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Under RI law, who is a "de facto" parent and do you qualify as one?

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Atty Chris Pearsall

Authored By:  Christopher Pearsall, RI Divorce Attorney
a.k.a.  " The Rhode Island Divorce Coach ℠ "

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Question:   In the state of rhode island what is a de facto parent and what are their rights?

Answer:  This is a factually driven question in each case and results from a determination of the Rhode Island Family Court judge.

In essence a "de factor parent" is a person who stands in the position of a parent based upon an interested person's interaction and relationship with the child.  For instance, due to the relationship and interactions between an adult and a child the court may determine that a person is a "de facto parent" be he or she a mother or a father.

In Rhode Island the right of an interested person to make such a claim is basically set forth in R.I. Gen. Laws §15-8-26 which states,

"Any interested party may bring an action to determine the existence or nonexistence of a mother and child relationship. The provisions of this chapter applicable to the father and child relationship shall apply as far as practicable." (Current through Public Law 534 of the 2013 Legislative Session)

Typically that interaction must be long term and the interested person must have acted in the same or a substantially similar role as a parent would to the child on a regular and consistent basis. Yet this is merely a guideline. Each set of circumstances is based upon the specific facts of each case. While you might like a "list" of rights if a "de facto" parent relationship is determined, there is no such list.

To give you a better idea of how factually driven cases are, I recommend that you read the case of Rubano v. DiCenzo found at in order to understand the complex interrelationship between facts, law, and court decisions.

Many people would like cut and dry answers with respect to their questions, yet there often isn't one that can be universally applied because the law in many cases cannot anticipate all the different factors and situations that can occur in life.  Facts always have a role to play in each case and when those facts are extracted, general answers don't usually exist.  Depending upon the facts of the relationship, the nature of the parties, the mental state of the child, and many other factors, there is nothing to prevent the court from expanding or limiting the role and/or consequently the rights of a de facto parent in each case. 

In some cases a person might think they are a "de facto parent" but the family court justice might disagree.  I recommend reading Rubano v. Dicenzo the case cited and you will understand much better what I mean. In the meantime, depending upon your situation, you might want to take the time to present that facts to an experienced family lawyer to get a better bead on the actual facts in your case and how they might be applied by a judge as well as what you are expecting or hoping for.