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When Is Child Support Retroactive?

When the R.I. Family Court enters a child support Order stating that the “non-custodial parent” (whichever parent does not live with the child primarily, or the parent who has fewer overnights with the child in a given month) must pay child support to the “custodial parent” (the parent with whom the child primarily lives) the Order actually may not start that day but can reach far back to a certain point in time.

As always this is best explained with an example:

Let’s say that Mother brings Father to Family Court to address placement, custody, parenting time, and child support.  The child is, say, two-years-old.  Mother files the case with the Family Court on 02/01/2021, gets a Summons, and serves Father by constable on 03/01/2021.  The parties have their first court date on 04/15/2021, but the judge does not issue her ruling that the child shall be placed with Mother and that therefore Mother should receive child support of $100.00 / week until 07/01/2021, the parties’ second court date a full five months after Mother filed her case.

Father would argue that as child support was not Ordered until 07/01/2021 then that is the date he should have to begin paying.  This is understandable but incorrect.  The law in R.I. states that Mother’s child support shall be retroactive (shall reach back in time) to the date that Father was served with Mother’s pleadings, so long as Mother’s pleadings specifically asked for child support.  The theory is that Father put on notice that Mother was seeking child support, that child support may have to be paid, when he was served on 03/01/2021.

In other words, when the judge ruled that Mother shall receive child support on 07/01/2021, the ruling inherently means that Mother shall receive child support moving forward and should have been receiving child support back to the date Father was served with papers stating that he has to or may have to pay support for the two-year-old minor child, which in this example is 03/01/2021.

Therefore, while the matter as not adjudicated until July 1st, child support can legally reach all the way back to March 1st (a full four months of unpaid child support!) if Mother specifically requested child support in her pleadings.  In this example, then, Mother directly will receive four months of back-owed child support solely for having requested it in her initial pleadings.  Of course, Father would get full credit for any support he paid over this interim.

Note that, had Mother’s pleadings with the Family Court asked solely for placement, custody, and parenting time, and she did not expressly ask for child support, then support would begin to run only on July 1st, 2020!

Be sure to speak with a R.I. Family Court attorney before filing an action – even if you will represent yourself in the case in chief.  It can save you – or make you – a lot of money!

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