-RELATED CHILDCARE EXPENSES - Once the gross income of each of the parents is determined, each parent receives a deduction from their gross income for their percentage of the work-related childcare expenses that are reasonably necessary for either or both parties to earn the income that is supporting the children after deducting the Federal Childcare Tax Credit that the parent with physical custody of the children receives.

    For example, if the total work-related childcare expenses for the year are $7,800 and the custodial parent got a $4,000 Federal Childcare Tax Credit then the remaining $3,800 would be the amount the deduction applies to.  If the non-custodial parent makes 70% of the combined income of the parties and the non-custodial parent makes 30% of the combined income of the parties then the non-custodial parent receives a deduction from gross income of 70% of $3,800.  The custodial parent receives a deduction from gross income of 30% of the $3,800.  The proper calculation requires the disclosure of the total actual childcare costs as well as the federal income tax return of the custodial parent to verify and/or confirm the Federal Childcare Tax Credit.
      
    However, the work-related childcare expense deduction from each party's gross income is limited to the amount of work-related childcare expenses over and above the amount of the Federal Childcare Income Tax Credit the custodial parent receives on their Federal Income Tax Return for that child(ren). Therefore, the federal income tax return of the custodial parent should be disclosed to determine how much of a deduction the custodial parent received (or could have received) for the minor children on their taxes. If this is not done, the child support amount becomes skewed and overly inflated against the non-custodial parent who may end up paying more child support needlessly.

  • PRE-EXISTING CHILD SUPPORT PAYMENTS - If a party already has any pre-existing court orders of child support for other children, then generally he or she is allowed a deduction for the amount of that child support ordered it if is being paid.  However, the Rhode Island Family Court judge may have the power in his or her discretion to disallow all or part of the pre-existing child support order deduction from the party's gross income if the parent is not paying the order or is only partially paying the order.  If the party is not paying the order at all, he or she may well not receive any deduction.  If he or she is paying only a part of the order, then he or she is likely to receive only a deduction for that part of the order that was actually paid.  Therefore, proof of the order, as well as the amount paid toward the order, may be required in order to justify the payor receiving the deduction against the gross income.
  • HEALTH INSURANCE DEDUCTION - Additionally, if a party pays out-of-pocket to cover the children on his or her health insurance, then that party is also allowed a deduction from his or her gross income solely for the amount of the insurance premiums that he or she pays for the minor children. Once again the amount of the health insurance that is specifically paid and attributable to the coverage for the minor children must be disclosed (and in many instances proven if the other party objects to the amount of the deduction or whether it actually relates solely to the children for whom child support is being calculated) in order to receive this deduction against gross income.

  • ADDITIONAL MINOR CHILDREN - If either party has additional minor children, then he or she is allowed a deduction from his or her gross income for that minor child(ren) up to a maximum of 50% of the child support that would be paid for the minor child(ren) if a child support order had been generated by the court. However, to properly calculate this credit the income of both natural parents or legal guardians of each additional minor child needs to be disclosed (and in many instances proven if the opposing party objects to the amount of the deduction) as well as the childcare expenses, if applicable, and the custodial parent's federal income tax return to verify the Federal Childcare Income Tax Credit. Even though an additional child support guideline worksheet is not required to be submitted to the court for approval, it should be created by the parties and/or their attorneys to ensure the deduction for any additional minor children is accurate.

    If there is no court order for either party’s additional minor children and the party seeking the deduction for the additional minor child is not living with the children, the deduction for the additional minor children may not be allowed as there may be no evidence of support for the additional minor children and absent evidence that the additional minor children are being supported by the party (or agreement between the parties that the party may have the deduction), the deduction need not be given.

This is just a partial example of how Rhode Island Child Support is calculated. I have not included the computations for a Cash Medical Contribution which may be required if the minor children are on state assistance, nor have I included any of the optional deductions that could apply in the discretion of the court, including pension or retirement payments, life insurance premium payments, parent’s extraordinary medical expenses, income tax exemptions/deductions or payments of assigned marital debts in divorce cases.

It should be noted that Rhode Island Child Support is all subject to the approval of the Rhode Island Family Court judge presiding over your case and that it is set up as the “minimum standard” for child support to be used by the court. However, the family court justice has the discretion to increase or decrease this child support based upon findings of fact that warrant a modification upward or downward.

This example deals with less than half of the situations and factors that may occur in child support cases in Rhode Island.  This article does not deal with incarceration of one of the parties, social security disability payments, supplemental security income payments, imputed income to a parent who is not working, shared placement situations, common self-employment issues relating to gross versus net income, the self-support minimum allowable to child support payors, or federal laws relating to the maximum amount that may be garnished by an employer.

You should be able to tell from this small excerpt that child support can easily morph into a complex calculation that without the help of an experienced Rhode Island divorce or family law lawyer could leave a custodial parent overpaying child support in the long term.  In the converse, an improper calculation could leave the custodial parent being underpaid in the long term.

Lastly, in my humble opinion, you should never rely upon an online calculator to determine child support accurately.  The guidelines change, the forms used for calculating child support also change, and new Administrative Orders issue that may change child support calculations. 

Chances are the programmer of an online calculator for child support was not a Rhode Island family law attorney.  Therefore, you have no idea if the programmer of the website (who is very likely not a lawyer at all) got the calculations correct or not or whether or not factors have been left out.  You also don't know if a lawyer actually tested the programmed calculator to make sure that each variation of calculation (i.e. every different fact scenario) yielded the correct result.  Since this would require a lawyer to do each calculation manually, it is unlikely that a lawyer would take such a substantial amount of time to do so.

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