In Puerto Rico, the duty to provide support among relatives extends beyond parents (biological or otherwise) and children. This duty also exists for spouses, siblings, grandparents, and grandchildren, among other relatives.

In the case of minors, the right to claim support is of great public interest and is based on the right to life guaranteed by the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

Financial Duty to Cover Expenses

What is an obligor?

An obligor is the person who has a duty to provide support (food, homestead, and health insurance coverage) to their underage child. In addition, it is any person who is legally responsible to provide support.

What is an obligee?

An obligee is any minor or person who is legally entitled to receive support.

What is support?

Support is the financial obligation under the law to cover the expenses of a given person. Support should cover all the indispensable expenses related food, shelter, clothing, recreation, and medical assistance, according to the circumstances and social position of the family concerned.

In the case of minor children, in addition to satisfying what is necessary for their care and development, support includes education expenses, extraordinary expenses, and foreseeable expenses according to the particular circumstances of the family and their social status, such as life insurance, disability insurance, and investment plans to cover secondary education or professional training. It also includes a reasonable amount to covers the litigation costs and attorney’s fees when the obligee must turn to an administrative or court proceeding to claim child support from the obligor.

Who is responsible for providing child support?

Parents (biological or otherwise) are jointly liable for providing support for their children, whether or not they need it. This means that they share the obligation to contribute financially to the development and support of their children, regardless of whether they are together or not. For example, if the parents (biological or otherwise) do not live together, whoever has custody (physical custody of the child) may request that the other party pay child support, regardless of whether or not they are married.

If a party fails to comply with their duty and the other bears the burden of said noncompliance, the latter may resort to the court to claim the expenses paid in excess of their own obligation. For example, if upon divorce, the parties agree in court that one of the parents (biological or otherwise) will cover school expenses but fails to do so, the other parent can pay what is owed and file a motion with the court to determine the party’s noncompliance and order payment of that amount.

Grandparents sometimes may be responsible for providing support for their grandchildren. This occurs when the parents have a physical or mental disability or do not have sufficient means to meet the needs of the obligee(s).

Where can child support be requested?

Child support can be requested through the Court of First Instance or through the Child Support Administration (ASUME, by its Spanish acronym), an agency under the Executive Branch of the government of Puerto Rico. Both the judicial and the administrative forums have concurrent jurisdiction over these matters. This means that the request to fix child support can be made in either of the two forums. However, once the petition is filed, that forum will carry out the proceeding. At that time, concurrent jurisdiction becomes exclusive jurisdiction to hear the petition.

Can I apply for child support in court if the obligor lives in the United States?

Yes, interstate child support can be requested in court or through ASUME. The judge hearing the petition, at their discretion, may refer the case to a child support examiner who will direct the proceedings to establish child support. Only in exceptional circumstances when it determines that ASUME is the appropriate forum may the court refer the case to said agency, provided it explains why ASUME should hear the case.

In what types of cases may the court fix child support?

The court may fix child support in a child support, divorce, visitation, or custody case. In addition, temporary child support orders may be issued in connection with a protection order. However, child support ordered under such circumstances will be effective while the protection order is in effect. Therefore, the party must file for child support once the protection order expires.

If child support is fixed in a visitation case, the parties may use the Motion for Stipulation, Child Support, Custody, Visitation («Moción sobre Estipulación, Alimentos, Custodia, Relaciones Filiales»; OAT 1487) form to set forth the agreement reached on child support, custody, and visitation.

Who can file for child support?

This depends on the obligee’s age:

• If support is for a minor child, the parents (biological or otherwise) with parental rights must file the action for child support.
• If support is for a child that has reached 21 years of age (the legal age), the child may request child support on their own behalf.

On the other hand, if the minor is in the custody of a person (such as a relative) or an entity (for example, the Department of the Family), such person or entity may also request the child support on behalf of the minor.

Is there an obligation to provide child support for children of legal age?

When children reach the age of majority (21 years of age), their right to receive child support does not disappear. If a court has fixed child support, the party required to provide it continues with said obligation until the judge releases them.

