Parentage | Rhode Island
What is the Rhode Island Parentage Act?
Signed into law in July 2020, the Rhode Island Uniform Parentage Act (RIUPA) replaces the Uniform Law on Paternity and outlines ways to establish parentage of a child and how to establish parentage under each path. The RIUPA comprehensively updates Rhode Island parentage law and aims to ensure each child has a clear path to secure their legal parentage.
The RIUPA, more specifically, ensures greater protections and equal treatment for LGBTQ+ couples. The law allows LGBTQ+ couples access to establishing parentage through a simple civil Voluntary Acknowledgement of Parentage, ensuring LGBTQ+ couples are able to establish their parentage immediately at birth of their child. It also creates, for the first time in Rhode Island, an accessible path to parentage for children born through assisted reproduction, as well as protections for children born through surrogacy.
What does parentage mean?
“Parentage” means that you are a legal parent of a child for all purposes. Parentage comes with a host of rights (e.g., decision-making for medical care or education, parenting time in the event of separation from your child’s other parent) as well as responsibilities (e.g., providing health insurance, providing for basic needs, payment of child support). A secure legal parent-child relationship is core to a child’s long-term stability and well-being.
Why was the RIUPA passed now?
Rhode Island parentage laws had not been updated in over 40 years; updated legislation was long overdue. Rhode Islanders for Parentage Equality (RIPE), a coalition made up of families and organizations pushing for parentage equality in Rhode Island, has advocated for updated parentage laws for years. With the sponsorship of Rep. Carol McEntee and Sen. Erin Lynch Prata and the support of the administration of Governor Gina Raimondo, their hard work finally paid off..
Why is it important to establish parentage quickly?
Establishing parentage soon after birth ensures that a child is secured to their parents for all purposes and increases clarity for all involved in a child’s life. For example, established parentage will allow a parent to make any early medical decisions in a child’s life, ensure that a child will receive insurance benefits or inheritance rights, and protect parents’ parental rights if they separate.
How can Rhode Islanders establish parentage under the RIUPA?
The RIUPA provides that Rhode Islanders can establish their parentage in the following ways:
- Giving birth (except for people acting as surrogates)
- Presumption (including the marital presumption)
- Genetic connection (except for gamete donors)
- De facto parentage
- Assisted reproduction
- Gestational carrier agreement
Who is an intended parent?
An intended parent is a person who consents to assisted reproduction with the intent to be a parent of the child. The RIUPA addresses intended parents in the context of surrogacy separately from intended parents in the context of other forms of assisted reproduction. Ideally, a person who consents to assisted reproduction with the intent to be a parent will memorialize that intent in writing, but the law does allow other ways to prove intent to be a parent.
Who is a presumed parent?
A presumed parent is a non-birth parent that the law recognizes because of certain circumstances or relationships. A presumed parent is established as a legal parent through the execution of a valid Voluntary Acknowledgement of Parentage (VAP), by an adjudication, or as otherwise provided in the RIUPA.
You are a presumed parent if any of the below are true:
- You are married to the child’s birth parent when the child is born;
- You were married to the child’s birth parent, and the child is born within 300 days of the marriage being terminated by death, annulment, or divorce;
- You married the child’s birth parent after the child was born, asserted parentage and are named as a parent on the birth certificate;
- You resided with the child in the same household, and you and another parent held the child out as your child for two years after birth or adoption and assumed personal, financial or custodial responsibilities for the child.
Who is a de facto parent?
A de facto parent is a parent based on their relationship with the child. Establishing de facto parentage requires a judgment from a court. You can petition a court to establish your de facto parentage by demonstrating, with clear and convincing evidence, all of the following:
- You lived with the child as a regular member of the household for a significant amount of time;
- You consistently took care of the child;
- You took full and permanent responsibility for the child without expectation of financial compensation;
- You held the child out as your child;
- You established a bonded and dependent relationship which is parental in nature;
- You had a parental relationship with the child that was supported by another parent;
- Continuing a relationship with the child is in the child’s best interest.
