Rhode Island Uniform Parentage Act: Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Rhode Island Uniform 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 RI 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 Acknowledgment 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. The bill was signed into law on July 21, 2020 and goes into effect January 1, 2021.
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. parenting time and decision making) as well as responsibilities (e.g. payment of child support, providing health insurance, providing for basic needs). A secure legal parent-child relationship is core to a child’s long-term stability and well-being.
Why was the RIUPA passed now?
RI 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 has finally paid off.
When does it go into effect? Who will be impacted?
The RIUPA goes into effect January 1, 2021. All families are impacted, but the legislation is especially important to Rhode Island’s LGBTQ families.
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. This is particularly important if a problem with the child or the parents should arise; 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
How do I establish my parentage through a voluntary acknowledgment?
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. 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, 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. 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, and parentage is a considerable, life-long responsibility. A VAP form can be rescinded within the first 60 days through a court action, and after that only on certain limited grounds.
What 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 VAP, by an adjudication or as otherwise provided in the RIUPA.
Who can be a presumed parent?
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; or
- 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.
What is a de facto parent?
A de facto parent is a parent recognized by the court because of their relationship with the child. A person can seek to establish 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 payment;
- 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; and
- Continuing a relationship with the child is in the child’s best interest.
If I am a parent who has signed a VAP, do I also need to do a second-parent adoption?
A VAP establishes legal parentage under state law and gives you all of the rights and duties of a parent. Under federal law, every state must have a VAP process for establishing parentage administratively. A VAP is the equivalent of a judicial decree of parentage and should receive recognition in all jurisdictions. A majority of non-marital children in the United States have their parentage established through a VAP.
States are moving to expand access to establishing parentage through a VAP so that people who use assisted reproduction, including many LGBTQ people, have access to this path to parentage. With the RIUPA, eight states now have expanded access to parentage through voluntary acknowledgment so that LGBTQ parents can establish parentage through this simple, administrative process. Given that expanded access to VAPs is emerging in the United States, some families may also wish to complete a co-parent adoption. See V. L. v. E.L., 136 S. Ct. 1017 (2016).
How does the RIUPA help people conceiving through assisted reproduction?
The RIUPA provides important clarity and protections for children born through assisted reproduction.
- You are a parent if you consent to assisted reproduction with the intent to be a parent of the resulting child. Consent can be demonstrated through a writing signed by both intended parents or through a court adjudication.
- A gamete donor (i.e. a sperm or egg donor) is not a parent of a child born through assisted reproduction.
Can I use surrogacy to have a child?
Yes. 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 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 arises out of operation of law. Other legal parentage can arise by consent. No one should ever be or feel pressured to consent to parentage. The RIUPA contains many provisions that allow people to challenge parentage if it was established through duress, coercion, or threat of harm.
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, the marital status of the parents, or the circumstances of their birth. By being marital status and gender neutral, the RIUPA aims to treat all Rhode Islanders equally. The RIUPA, by not including gendered terms such as mother or father, is inclusive of all genders.
Where can I go if I need help resolving a parentage issue?
As with any family law issue, legal advice is recommended. GLAD Answers, our legal information line, can provide information and referrals to local practitioners. If you have questions about how to protect your family, contact GLAD Answers at www.GLADAnswers.org or 800.455.GLAD.
For more information about how the RIUPA affects your family before January 1, 2021, click here.
To learn more about the families and coalition that worked so hard to pass this bill, visit Rhode Islanders for Parentage Equality.