If there is no child support order, the parents (biological or otherwise) may be required to pay it after the child becomes an adult when:

• they applied for child support,
• they began professional studies before reaching the age of majority,
• they are currently studying, and
• they have the need to study

The Court will hold a hearing to assess the need and financial capacity of the parties and fix or modify support for said child who is of legal age in proportion to the parties’ particular circumstances. In addition, the child of legal age must demonstrate their potential and academic achievement and that they are responsible. If granted, the duty to provide child support is extended until their child obtains a professional degree or turns 25, whichever occurs first.

In this scenario, the Petition for Child Support by an Adult Child («Solicitud de Alimentos por Hijo(a) Mayor de Edad»; OAT 1425) form may be used.

What are the requirements and documents needed to file for child support for the first time?

The requirements and documents are the following:

  • verified petition (filed under oath)

One of the following forms may be used, depending on the particular circumstances of the case:

  • Child Support Peti
  • Petición de Alimentos por Estipulación para Menores de Edad»; OAT 1428)
  • a copy of each child’s birth certificate
  • provide the clear and specific address of the obligor (respondent) or any information that helps locate them
  • complete the Personal and Financial Information Form (PIPE, by its Spanish acronym) («Planilla de Información Personal y Económica»; OAT 435) form
  • an original and 2 copies of each document
  • a valid photo identification

An initial child support petition does not require filing fees. This means that the person who files the petition is not required to incur an expense to purchase internal revenue stamps.

Will I need an attorney for a child support case?

If you deem it necessary, you may appear for the child support hearing with an attorney. If you decide to appear as a self-represented litigant, you will need to prepare for this hearing.

If the party requesting support was assisted by an attorney and was the successful party in the case, the court may assess a reasonable amount to cover litigation costs and attorney’s fees in favor of the obligee.

Child Support Calculation

How is child support calculated?

Child support is calculated in accordance with the Mandatory Guidelines to Fix and Modify Child Support in Puerto Rico (Mandatory Guidelines; «Guías Mandatorias para Computar las Pensiones Alimentarias en Puerto Rico»), drafted and published by ASUME in collaboration with the Judicial Branch. To calculate child support, the following must be considered: the number of children for whom child support is to be fixed, their ages, and the net monthly income and financial means of each parent, among other factors.

What is net income?

Net income is the amount an individual makes minus deductions required by law, such as Social Security, Medicare, taxes, mandatory union and association fees, retirement deductions, among others.

Are contributions to health insurance plans and life insurance considered when calculating child support?

Yes, contributions to health insurance plans and life insurance, where the children (obligees) concerned are beneficiaries, are deducted from the gross income.

If the person who must provide child support is unemployed, can they still be ordered to pay it?

Yes, a child support order can be issued even if the person responsible for paying it is unemployed. In said case, the court or ASUME, as applicable, will attribute income to the person concerned. This means that it will attribute their ability to earn a certain amount of income, in accordance with the Mandatory Guidelines. The court or ASUME may also attribute income when there are signs that the person’s income is greater than is reported, when the person works part-time and their income is less than the federal minimum wage based on 40 hours per week, and when the person reduced their income to avoid paying child support, among others.

What is taken into consideration when determining the amount of income that may be attributed?

As a rule, the prevailing federal minimum wage in Puerto Rico may be attributed as income:

  • employability (the ability to get and keep a job; job search evidence)
  • employment history
  • previously earned income
  • profession or educational background
  • average income of their profession or tradelifestyle (age, health)
  • expenses incurred
  • properties owned
  • informal or underground economy
  • any other relevant evidence
Is there a minimum child support amount?

Yes. The current Mandatory Guidelines set the minimum child support that may be fixed based on the number of obligees. The decision will be made according to the following table:

Number of obligees for whom child support is fixed Total minimum support
1 $125.00
2 $146.00
3 $159.00
4 $174.00
5 $191.00
6 $209.00

The table continues in increments of 9.4% for each additional minor (obligee).

What is reserved income?

It refers to the amount of $615.00 per month that is reserved for the non-custodial parent to cover their basic needs. To calculate this amount, the money received from public assistance, such as TANF (financial assistance) and PR-NAP (vouchers), as well as any other income, will be considered. It is worth mentioning that under no circumstances may the minimum child support be affected except for good cause, in which case, the court or ASUME may fix a lower child support.

If an agreement is reached concerning child support, is this agreement valid?