What is an Acknowledgment of Parentage?
Federal law requires states to provide a simple civil process for acknowledging parentage upon the birth of a child. That simple civil process is the Acknowledgment of Parentage program.
Federal regulations require states to provide an Acknowledgment of Parentage program at hospitals and state birth record agencies. Acknowledgment of Parentage forms themselves are short affidavits in which the person signing affirms that they wish to be established as a legal parent with all of the rights and responsibilities of parentage. The person who gave birth to the child must also sign the form, and both parents have to provide some demographic information about themselves.
By signing an Acknowledgement of Parentage, a person is established as a legal parent, and the child’s birth certificate is issued or amended to reflect that legal parentage. Properly executed, an Acknowledgment of Parentage has the binding force of a court order and should be treated as valid in all states.
How do I establish my parentage through a Rhode Island Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage (VAP)?
You can voluntarily acknowledge the parentage of a child by signing a form from the Rhode Island Department of Health known as a “Voluntary Acknowledgement of Parentage” or VAP (To see a sample VAP form, go to: https://ocss.ri.gov/sites/g/files/xkgbur511/files/documents/Voluntary-Acknowledgment-Parentage-01.01.2020.pdf).
A VAP must be signed by the birth parent and the other parent. The other parent can be the genetic parent, an intended parent of a child born through assisted reproduction (except a gestational carrier agreement), or a presumed parent. Signing a VAP form is voluntary, and it can be done at the hospital soon after birth or at another time up until the child is 18. A VAP form must be witnessed and signed by at least one other person. If one person does not want to sign this form, then the other parent can try to adjudicate parentage through the courts.
If you have any questions about whether to sign a VAP form, you should consult with a lawyer before signing. A VAP form is the equivalent of a judgment of parentage by a court, and parentage is a considerable, life-long responsibility.
Are there any costs related to the VAP?
A fee is charged for all Certified Vital Records, including the VAP. The processing fee for a VAP is $15. The cost of a Certified Birth Certificate is $22 drop off or $25 for mail-in service. The Voluntary Acknowledgement of Parentage document (VAP) is issued upon request as a supporting document that accompanies the Certified Birth Certificate.
When can I not establish parentage through a VAP?
- A presumed parent who seeks to establish parentage in situations in which the other parent is not the child’s birth parent, e.g., the child was adopted by the other parent, must establish parentage through an adjudication and cannot establish parentage through an Acknowledgement of Parentage.
- Parentage cannot be established through an Acknowledgment of Parentage if there is a third person who is a presumed parent, unless that person has filed a Denial of Parentage.
- A person who is establishing parentage based on residing with the child and holding out the child as the person’s child for the first two years of the child’s life cannot establish parentage through an Acknowledgment of Parentage until the child is two.
When can a parent sign a VAP?
A VAP can be signed after the birth of a child, up until the child’s 18th birthday. An Acknowledgment of Parentage can also be completed before the child’s birth but will not take effect until the child is born.
How can a VAP be rescinded?
A party who signed the VAP may rescind an acknowledgment of parentage or denial of parentage by commencing a court proceeding before the earlier of:
(1) Sixty (60) days after the effective date of the acknowledgment or denial, as provided, or
(2) The date of the first hearing before a court in a proceeding, to which the signatory is a party, to adjudicate an issue relating to the child.
What if I am a non-biological parent? How can I establish myself as a legal parent?
The RIUPA has many provisions that protect non-biological parents. If you are your child’s presumed parent, or if you are the intended parent of a child born through assisted reproduction other than surrogacy, you can establish parentage by signing a VAP.
All parents can establish parentage through a court order. A presumed parent or an intended parent of a child conceived through assisted reproduction can seek a judgment declaring the person a parent of the child or do a co-parent or second parent adoption. Some non-biological parents can establish parentage through the RIUPA’s de facto parent provisions, which require a court to adjudicate the person to be the child’s de facto parent.
