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Do Gifts Count Toward Satisfying Child Support Obligations?


The winter holidays are a time for gathering with loved ones and exchanging gifts. Parents typically spend between $200 and $300 for each child. That average typically does not go down when parents are not married.

If you are a parent who pays child support to a co-parent, you are still obligated to make your required child support payment, regardless of how much you spend on gifts for the child. Unmarried parents should create a budget for gifts, just as they would if they were raising the child together.

No Child Support Credits Given for Gifts

Your child support requirement is not offset by gifts – even if those presents include clothing and other basic items covered by child support. Nor can you demand that the receiving parent spend a portion of the child support on gifts for your shared children.

Rhode Island uses a standard formula to determine child support. The income shares model, used by this state, attempts to replicate the amount parents would have spent if the household were intact. The income of each parent (minus allowable deductions) is added together.

This combined monthly income and the number of children needing support are used to identify the basic support obligation. The parent who pays child support pays their proportionate share of the basic support obligation. If their income represents 60% of the total income, that parent pays 60% of the child support obligation. The non-custodial parent pays support to the custodial parent.

The basic support obligation does not include gifts. Included in the amount are the following:

  • Shelter (including utilities)
  • Food
  • Clothing
  • Transportation
  • Ordinary, out-of-pocket medical expenses for the child

The cost of health insurance or work-related child care is not included in the basic support table but is a mandatory addition. Parents pay their proportionate share of these expenses, too.

Nonpayment Can Lead to Contempt of Court

If your checking account makes it impossible to pay child support and buy gifts, prioritize paying child support.

Failing to make on-time child support payments is a violation of a court order. Consequences vary depending on how much is owed and how long a parent is delinquent:

  • Wages can be garnished
  • Driver’s license can be suspended
  • Passport applications can be denied
  • Time in jail can be ordered

Discuss Gifts with Your Co-Parent

The expense of gift-giving can be stressful for all parents, no matter their marital status.

One way to reduce potential conflict during the holidays is to have a conversation with your co-parent about gifts for the kids. Parents may be tempted to lavish expensive gifts on their children to compensate for the fact the parents live separately or assuage their own guilt. Despite the good intentions, trying to spoil a child can have negative implications for the child and create a new source of anger between the parents. Resentment might spill over into other aspects of the holidays and afterward.

Proactively determine how much each parent will spend on the child for gifts. Talking about specific gift ideas for the children and which parent will give what eliminates the possibility of a child getting two of the same thing (unless that is purposeful). Parents of young children should also discuss how they will keep the illusion of Santa for those who still believe. The focus should be on the children and not a competition with your ex.

Ensure You Are Paying Fair Child Support

If you think you are paying too much in child support, ask our attorneys at McIntyre Tate LLP to evaluate your case. The original order may not have included income deductions that you are entitled to or included income sources that are irrelevant or outdated. We can seek child support modification based on more accurate information.

If you are in the midst of a divorce, we will fight for a child support obligation that is fair to you and your children. We have extensive experience in the courtroom and at the negotiation table.

Learn more about your child support rights by scheduling a consultation. Contact us online or call (401) 351-7700.