Parents (biological or otherwise) of minors can reach agreements on child support and submit them to the court or ASUME, where they will be examined, and a decision will be issued approving or rejecting such agreements. Such agreements must comply with the Mandatory Guidelines.

Do the Mandatory Guidelines apply even when the calculation results in an unfair or insufficient child support order?

The Civil Code of Puerto Rico establishes that adequate child support shall be as provided through special legislation. This would be Law No. 5 of December 30, 1986, as amended, known as the «Child Support Administration Organic Act.» This act recognizes that the court or ASUME, as the case may be, may determine applying the Mandatory Guidelines results in an unfair child support amount. If so, the decision rendered will so provide, and the amount of child support will be fixed by examining the following factors: the financial means and the tax implications for the parties; the child’s health, needs, and abilities, and the family’s lifestyle, among others. 

For more information on how child support is calculated based on the Mandatory Guidelines, see the following video prepared by Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico:

Child Support Order Review

What is a child support order review?

It is the proceeding by which a party requests modification of a current child support order, either to increase or reduce child support.

When and who can request a child support order review?

Any child support order can be reviewed every three years from the date the order was issued, if a party files a motion for review. Similarly, ASUME, at its own initiative, may initiate the review proceeding.

Outside the three-year cycle, child support may only be reviewed when there is a substantial change in the circumstances of the child or of the custodial or non-custodial parent.

What is considered a substantial change?

A substantial change is one that affects the personal or financial circumstances that existed at the time child support was fixed. This change must be unforeseen, such as:

  • dismissal from employment not brought about by either party (job loss cannot be deliberate)
  • incapacitating illness of any of the parties or of the child
What are the requirements and documents needed to file for child support review?

The requirements and documents are the following:
file a motion for a child support review

One of the following forms may be used, depending on the particular circumstances of the case:

Motion for Child Support Review («Moción sobre Revisión de Alimentos»; OAT 1420)
Request for Modification of Child Support for Having Another Child Between the Parties («Solicitud de Modificación de Pensión Alimentaria por Haber Procreado Otro(a) Hijo(a) entre las Partes»; OAT 1427)
complete the Personal and Financial Information Form (PIPE, by its Spanish acronym) («Planilla de Información Personal y Económica»; OAT 435) form
filing fees, if applicable
a valid photo identification

When does a child support order or its modifications become effective?

The child support order and any increase become effective from the date on which the action was filed with the court (or the petition for child support is filed with ASUME), or the date when the increase is requested. For example, if child support is requested for the first time r when the child  was 10 years old, the obligation to pay begins on the date the action was filed and not from when the child was born.

On the other hand, when a motion or petition to review child support is filed and the amount is reduced, the obligation to pay the new reduced amount begins from the date the court or ASUME decided the petition or motion; that is, from the date of the decision to reduce child support. For example, if the motion is filed and the court issues its decision to reduce the child support amount two months after the filing date, the new amount is due as of the date of said decision. This means that the reduced amount does not apply as of the filing date.

Can the parties agree to modify child support?

Yes, the parties may agree to a temporary modification of a child support order issued by the court. To do so, the parties must present the agreement or stipulation in a motion so that it may be evaluated and accepted by the court. The Temporary Child Support Agreement Acuerdo Provisional de Pensión Alimentaria» OAT 456; form may be used. The court’s evaluation must always be in the child’s best interests and will take into consideration their specific needs.

Wage Garnishment for Child Support

Is it possible for the obligor to deduct child support from their salary?

Yes. The law provides that when the court or ASUME fixes or modifies child support, i a wage garnishment order may be issued to the obligor’s employer or paymaster. This order requires that such person withhold or deduct child support from the obligor’s wages.

Is it mandatory for the court or ASUME to issue a wage garnishment order?

Issuing a wage garnishment order is discretionary. It may be determined that there are valid reasons for not issuing it, such as when not issuing it is in the child’s best interests. It is important to note that to issue a wage garnishment order, there must be a case with ASUME.

Can any additional amounts be withheld, in addition to child support?

Yes. The wage garnishment order may provide that, in addition to child support, an certain amount be withheld to pay off (payment plan) any child support in arrears.

Until when will the wage garnishment order be effective?

The wage garnishment order will be effective from the date on which the employer or paymaster is notified and will be in force as long as the duty to provide support exists or until another order is issued that terminates or modifies it.

