Updated: Apr 2, 2021
Rhode Islanders for Parentage Equality Calls for Fixing State’s Outdated Parentage Law So Children Aren’t Left Vulnerable
Parents and advocates launch new coalition to pass comprehensive parentage reform, saying families can’t keep waiting for the law to change Providence – Today a coalition of Rhode Island parents, supported by stakeholder organizations and family advocates, announced the launch of Rhode Islanders for Parentage Equality (RIPE). RIPE’s goal is to ensure every child and family in Rhode Island has equal access to establishing the critical protections of parentage bypassing, in the 2020 legislative session, comprehensive legislation based on the bipartisan model Uniform Parentage Act 2017 (UPA). The RIPE website explains the problems with Rhode Island’s outdated parentage law, highlights stories from families who have been impacted by its limitations, and provides a fact sheet on the urgent need to pass legislation to update the law this session. Parentage is the legal parent-child relationship from which numerous rights and responsibilities flow. Securing legal parentage provides children critical security and stability. “Too many children and families are vulnerable in Rhode Island because they have no clear route to establish their parentage,” said Julie Keller, parent, and RIPE coalition member. “RIPE was founded by parents who have experienced firsthand the stress and anguish of not being able to establish a clear legal tie to their children. That creates huge barriers to doing fundamental things like making school or medical decisions, and it forces parents into cost-prohibitive and invasive legal proceedings simply to protect our children. To put it simply: Rhode Island’s current law is illogical, unfair, and unconstitutional, and it puts children and families, like mine, at risk.” Rhode Island currently has no statutes clarifying parentage for children born through assisted reproduction and no statutes regarding parentage through surrogacy. Families are more diverse in modern times, and Rhode Island law hasn’t kept pace. Rhode Island parentage law hasn’t been updated in over 40 years. Only two states –Kentucky and Mississippi – have family laws as old as Rhode Island. “My family was in legal limbo for 8 excruciating months after our son was born,” said Sara Watson, who with her partner Anna has advocated for updates to the law to protect families like theirs for the past several years. “We planned for our child together every step of the way. But when he was born I learned that as the non-birth parent, I had no legal relationship to him and no path to establish my parentage in the hospital like other families do. Instead, I had to adopt my own son. For 8 months, my son only had one legal parent. Should anything have happened to Anna, my son could have ended up in foster care. During that time. I desperately tried to secure recognition as his parent, which meant that we were subjected to a lengthy, invasive, and expensive adoption process. That included having to put an ad in the paper to notify an anonymous sperm donor of the pending adoption, opening up the possibility of a complete stranger challenging my adoption of our son. We need to update Rhode Island law now to make sure no family has to go through what mine did ever again.” Updating state law based on the UPA would bring best-practice parentage law to Rhode Island. Such legislation, filed last year as the Rhode Island Parentage Act and passed unanimously in the Senate, (a) fills the gaps for children born through assisted reproduction and surrogacy, (b) ensures equality for LGBTQ parents to establish their parentage like other families, (c)provides a clear standard for courts to resolve competing claims of parentage; and (d) improves access, efficiency, and consistency in Rhode Island family courts. RIPE is a coalition of concerned Rhode Island parents and families. Supporting organizations include Adoption Rhode Island, LGBTQ Action Rhode Island, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), the National Association of Social Workers Rhode Island Chapter, New England Surrogacy, NOW Rhode Island, RESOLVE New England, TGI Network, Thundermist Health Center, and the Womxn Center.