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When many people think about a marriage, they picture a big celebration in which a couple exchanges sacred vows. However, in Rhode Island and a handful of other states, a couple can legally be married without having ever had a wedding, exchanged vows, or even signed a contract. This is the concept behind a Rhode Island common law marriage.

A common law marriage is simply a marriage without a legal ceremony. While the concept of a Rhode Island common law marriage is easily explained, determining whether a common law marriage exists can be quite tricky. Previous cases have held that the burden to establish a common law marriage rests on the party claiming the marriage exists and that a common law marriage must be proven by clear and convincing evidence. While this is a high standard, it is one that can be met under the appropriate circumstances.

In most states including Rhode Island, a common law marriage cannot be established through mere proof that a couple lived together. In general, Rhode Island courts will consider three factors when evaluating a couple’s relationship:

  • Proof that the couple cohabited, or shared a household;
  • Evidence that the couple intended to be married; and
  • Whether the couple held themselves out to the public as a married couple.

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The importance of a child having a relationship with both parents is beyond dispute. Not only do children look to their parents for financial and emotional support, but children may be entitled to an inheritance or other benefits based on the status of their parents. Establishing paternity can also be important to mothers who are seeking an order for child support to assist with raising a child or fathers who wish to obtain child custody or visitation rights. In Rhode Island family court, paternity can be established in one of several different ways. If you have questions that relate to paternity, reach out to a Rhode Island family law attorney.

Establishing Paternity by Agreement

Perhaps the most straightforward way to establish paternity in Rhode Island is through an agreement by the parties. If a man is present at the birth of a child, he can be listed on the child’s birth certificate as the father. If a father is not present at birth, or only later agrees to be named as the father of a child, the parties can name a man as the father of a child at the Office of Child Support Services.

Establishing Paternity by DNA Test

If the parties do not agree on the issue of paternity, the court may order a DNA paternity test. Under Rhode Island General Laws section 15-8-11, a court can order a paternity test if paternity is disputed. If the test returns a result indicating that a man is at least 97% likely to be the father, the results will create an irrebuttable presumption of paternity presuming the moving party can establish that the child’s mother and putative father had sexual intercourse during the period when the child was conceived.

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One of the most contested issues in any Rhode Island divorce is the division of property. While the concept of dividing up a couple’s assets may sound straightforward, in practice the process can be quite complicated.

Rhode Island is an equitable distribution state. Thus, courts employ a three-step approach when dividing marital assets. First, the court will determine which of the couple’s assets should be considered marital property subject to equitable distribution and which assets are an individual spouse’s separate property. As a general rule, marital property consists of the assets that were acquired during the marriage. However, certain exceptions exist. For example, inheritance and gifts from third parties are not considered marital property, even if they are assigned or received during the marriage.

Once a court determines which assets are marital property, the court will then consider a list of factors to determine how to divide those assets. These factors are set out in Rhode Island General Laws § 15-5-16.1, and include:

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What would you do if your spouse took your children out of the country and refused to bring them home? A Canadian man unfortunately faced this situation after his wife took off with a child following their annual vacation to Rhode Island. Cases like this illustrate why it is so important to have a custody agreement in place. If you are concerned about a similar situation happening to you, you should contact an experienced Rhode Island child custody attorney as soon as possible.

The Circumstances of the Case

The couple was married in 2010, and had two children during the marriage. The father is Canadian and the mother is American, but she became a Canadian permanent resident after the marriage. Every year the family would take a trip to Rhode Island together. However, during the 2017 summer trip the mother found emails that suggested that the father was having an affair with someone else. Instead of returning to Canada, the mother flew to Texas with a child and then relocated to Michigan.

Throughout this period, the father and mother were in contact and the father helped to enroll the child in school in Michigan. The parties emailed about an interim agreement regarding the custody of the child and the couple’s unborn child that would have the children staying with their mother in Michigan. However, the father never signed the agreement. He later filed a petition for the return of the children.

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They say that “good fences make good neighbors.” In a case recently heard by the Rhode Island Superior Court, the fence was part of the problem. This case illustrates many of the concepts of real estate law, although of course only your experienced Rhode Island real estate attorney can tell you how the law will apply in your specific circumstances.

The Facts of the Case 

The parties are feuding over the use of an 18 foot right of way easement. An easement is the legal entitlement of one party to access the property of another. Generally, an easement is granted when it is impossible for a party to get to a road without traveling on the property of another.

