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Establishment of Paternity

Paternity means establishing fatherhood.

Establishing paternity means that an individual has been legally determined to be the father of a child. Over 50% of children born in Rhode Island are born without the father's name on the birth certificate. The Office of Child Support Services can assist in establishing paternity.

Why is establishing paternity so important?

  • Every child needs a father in his/her life for emotional and financial support.
  • A child and his father have a right to a father/child relationship
  • A child has a right to know his or her medical history and background
  • A child has a right of inheritance
  • A child is entitled to an ongoing financial support and medical coverage
  • A child will have a sense of belonging and identity
  • A child may be entitled to social security benefits and veteran's benefits

How is Paternity Established?

Paternity can be established as follows:

  • The father can voluntarily acknowledge paternity of the child immediately after the birth of the child in the birthing hospital. Hospital records staff have been trained to explain the voluntary process and answer any questions parents may have. A videotape entitled "The power of Two" is shown to the parents informing them of their rights and responsibilities. Parents are also provided pamphlets and a statement to read. They may sign "An Affidavit of Paternity" adding the father's name to the child's birth certificate provided it is done voluntarily and without coercion. They may also choose the child's last name, provided the mother is not married to someone else.
  • The father can voluntarily acknowledge paternity at the Office of Child Support Services. The same process that is followed in the hospital is followed at the office. The parents view the videotape, read the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and sign the Affidavit of Paternity. All forms and pamphlets may be downloaded from this Web site. The father's name may be added to the child's birth certificate but the child's last name cannot be changed unless the parties appear before the Rhode Island Family Court.
  • If the alleged father does not wish to voluntarily acknowledge paternity, the Office of Child Support Services can file a Complaint for Paternity naming him as the father. The mother signs a verified complaint and an affidavit stating facts that support that he is the father. He has three options when he is served with the paternity complaint:
  1. He can fill out the answer an affidavit and request that a DNA test be performed.
  2. He can admit he is the father at which point a Motion will be filed to request that his name and information be added to the child's birth certificate.
  3. If he fails to answer he will be defaulted and the court will find he is the father of the child. A motion will be filed to establish support.

What about DNA?

When the non custodial parent is served with the paternity complaint, two forms will be provided one is called an "Answer" an the other is an "Affidavit". If the alleged father is not sure he is the father, he should request dna testing. These forms can be downloaded from this Web site. When the Office of Child Support Services receives the answer, a DNA appointment will be scheduled. The father will not appear at the same time as the mother and child. For your convenience, the appointment will be scheduled at the Office of Child Support Services on 77 Dorrance Street, Providence, RI. The State will pay the cost of the test initially. If the father is found to be the father by the court, he will be ordered to reimburse the State for the fee. The cost is $200.00.

The lab technician will swab the inside of the cheek of the mother, father and child's cheek. Blood tests are no longer performed. Within approximately 30 days the state will receive the results and either file a Motion to Dismiss the case, or file a Motion for Summary Judgment to adjudicate the father based upon the dna results. If the case is dismissed, the cost of the dna will not have to be reimbursed by the alleged father.

Will the Father's name be added to the Child's Birth Certificate?

The father's name will be added to the child's birth certificate per Court order. In a contested matter, if the Court decides after a hearing, that the child's last name will be changed to that of the father's, it will be reflected in the Court order. It is determined based upon the best interests of the child.

Is the Father automatically entitled to Visitation and Custody?

No. The father must file a Motion for Visitation and/or Custody with the Family Court. A hearing will be held to determine these issues. Neither visitation nor custody is automatically guaranteed simply because the father is adjudicated or acknowledges paternity. The father and mother can always agree to a visitation and custody arrangement.

If the father acknowledges or is found to be the father by the Court will child support be ordered?

Yes. The state will seek an order for child support and medical coverage if the child is on assistance or Rite Care. The mother also has a right to seek child support and medical coverage is if she is supporting the child on her own. She may also be entitled to past liabilities for up to 6 years prior to the filing of the paternity complaint. The court may determine what the child support order should have been for that period of time and order the father to reimburse the mother in that amount.

Is there a statute of limitations to establish paternity?

Yes. Paternity may be established up until 4 years after the child reaches the age of majority.