Surprisingly, RI Family Court still has a number of murky areas of child support law. The end conclusion, as far as these issues are concerned, are far from conclusively decided in Rhode Island. The lack of clear answers continues, despite these issues have been raised thousands of times over many decades in Providence Family Court. Today, I wandered around the 5th Floor of Providence Family Court and asked a numbered of seasoned Rhode Island Family Law Practitioners a seemingly simple question:
- Does child support automatically terminate when a child turns 19?
- Is a motion to terminate child support required when a child is 19?
- Do child support payments automatically stop?
- Why did my child support stop coming?
A lawyer for RI Child Support enforcement indicated that he believed a motion needed to be filed to set forth a prima facia case that the child is emancipated. Another lawyer in private practice opined that a motion is required but you cannot seek to collect the support after the child’s 19th birthday.
Another attorney indicated that support ends when a child turns 19 per the RI statute. Another stated, “that’s a good question.” A few years ago, I had a conversation with a RI judge who insisted that support terminates at 19 pursuant to the statute. Another Judge has stated that it is best practice to file a motion to terminate child support even if a child is 19.
The question seems simple enough! But in RI, it is a big grey area.
There are conflicting laws and public policies involved here. There is one school of thought that says that the RI Family Court loses Jurisdiction of a child when the child turns 19 pursuant to the statute and therefore child support automatically terminates without filing a motion pursuant to the Rhode Island General laws. How could the Providence Family Court enforce an order for child support for payments after a child turns 19 if the court has no jurisdiction to order support after a child turns 19?
The primary issue is the general rule that orders do no end automatically. This rule conflicts conflicts with the statute. One complication, to this issue, is that child support now continues indefinitely if a child is severely disabled. CHAPTER 15-5 Divorce and Separation SECTION 15-5-16.2 Rhode Island Law
The law in RI is that a child support order is eligible to be terminated when a child turns 18 and graduates high school so long as the child is not severely disabled. Keep in mind, child support does not AUTOMATICALLY TERMINATE when a child turns 18 or when the child turns 18 and graduates high school. Child support should end when a child is 19 even if the child is still in high school
The case for yes- file a motion to terminate child support!
- If your wages are garnished, you have no choice. YOU must file a motion. The garnishment will never end unless you file a motion and submit a termination order to your employer.
- You must pay your child support to the State of Rhode Island not directly to the payee parent. This means that a motion to terminate support must be filed even if the child is over 19. When the court terminates the support order, a CSS1 form must be submitted to the State of RI. Otherwise the support order will run on the system forever and there will be an arrears. The State of Rhode Island, if the payee spouse is receiving full services from the state, typically automatically stops the garnishment at some point after the child turns 18. They also stop the computer system from running ongoing support in the system. Numerous State attorneys have informed me this does not mean that the underlining order for ongoing support is terminated or suspended.
- If you have another child under the age of 19 under a support order, then a motion must be filed. This motion will effectively be a motion to modify support since the support order will not end
- If you have a direct pay situation and your ex is “crazy” you can avoid a contempt motion with an ex seeking to enforce an order when a child is over 19.
- A strong argument could be made that a child support order should not end automatically upon a child turning 19 especially when there is a child support arrears that needs to be litigated. A RI Family Court determination may be needed to convert the ongoing support order to an arrears order.
- The parties may not agree whether a child is severely disabled. This determination needs to be made by the Kent County Family Court Justice or Magistrate.
The case for no!
- If you pay child support to your ex-girlfriend or ex-spouse DIRECTLY and your child is over 19, an argument could be made that it is a waste of money to file such a motion. The rational for this argument is that the payee spouse has no recourse with the court since the court probably will not hold someone in contempt for paying support after a child turns 19. It could be arguably a waste of money to file such a motion. This assumes that there is no arrears owed, no issue of a child’s disability and no other child under the age of 19 as part of the order.
Does support continue indefinitely until a motion is filed?
There is another line of reasoning that states that orders do not end automatically and a child support order continues forever until a motion to terminate is filed. One potential justification for this line of reasoning is that child support continues indefinitely if a child is severely disabled. Therefore, how can a person play judge and jury as to whether a child is severely disabled especially if the issue is not clear. Another line of reasoning is that orders do not just end automatically. Another rationalization is that there could be an arrears which needs to be adjudicated and if the support terminates who will determine the correct arrears amount?
Also, if support terminates automatically without submitting proper paperwork when the case is not a direct pay case, the computer will continue to run because a css1 form stopping support must be submitted. A css1 can only be submitted to stop support running on the system if there is an order terminating the support. If a css1 form is not submitted the computer will continue to run on the computer system. This could cause a report of delinquency on a persons’ credit, a tax intercept, passport denial or license suspension.
To make matters even more complicated, if an obligor’s wages are garnished, he or she needs to file a motion to terminate otherwise there will be no order ordering the employer to stop garnishment and garnishment will continue forever. Another reason why child support may not automatically terminate at 19 is because there may be another child or other children subject to that order. Could the law really be that support stops for a single child but only if there is one child?
I advise clients to file a motion to terminate child support when the child obtains the age of 18 and graduates high school. This insures that there are no issues and no problems in the future.
“In 2013, 68% of the $32.9 billion in aggregate child support due was actually paid. In 1993, 65% of the $38 billion (adjusted for inflation, in 2013 dollars) in child support due was paid. During the 21-year period 1993 through 2013, after adjusting for inflation, aggregate child support due started at $38.0 billion in 1993, fluctuated to a high of $46.9 billion in 2003, and dropped to a low of $32.9 billion in 2013. Over the entire period, aggregate child support due decreased by 13%, total child support received decreased 9%, and the amount left unpaid decreased 21% ” Child Support: An Overview of Census Bureau Data on Recipients Carmen Solomon-Fears Specialist in Social Policy March 1, 2016, Congressional Research Service 7-5700 www.crs.gov RS22499 https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RS22499.pdf