Here, the plaintiff and the defendant both live in the same subdivision that was originally owned by a couple and then sold to a developer. All of the lots abut the road, but due to the conditions of the land, some of the residents had to access a road via an easement. This includes the “Lot 3” residents. They have a half circle driveway that connected to the disputed property. After the Lot 3 residents had lived there for about a year and a half, the “Lot 4” residents put up a fence and other barriers that blocked off access to the disputed area. This required people using Lot 3’s driveway to only have one way in and out and now busses, including the bus that picked up the resident’s disabled child, to turn around on a steep hill.

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When a couple divorces and there are children from the marriage, in almost all cases one of the parents will be required to pay child support to the other parent. This obligation remains in place even if one or both of the parties moves to another state. Your experienced Rhode Island child support attorney can help you understand your obligations or the obligations of the other parent.

Uniform Interstate Family Support Act

Sometimes one party is ordered to pay child support to another party, but then one of the parties moves out of state. In the past, it would be very difficult to hold the payor accountable for any child support they owed in these scenarios. In fact, sometimes the payor would move out of state for the primary purpose of avoiding child support. In order to address this issue, Congress passed a law to help make it easier for child support obligations to be enforced across states.

This law is called the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA). The first version was created in 1992 and it has been revised several times since then. The act helps to determine which state’s laws should govern any given child support situation. State laws regarding child support can differ significantly, so it is important for courts to know which laws to apply.

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Family court is not a criminal court. Therefore, generally, the family court does not hear cases that involve criminal defendants, nor does it impose criminal penalties on defendants. However, Rhode Island allows some criminal cases with juvenile defendants to be transferred to family court. The state believes that in some situations the family court is better equipped to handle cases involving young people.

Moving a case from criminal court to family court has both pros and cons for defendants. In most cases, the defendant will be given a lesser penalty in family court than they would in a criminal court. This is because the family court is more focused on rehabilitation and will usually order interventions like counseling, and other forms of treatment . Conversely, criminal defendants often have more rights during the process, including a right to counsel, and stricter rules of evidence that the state must follow. Your skilled Rhode Island family law attorney can help you understand how these differences will apply in your situation.

In the case at issue, a juvenile defendant was adjudicated by the family court for delinquency after being found responsible for two counts of second-degree child molestation sexual assault. The victims were under the age of 14. As part of the adjudication, the defendant was required to register as a sex offender.

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Generally, a relationship ending doesn’t result in a court appearance unless you were married. This case is an exception. In a very interesting case heard by the Rhode Island Superior Court, an ex-boyfriend sued his ex-girlfriend for fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and unjust enrichment. If you believe that you may have a case against your ex-partner or ex-spouse, a knowledgeable Rhode Island family law attorney can help you to decide whether you have a claim.

The Ex-Boyfriend’s Allegations

As noted above, the plaintiff/ex-boyfriend in this case brought suit against his ex-girlfriend for negligent misrepresentation, fraud, and unjust enrichment. After seven years in a romantic relationship together, the defendant/ex-girlfriend and the plaintiff broke up. He alleges that she falsely represented to him that his life would be enhanced by being with her, and in reliance on this promise he devoted his time, energy, and expertise to her. He also alleges that he provided financial advice to her that will eventually save her tax money. Thus, he argues, it is unfair for her to keep that benefit while not giving him the benefit of lifetime security (presumably by remaining in a relationship with him).

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Unless you are a lawyer, you probably don’t think about the specific procedures for filing a lawsuit. While you should always work with a knowledgeable Rhode Island insurance attorney if you are considering suing an insurance company, it can also be helpful to understand some of the procedural rules surrounding the case. A recent case heard by the Federal District Court of Rhode Island discusses these procedural requirements.


In order for a court to hear a case, they must have jurisdiction over the matter and the parties. Typically, claims related to insurance or personal injury are heard in state court. However, the case may be removed to federal court if certain conditions are met. One of the ways that a case may be eligible to be heard in federal court is through diversity jurisdiction.

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Most of the time that child custody is discussed, it is in the context of divorcing parents. Of course it is increasingly common for the parents of children to not be married. So what are the rights of Rhode Island parents when they are not and have never been married to the other parent? You should talk to an experienced Rhode Island family law attorney to understand how the laws are applied in your situation, but there are some basics that unmarried parents should know.

Father’s Rights

When a married woman gives birth, her spouse is legally presumed to be the parent of the child. When the mother is not married, paternity first has to be established in order for the father to be given parental rights. Establishing paternity does not necessarily require a paternity test. The father of the child can acknowledge paternity of the child. He can do this through putting his name on the birth certificate or other means. Once the father has been established, then he will have equal parenting rights as the mother, though this does not necessarily mean equal time with each parent.

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