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Protecting What Matters Most

What are the child custody laws for unmarried couples?

On Behalf of | Sep 9, 2022 | Blog, Child Custody & Support

In Rhode Island, many parents are single, separated or divorced. Therefore, the state regulations regarding child custody and visitation are the same. When a child’s custody is questioned, the court must decide which is the most suitable parent.

Parents’ custody rights

When an unwed couple has children but is no longer in a relationship, the mother automatically has sole physical and legal custody of the child. In Rhode Island, the father must provide physical proof before he can be granted parental rights. Initially, the mother has sole custody and is responsible for making all decisions on behalf of the child, including education, medical care, religion and more.

However, a mother’s rights may be taken away by the court. For example, if there is a history of abuse, neglect or serious substance use disorder, the court might remove the child from her custody.

If the father is named on the birth certificate, he’s recognized as the child’s legal father. After the legal father provides a paternity test and vital details of his life, he can claim the same parental rights. For example, if the mother is found to be unfit, the father could be granted sole legal and physical custody.

How the court determines custody

The main factor the court considers when determining custody is what’s in the child’s best interests. Those factors include the following:

  • The stability of each parent’s home
  • The relationship between the child and both parents
  • The physical and mental health of the child and each parent
  • Whether there is a history of any type of abuse
  • How well is each parent able to meet the child’s physical and emotional needs

Unwed parents can establish custody arrangements independently or allow the court to decide. Initially, the mother will have sole rights until the father claims his rights. Then, it is possible to have a joint custody arrangement through the court.

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