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For the most part, the government stays out of how parents raise their children. In fact, the United States Supreme Court has held that “parents have a fundamental liberty interest in the care, custody and management” of their children, and that a parent’s rights will not “evaporate” merely because they are not model parents or because they have lost temporary custody of their children. However, at some point, when the state government believes that children are being neglected, abused, or otherwise in danger, the state will intervene.

In order for the state to terminate parental rights, they must establish one of the facts outlined in Rhode Island Statutes section 15-7-7. The list of reasons for which the state can terminate a parent’s rights is not limited by those laid out in section 15-7-7. Instead, the statute provides examples of situations where termination may be appropriate. For example, if a parent is found to have willfully neglected the needs of a child for at least one year despite being financially able to meet them, the state may move to terminate parental rights. Other examples include:

  • a parent’s long-term imprisonment;
  • a parent’s abusive conduct toward a child;
  • the child’s placement with the department for children, youth, and families for 12 months due to a parent’s substance abuse issue, when it does not appear as though the child will be able to return to the parent within a reasonable amount of time; or
  • when a parent’s other child or children have been placed in the custody of the department for children, youth and families, and it does not appear that providing additional services to the parent will result in reunification within a reasonable amount of time.

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When a couple with children divorces, one spouse will retain custody of the children and the other spouse will likely be required to make Rhode Island child support payments. In Rhode Island, the right to child support payments belongs to the child, rather than the receiving spouse, so parties are unable to negotiate a pre-determined amount of child support in the event of an upcoming divorce.

Instead, Rhode Island courts employ an income shares model in which the adjusted gross income of both parents is used to determine the child support amount owed by the non-custodial parent. Courts must begin by using the model, but can always order the non-custodial parent to pay additional child support.

Rhode Island Child Support Calculations

To begin, courts will consider the monthly gross income of each of the parties. Then, the court will subtract out any mandatory deductions, such as child support payments to other children, health insurance premiums, and the cost of childcare. Courts may also consider a number of discretionary deductions, such as retirement benefits, life insurance payments, income tax adjustments, significant medical expenses, and the payment of marital debts. However, it is important to note that judges will not consider these factors as a matter of course, and the decision of whether to subtract discretionary deductions is made on a case-by-case basis.

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No one likes to think about what is going to happen with their property after they die; however, by thinking about the issue now, loved ones can be spared the enormous expense and hassle of dealing with the process after the fact. Thus, everyone should create a will to determine how they want their property divided in the event of their death.

If someone dies without a Rhode Island will, they are said to have died “intestate.” Each state has a set of laws that apply when someone dies intestate. In Rhode Island, the intestate laws are contained in Rhode Island General Laws, Chapter 33-1.

Intestate laws can be complicated, and the manner in which a decedent’s property is divided depends on whether they are married and have children or grandchildren. The laws prioritize the spouse and children of the deceased; however, parents and siblings can end up with the entire estate if someone dies unmarried and without children. In many cases, Rhode Island intestate laws may not make sense and may not adequately effectuate the wishes of the deceased.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Rhode Island family law case discussing whether a letter that was written by a child to her father as part of a therapeutic exercise could be admitted into evidence in a hearing determining whether the father’s parental rights should be terminated. Ultimately, although the letter was an out-of-court statement, the court concluded that the letter was admissible.

The Facts of the Case

This was not the first time this particular case came before the Supreme Court of Rhode Island. In fact, the procedural history of the case is quite complex. To summarize the facts, the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) moved to terminate Father’s parental rights after it was determined that his daughter was not provided a “minimum degree of care, supervision or guardianship.” At the time, the Father was incarcerated for murder. Father’s parental rights were ultimately terminated, based primarily on the fact that Father was imprisoned and his daughter had been in DCYF custody for 12 consecutive months. Evidence was also presented suggesting Father physically abused and neglected his daughter.

After the termination order, Father’s conviction for murder was reversed. Father then sought to appeal the decision terminating his parental rights. In opposition to Father’s request, DCYF offered the testimony of the daughter’s therapist.

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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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