Childcare Costs Feed

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.

Can my ex-spouse sign me up to be billed for childcare without my permission?

Screen Shot 2016-11-21 at 4.51.24 PMBy: Christopher A. Pearsall, RI Divorce and Family Law Lawyer*


Can my ex-spouse sign me up to be billed for childcare without my permission?


My ex and I have an order to split child care 50/50 for her work and education. She has gone and signed me up to be billed directly by the child care provider without my permission. She refuses to provide me her schedule of work and school. But the bills provide no information other than payment amount. 1. Is it legal for her to sign me up for a payment account without my signature?  2. What is my recourse if she decides to use the childcare for personal reasons and they bill me for half?


Under Rhode Island law, your ex-wife has no legal right to commit you to any payment agreement with the childcare establishment based on the family court order as you describe it.

The answer to your first question is "No."  If she actually signed your name to a contract or to some other document to bind you to payment to the childcare provider without your authority or knowledge, then your ex-wife committed the crime of forgery and she can be prosecuted for that.

The answer to your second question is that your recourse is to take your ex-wife back to family court and file something such as a motion for credit for any monies you paid for one half of whatever time was spent on personal time rather than for work or education. 

You will need to keep in mind that if you take your ex-wife back to court on the motion I suggest above then you will have the burden or proving by clear and convincing evidence that your wife used the child care for strictly personal purposes and that you overpaid as a result and should be entitled to a credit.  You would likely have to prove when it was personal, how you know it was personal and what the personal activity was, how much was charged for that personal usage and how much you were overcharged for that personal usage on each occasion.

Rhode Island Child Support Can Create Daycare Headaches

Childcare costs are included on the Rhode Island Child Support Guidelines Worksheet and can be a significant part of your child support obligation.

This substantially affects fathers more than mothers.  This is by no means intended to insult women or mothers, yet practically speaking more mothers are awarded placement of the minor children than fathers whether by the court or by agreement. Therefore, the father is the non-placement parent and is subject to paying child support more often than the mother.  This often includes work-related childcare costs reasonably necessary for one or both parents to work and support the child(ren).

Child care costs can be anything from day camps at the YMCA during the summer (which often are a cost-effective substitute for child care and also beneficial and fun for the child) or a full-time daycare provider in your local community.

Two big pitfalls that you should address if you go before the Rhode Island family court for a divorce or a proceeding to set or modify child support as the non-placement parent are:

1.  Proof of the Child Care Cost. - You should make sure that you have the "actual" figures from the daycare provider themselves as to what the childcare cost is or will be for your child(ren) for an upcoming session.  Additionally, find out what the childcare cost covers (i.e. what days and times are your children cared for).  Confirm the enrollment of each child with the actual provider. This is to ensure that you pay for childcare costs that actually exist or are planned for and are associated with either you or the other parent working.  You want to make sure you are not paying for extra childcare used only by the placement parent that are not related to either parent being able to work.

Projections or general "program costs" should be avoided because they are not necessarily the actual costs.

2.  Offer Direct Payment - Since work-related childcare costs are included on the Rhode Island Child Support Guideline Worksheet they are typically included as part of child support and are directly payable to the placement parent, usually by garnishment of your wages.  I recommend that the non-placement parent offer to pay his or her portion of the child care costs directly to the childcare provider and included in the Court's Order as a direct payment of childcare expenses to the provider rather than deduction by garnishment.   


First, as long as the non-placement parent makes direct payment to the provider, then he or she is more likely to be paying his or her fair share of the correct cost and knows it is going to the provider. 

Second, the non-placement parent is likely to be made aware of any changes in the childcare program itself or the program cost if payment is made directly.

Third, if you do not pay the provider directly but rather you pay the placement parent as part of the child support then your name (as the non-placement parent) is very likely not on the childcare provider's account.  If this is the case, as it often is, then it is possible for the placement parent to remove the child(ren) from the program without your knowledge and you would continue paying those extra monies as a windfall to the placement parent who may simply choose not to disclose to you that the child(ren) was/were removed from the childcare services.

I have seen this happen on numerous cases during my tenure as a family law attorney here in Rhode Island.  In several cases the non-placement parent paid the placement parent for childcare services for years without knowing that the services weren't being provided anymore. Some placement parents received thousands in childcare services that they merely pocketed.  In the end it would have been more costly in legal fees, costs, and lost time from work for the non-placement parent to recover those monies from the placement parent and therefore the non-placement parent was essentially "taken" for those costs.

In every event, a non-placement parent who is paying childcare costs should always be on the providers account equally with the placement parent.  Also, the childcare provider should be instructed to place both parents equally on the account and to provide notice to each parent directly in the event of any change in cost or program curriculum.  This will save significant hassles for the non-placement parent specifically.

Why are these points so significant? 

Verification and confirmation of actual childcare costs leads to an accurate and fair calculation of what the non-placement parent must pay as his or her fair percentage share of those costs.

It also prevents the placement parent from simply making a representation as to what he or she says the childcare costs are and potentially cause the non-placement parent to pay significantly more in childcare costs. 

If the childcare costs end up being paid directly to the placement parent then this ends up being a financial windfall to the placement parent that he or she is not entitled to at the expense of the non-placement parent.  What does that mean?  Essentially the non-placement parent will be overpaying for the support of the minor child/children.

Offering direct payment to the child care provider leads to the likelihood that the non-placement parent will be paying only his or her fair share of that cost and as a parent paying for the program you should be entitled to receive from the child care provider a complete accounting of the program activities as well as the charges and payment activity on the account should you ever need to verify compliance with the court's order.

Lastly, direct payment to the provider and verification of the program prevent the placement parent from being able to play games with the child care arrangements to create for themselves a financial windfall. 

For instance, if John makes 80% of the total income that he and his wife Janet make combined, then he is likely to be required to pay 80% of any child care costs.    Janet comes into court and says that their daughter Tanya is enrolled full-time at Tiny Timbers Day School at $200 per week.  Let's assume John is ordered to pay $160 per week as his 80% share just based on Janet's representation that this is the truth and John's is told that this will be included in his child support and garnished from his weekly paycheck with his employer.

Let's assume that Tiny Timbers Day School only costs $160 per week for the childcare program.  John is then actually paying 100% of the daycare and Janet isn't paying a dime.   John should only be paying $128 per week as his 80% of the actual child care costs.  Janet doesn't tell John about the cost difference. Janet pockets $139.00 per month from John's overpayment based on 4.33 weeks in each month under RI's Child Support Guidelines.  Assume now that Janet changes her schedule at her job and is able to eliminate two days of the child care at Tiny Timbers for Tanya but doesn't tell John.  The cost for 3 days per week is reduced to $110 per week.  Each and every week John's paycheck continues to be garnished $160 because John is not informed. Janet doesnt' inform John or the court and keeps the extra money coming in.  John should now be paying $88 per week but because he is garnished and is not informed he continues to pay $160 a week.  Janet is now receiving an extra $312 per month as a windfall at John's expense.

The moral of the story.  Get written confirmation from the child care provider of the enrollment and the actual costs for your child or children and endeavor to make direct payment of your share to the child care provider a part of the court's order rather than garnishment.   Absent these two factors you are likely to be overpaying on the child care costs.

For a complete analysis and reliable legal advice regarding all aspects of your child support and child care rights call me.

Note: This is a synopsis of an actual case before the Rhode Island Family Court.  Names, amounts and the care provider have been changed to preserve the privacy of the parties. The non-custodial parent in this particular case was divested of in excess of $5,000 by the the time the lack of childcare was discovered at a hearing before the court.