How does the RIUPA help people conceiving through assisted reproduction?
The RIUPA provides important clarity and protections for children born through assisted reproduction. The RIUPA confirms that a gamete donor (e.g., sperm or egg donor) is not a parent of a child conceived through assisted reproduction. Also, the RIUPA affirms that a person who consents to assisted reproduction with the intent to be a parent of the resulting child is a legal parent.
If I am a parent who has signed a VAP, do I also need to do a second parent adoption?
No. A parent who has signed a VAP should not need to do a co-parent adoption to establish parentage. A VAP establishes legal parentage under state law, is the equivalent of a judgment of parentage under state law and gives you all the rights and duties of a parent. Under federal law, an Acknowledgement of Parentage is the equivalent of a judicial decree of parentage and should be recognized in all states.
Since expanded access to acknowledgments of parentage is an emerging development, some parents might feel more comfortable also completing a second parent adoption in addition to or instead of a VAP. To understand what is best for your family, individualized legal advice is recommended.
How does the RIUPA address surrogacy?
The RIUPA has comprehensive provisions about how to establish parentage through a gestational carrier agreement. All parties to a gestational carrier agreement must have independent counsel throughout the process. This is a brief overview of the law for informational purposes.
Before starting any medical procedures to conceive a child through a carrier process, you must have a written and signed agreement. This agreement is between you, any other intended parents, the person acting as a carrier, and the spouses of any of those parties (if applicable). This agreement will establish that you are the parent(s) of the child and that the carrier and their spouse, if applicable, do not have parental rights or duties. To enter into a gestational carrier agreement, the following must be true:
- All intended parents and the carrier must be at least 21;
- All intended parents and the carrier must have completed a medical evaluation and mental health consultation; and
- The intended parent(s) and the carrier must be represented by separate lawyers for the purposes of the agreement, and the carrier’s attorney must be paid for by the parent(s).
The law requires carrier agreements to incorporate several terms to be valid, such as allowing a surrogate to make their own health and welfare decisions during pregnancy and requiring the parent(s) to pay all related healthcare costs.
What does Rhode Island law say about traditional or genetic surrogacy?
The RIUPA allows in very limited circumstances for traditional or genetic surrogacy: a family member can serve as a gestational carrier using their own gametes. Someone who is not a family member cannot act in this role. Even with a family member, the law’s requirements for a valid agreement, and all of the other protections of the statute outlined above, apply.
What if I am not married?
The RIUPA explicitly provides that every child has the same rights as any other child without regard to the marital status of the parents, or the circumstances of the child’s birth. By not differentiating between parents based on their marital status, the RIUPA aims to treat all Rhode Island families equally.
What if I am transgender or non-binary?
The RIUPA explicitly provides that every child has the same rights as any other child without regard to the gender of the parents or the circumstances of the child’s birth. The RIUPA, by not including gendered terms such as mother or father, is inclusive of all genders. By not differentiating between parents based on their gender, the RIUPA aims to treat all Rhode Island families equally.
What protections are there for survivors of domestic violence so that they are not pressured into establishing legal parentage?
The RIUPA aims to ensure that the establishment of parentage is fair, clear, efficient, and child-centered. Some legal parentage–such as the nonmarital presumption and de facto parentage–can arise by consent. No one should ever be pressured to consent to parentage.
The RIUPA contains provisions that allow parents to challenge another person’s parentage if the other person claims to be a presumed parent or a de facto parent but satisfies the requirements for parentage through duress, coercion, or threat of harm.
Where can I go if I need help resolving a parentage issue?
As with any family law issue, individualized legal advice is recommended. GLAD Answers can provide information as well as referrals to local practitioners. If you have questions about how to protect your family, contact GLAD Answers by completing the form at GLAD Answers or call 800.455.4523 (GLAD).
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