What are the requirements and documents needed to request a wage garnishment order?

The requirements and documents are the following:

  • fill out the Informative Motion and Request Related to a Child Support Order («Moción Informativa y en Solicitud de Orden
  • Relacionada con la Pensión Alimentaria»; OAT 1421) form
  • file the original and two copies of the aforementioned documents
  • a valid photo identification
What is the employer’s duty?

An employer or paymaster must comply with a duly notified wage garnishment order and must withhold and deduct from the obligor’s wages the amounts provided in the order. If the employer or paymaster fails to comply with the wage garnishment order, they may be liable for noncompliance with the wage garnishment order. It should be noted that, pursuant to the Consumer Credit Protection Act (a federal statute), an employer or paymaster may withhold no more than 50% to 65% of the employee’s wages. The maximum percentage to be withheld by an employer or paymaster will depend on the employee’s circumstances, such as if the employee has another family or child support debt. It falls to the employer or paymaster to know what percentage may be withheld.

Failure to Pay Child Support

What happens when a person fails to pay child support?

If a person fails to comply with their duty to pay child support, a motion may be filed with the court where child support was originally fixed or with the court that corresponds to the child’s place of residence, to request a hearing to discuss the alleged noncompliance.

The motion must include the amount owed and, if the child support is paid through ASUME, a certification of debt from said agency. In addition, the physical address or location where the obligor may be found must be included because a marshal will personally serve the notice of the court hearing.

What should the parties do at the hearing?

Once the date of the hearing is set, both parties must appear to argue and present proof of compliance or noncompliance with the payment.

What happens if ASUME issued the child support order?

The party must go directly to ASUME to collect the debt.

What is contempt of court for failure to pay child support?

Civil contempt of court is a tool used to compel compliance with an order issued by the court when the party concerned has ignored or failed to comply with the order, either in whole or in part. Contempt should be the exception and not the rule; that is, it must be the last resource used by the court to enforce the child support order since it may entail imprisonment. It can only be used by the court, even when child support has been fixed through ASUME. In such case, ASUME may request that the court to find the obligor in civil contempt of court for failure to pay child support.

Can the Court order the incarceration of a person who fails to pay child support?

Yes. Although that the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico provides that no person may be imprisoned for debt, the right to receive child support supersedes any other type of debt. Therefore, a person who fails to pay child support may be incarcerated.

 However, where a person fails to pay child support for the first time, the court will assess whether they meet other criteria provided by law to order house arrest instead.

What happens if the person paying child support has good cause for not paying?

The court will determine, on a case-by-case basis, if there is good cause for not finding the obligor in contempt and ordering their arrest for noncompliance with the child support order.

What are the requirements and the necessary documents to move the court to fins the obligor in contempt of court for failure to pay child support?

The requirements and documents are the following:

  • a motion for contempt of court; for this, the Motion for Contempt of Court («Moción sobre Desacato» OAT1460; may be used
  • certification of debt from the ASUME (only in cases where payment must be made through ASUME)
  • the original and two copies of the aforementioned documents
  • a valid photo identification

Release from Child Support

How long does the obligation to pay for child support?

Until any of the following situations occurs, where a release from child support may be requested:

  • death of the obligee or the obligor
  • when the obligor’s estate is reduced to the point of being unable to provide child support without neglecting their own needs and those of their family
  • when the obligee can practice a trade or profession, or their financial situation has improved
  • when the obligee commits any act that is grounds for disinheritance
  • when the obligee’s needs are the result of their misconduct or lack of work ethic
What is release from child support?

It refers to the process required to terminate the obligation to pay child support. The obligor is not automatically released from the duty to pay child support when any of the situations provided by law occurs, but rather the obligor must request it with the court or ASUME, as appropriate. The party receiving child support may also request said termination.

 If child support was fixed through the courts, the parties may use the Motion for Release from Child Support («Moción sobre Relevo de la Obligación de Proveer Pensión Alimentaria«; form to request release from the obligation to pay child support. If release from child support is requested for more than one child (obligee), the Attachment to OAT 1423 («Anejo del Formulario OAT 1423«; ) form may be used.

Will there be a hearing?

It depends on the case. The court may set a hearing on release from child support to hear the positions of both parties.

Revised: March 2023