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Legal Information: Rhode Island

Rhode Island Custody

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Laws current as of November 30, 2023

What is custody?

Custody is the legal responsibility for the care and control of your minor child under 18. There are two types of custody: legal and physical. Even though the law in Rhode Island is not very specific about legal custody, this usually refers to the right to make major decisions about your child, including decisions regarding education, medical care, and religion. Physical custody includes the physical care and supervision of your child.

For general information on custody and the custody process, you might want to look at our Custody, Visitation, and Child Support videos.

1 RI Gen. Laws § 15-14.1-2(14)

How is paternity established?

There are three main ways in which paternity can be established:

  1. Through marriage. The law assumes that spouses are the parents to a child born during the marriage or up to 300 days after a divorce.1
  2. Signing an acknowledgement of parentage. It can be signed at:
    1. the hospital when the child is born; or
    2. the Rhode Island Center for Vital records if it’s completed after birth.2
  3. Through a court case. A petition to establish parental rights and responsibilities can be filed in the family or superior court.3 The petitioner must provide the court with the Social Security number of the person who s/he believes is the father. If paternity is established, the court will share that information with the Office of Child Support Services.The petition can be filed by:
    • the child;
    • the person who gave birth;
    • the person whose parentage is being decided;
    • the Office of Child Support Services; or
    • a representative authorized by law.5

1 RI Gen. Laws § 15-8.1-401
2 Rhode Island Office of Child Support Services website
3 RI Gen. Laws § 15-8.1-111
4 RI Gen. Laws § 15-8.1-104(c), (e)
5 RI Gen. Laws § 15-8.1-105

What is mediation and when is it ordered?

Generally, mediation is a process where both parents work with a qualified neutral person (a mediator) who, without providing legal advice, assists the parents in reaching an agreement regarding custody and/or visitation. If mediation is ordered by the judge, the information shared to the mediator or in front of the mediator is privileged and cannot be used in any court process.1

The judge can choose to have the parents participate in mediation:

  • before trial, so there wouldn’t be a trial in front of the judge unless mediation doesn’t work;
  • during trial, if there are other issues before the judge, like a divorce process. The judge would only deal with non-custody issues until mediation is completed and then there’d be a separate trial for custody and visitation if mediation fails; or 
  • after a trial has taken place regarding non-custody issues. The judge would not enter a final custody or visitation order until the mediation process is completed so that the parents’ agreement, if one is reached, can become part of the order.2

Although Rhode Island law doesn’t specifically include an exception for domestic violence victims, it’s generally not advisable to go through mediation with an abuser due to the power imbalance. If you are a domestic violence survivor, you might want to let the judge know about this situation and request not to be referred to mediation. 

1 RI Gen. Laws § 15-5-29(c)
2 RI Gen. Laws § 15-5-29(a), (b)