Child support is a standard element in divorces that involve minor children. Custody and support negotiations can be among the most emotional aspects when spouses end their union. While media attention often focuses on support within the context of divorce, unwed parents have the same rights to child support as their married counterparts.
Our highly accomplished attorneys at McIntyre Tate LLP can help married and unmarried parents fight for their rights.
As a married couple, an unwed mother and father can work with a lawyer to negotiate a legally binding agreement for child custody and support. When necessary, the question can be brought before the court for a support determination. If the father denies parentage, the process becomes more complicated. The first step is to establish paternity.
Methods to Establish Parentage
Before a father can be granted custody rights or be required to pay child support, his parentage must first be established.
In Rhode Island, there are three means to determine paternity:
- Marriage. When a couple is married, the law presumes they are the child’s legal parents. This presumption is true regardless of the parents’ genders of the parents.
- Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage (VAP). Unmarried parents can agree to sign a VAP at the hospital immediately following the birth. Doing so puts both parents’ names on the birth certificate. A parent can initiate a court challenge to rescind the VAP within 60 days of signing it.
- Court Order. If the father denies paternity, the Office of Child Support Services can schedule genetic testing of the presumed father. If the testing results show a high probability of parentage, the court will probably establish his paternity with a court order.
Once parentage is established, a father can be ordered by the court to pay child support and provide health insurance for the child, if it’s available at a reasonable cost.
Guidelines for Child Support
The Ocean State determines child support based on guidelines that are reassessed every four years. The support guidelines are the same for both married and unmarried parents.
The court will look at the incomes of both parents, any preexisting child support payments, the number of children, health insurance premiums, and child-care costs. The court does have the flexibility to deviate from the guidelines if they are unfair to the child or either parent.
Unwed Fathers Have Custody & Support Rights
Establishing paternity is not only about providing child support to the mother. Paternity also gives the father rights. The father has grounds to ask for parenting time. Dads can also petition for legal and/or physical custody if they believe it is in the child’s best interests.
Best Interests of the Child
Rhode Island judges will use the best interest of the child standard to determine who should have custody and visitation with the child.
There are two kinds of custody:
- Legal Custody: Who gets to make important decisions for the child such as education and healthcare decisions
- Physical Custody: Who the child will live with.
The factors used to determine the best interests of the child include the following:
- Wishes of the parents regarding custody
- Child’s preference
- Where other siblings live
- Mental and physical health of the parents
- Stability of the home environment
The court believes that a relationship with both parents is best for a child in most circumstances. This is true even when the parents were never married. Terminating the rights of an abusive or neglectful parent usually requires significant proof.
Sharp Legal Counsel for Unwed Parents
At McIntyre Tate LLP, we strongly believe that both parents have a financial and emotional responsibility to raise their children. For unmarried parents, establishing parentage is often the first hurdle to overcome.
Our esteemed lawyers will tirelessly fight for the rights of our clients and their children. If you don’t have support from the other parent, schedule a consultation to discuss your case. Call us at (401) 351-7700. Your initial consultation is free.