Rhode Island Fathers Rights
Dads need to establish paternity first if they want rights to their children.

When parents bring a child into the world, they immediately form a strong, loving bond with that child. Parents play a vital role in children’s early years, helping to care and provide for them while they grow and learn about the world around them. Because parents provide this important support for their child, many states including the state of Rhode Island have put laws into place to protect children and hold parents to their responsibility of raising their child. When issues surrounding paternity, child custody, and child support arise, these issues are usually handled with the state’s family law court system.

Effect of a Father in a Child’s Life

Mothers have traditionally held the upper hand when it comes to the issues resolved in family court – this is due in large part to the role mothers have played in traditional family structures where the mother stays home to care for the child while the father enters the workforce to financially provide for the family. As we see traditional family structures changing, with more mothers becoming breadwinners while fathers take on the role of stay-at-home dad, we see fathers taking a more active role in child care, and studies have shown the important role fathers and father-figures play in a child’s life.

Fathers have been proven to be equal to their female counterparts when it comes to caring for and nurturing children. In addition, studies have shown that children who have a loving, involved father have an easier time developing social skills and do better academically, not to mention a link has been drawn between children with involved fathers or father-figures and their development of language. Because both parents play such a crucial role in a child’s upbringing, many family court systems do their best to keep both parents involved in a child’s life.

Establishing Paternity in Rhode Island

When a couple is married with a child, that child’s paternity is automatically determined in the state of Rhode Island. The husband of the child’s mother is assumed to be the child’s legal and biological father, and, in this situation, the couple does not need to take any additional steps to establish paternity. When an unmarried couple has a child, however, the process of establishing paternity is a more active one, and the couple needs to take additional legal action to formally and legally establish the child’s legal and biological father.

When a couple agrees on who the child’s biological father is, they can use a voluntary process to establish paternity. Using an “Acknowledgment of Paternity” form, the parents can legally establish the child’s father. Both the child’s mother and father must sign the form, known as a VAP—these forms are usually made available at the hospital or medical facility where the child is born. Once both parents have filled out the form, with the help of a representative from the medical facility, it is then filed with the Rhode Island Division of Vital Records.

Filing With the Division of Vital Records in Rhode Island

Once the Acknowledgment of Paternity form has been filed and processed by the Division of Vital Records, the father’s name can officially be added to the child’s birth certificate, and the father can then take on all the parental responsibilities that come along with that title. For parents who do not agree on who the child’s biological father is, there is an involuntary process they can use to establish paternity. This method is most often used when one or both parents are disputing paternity and need legal help to settle the matter.

Establishing Paternity through the Court

The child’s mother, the alleged father, the child him or herself, or even the state of Rhode Island can file a “Complaint of Paternity” with the family court system to formally establish paternity. If either the alleged father or the mother is disputing the child’s paternity, the court may order DNA or genetic testing to establish the biological father’s identity. If because of this test or other evidence the court determines the alleged father is indeed the child’s biological father, the court then issues an “Order of Paternity,” and the father’s name is added to the child’s birth certificate.

Father’s Rights to Child Custody and Visitation

If parents are divorcing or are no longer together, they often find themselves in the family court system hashing out a child custody arrangement. The state of Rhode Island, much like other states across the U.S., use the “best interests of the child” standard to guide its decision making when it comes to custody issues. Under this standard, a judge is guided to make child custody decisions that best support the child’s upbringing and wellbeing instead of awarding custody based solely on the wishes of either parent or another party involved in the case.

Fathers in Rhode Island have an equal right to custody of their child as mothers do. When a judge begins his or her evaluation, the mother and father are regarded as equal, and the court looks at several factors to determine the custody arrangement. Joint custody, where both parents share time with the child, is the ideal arrangement, given that involvement from both parents is thought to be in the child’s best interests. However, when joint custody is not an option, the judge moves to award a primary custodial parent, who will have the child in his or her care and living with him or her most the time.

Fathers Can Get Primary Custody

In some cases, the father is proven to be the more appropriate primary custodial parent and is awarded primary physical custody of the child – the reason for this decision can be based on a number of factors. When a primary custodial parent is named, this parent often petitions the court for a child support order as well. Child support is a financial payment from the non-custodial parent to the primary custodial parent that is meant to help financially support the child’s needs, such as purchasing food and clothing and providing shelter, not to mention covering medical and educational expenses.

Rhode Island Fathers have the Right to Receive Child Support

When a father is named his child’s primary custodian, he has an equal right to petition for child support as a mother would in the same situation. Additionally, if fathers are having trouble collecting ordered child support, they also have equal access to child support enforcement services through the state of Rhode Island. The state’s Child Support Services agency can get involved in child support cases when one parent is failing to meet his or her obligations, and this support is automatic when the child support order is registered with the state.

How a Father’s Rights Lawyer Can Help

The family court system can often be difficult to navigate, and many fathers are not aware of all their parental rights under the state’s laws. A father’s rights lawyer can be an invaluable resource for those fathers who are facing paternity, child custody, or child support issues. These legal professionals play a key role in developing their client’s case and helping to ensure a favorable outcome for fathers and their children while going through the family court system.

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