Addiction and Child Custody Laws in Rhode Island

This introduction to RI custody laws will help you navigate Rhode Island’s justice system. Learn what you can do in cases when a parent is drinking too much or using drugs around the kids.

ARTICLE OVERVIEW: Using alcohol and drugs in Rhode Island is considered a form of child abuse, which can lead to losing your rights as a parent. This article provides information on the basic custody laws and explains how courts typically process child custody cases in Rhode Island.


“The Best Interest of the Child” Policy

The courts in Rhode Island make any decision related to child custody based upon the ‘best interest of the child’ policy. A child’s welfare always comes first. There is no strict definition of this policy, but there are many guiding principles related to a child’s circumstances that every judge takes into consideration before making the final judgment. [1] Some of these guiding principles include:

  • Avoiding removal of the child from their home
  • A child’s safety, health, and education
  • The child’s wishes
  • The importance of family integrity

However, you need to know that darental drug or alcohol use is taken very seriously in Rhode Island. If you are found guilty of using around your kids, you lose your visitation rights… and even your right to custody. So, if you have a problem with drugs and alcohol…we urge you to get help.

Addiction affects the whole family. Your kids need you to be your best self. At American Addiction Centers, we know that proper treatment can help restore what you’ve lost. Don’t wait another day. Reach out for help. Our hotline operators are waiting 24-7, day and night, to talk to you about making a change. Give us a call today.

What Courts Make Decisions?

The court that is responsible for handling family cases in Rhode Island is the Family Court. This court is focused on individual and social problems concerning families and children. Its goals are to assist, protect, and restore families whose well-being is threatened. Plus, the Family Court is charged with assuring that children within its jurisdiction receive care, guidance, and control conducive to their welfare.

Rhode Island’s Family Court has jurisdiction to hear and determine all petitions for divorce, and any related motions such as distribution of property, alimony, support, and custody of children. [2] Moreover, this court handles matters relating to delinquent, wayward, dependent, neglected, abused, or mentally deficient or disordered children, adoptions, child marriages, paternity proceedings, etc.

Appeals of the Family Court decisions are taken directly to the state Supreme Court, a court of last resort in Rhode Island. You can find contact information for all family courts in Rhode Island here.

Guiding Laws

1. The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act

All U.S. states have adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act whose goal is to minimize or completely eliminate custody conflicts from state to state by giving the power to state courts to enforce custody orders made in other states. You can find this law in Rhode Island coded at RIGL §15-14.1 [3]

2. Rhode Island General Laws

All laws on child custody were repealed under the ‘Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act’. [4] A few laws that cover child custody in the State of Rhode Island include:

RIGL § 15-14.1-13. Initial child custody jurisdiction. Under this act, the Family Court may modify its own child custody order as long as it retains ‘exclusive, continuing, jurisdiction’. [5]

RIGL § 15-14.1-14. Exclusive, continuing jurisdiction. Once a state with initial jurisdiction has entered a custody order, that state will have exclusive, continuing jurisdiction to modify its order except in certain circumstances. [6]

RIGL §15-14.1-16. Temporary emergency jurisdiction.  The Family Court can order temporary emergency action only if the child has been abandoned or it is necessary to protect the child because the child/a sibling/parent is subjected or threatened with mistreatment or abuse. [7]

3. Rhode Island Child Protection Laws 

RIGL § 40-11-2. Abused and Neglected Children. This laws defines child abuse and neglect in RI. A child is abused or neglected when their physical or mental health or welfare is harmed or threatened when their parent or other guardian fails to provide the child with a minimum degree of care or proper supervision or guardianship because of their unwillingness or inability to do so by situations or conditions such as mental incompetence, social problems, or the use of a drug, drugs, or alcohol to the extent that the parent or the other guardian loses their ability or is unwilling to properly care for the child. [8]

RIGL § 40-11-3. Duty to report. In Rhode Island, any person who has reasonable cause to know or suspect that any child has been abused or neglected, or has been a victim of sexual abuse by another child, shall, within 24 hours, report that information to the department of children, youth, and families, or its agent who shall cause the report to be investigated immediately. [9]

Types of Custody

Both biological parents have equal rights to child custody in Rhode Island. They can be awarded with one of the five (5) types of custody:

1. Sole Legal Custody

This type of custody gives the right to only one parent to make all important and major decisions concerning child’s welfare without consulting the other parent. The awarded parent will also have physical placement of the child, and will be responsible for decisions on education, religion, health, etc.

2. Joint Legal Custody

Both parents are involved in making the important decisions concerning the child’s welfare. Parents who are awarded with this type of custody have equal rights in making decisions on education, religion, health, etc. regarding their child.

3. Physical Placement or Physical Custody

Physical placement defines the place where the child is living on a day to day basis. Physical placement, also known as physical custody, can be awarded to only one parent, while the other parent has reasonable visitation rights. The parent with physical placement has the right to receive Rhode Island Child support from the parent who has visitation rights.

4. Shared Physical Placement or Shared Physical Custody

This type of custody is awarded to both parents. The child resides with both parents, and the living arrangements vary. For instance, the child may live with one parent for half the week, and the rest of the week with the other parent. Some parents will alternate weeks or months. The arrangements are done by agreement of both parties. Shared physical placement is relatively rare in Rhode Island.

5. Split Physical Placement

Split Physical Placement is when at least one child lives with the mother, and at least one child lives with the father.

What’s “Proof” of Drug or Alcohol Use?

Substance abuse can play a huge factor in child custody cases. Usually, the court will not order a drug or alcohol test out of blue. Still, one of the parents may file a motion to the court to order a drug test. However, in order to substantiate claims, a parent needs to offer evidence of the other person’s substance dependency. The court has the right to drug test both parents.

NOTE: False accusations to win custody are taken very seriously by the court.

The evidence that Rhode Island courts may take into consideration regarding parental alcohol or drug use include:

  • Direct digital or photographic evidence
  • Legal history of DUI charges or drug possession
  • Medical record on substance abuse
  • Positive drug tests
  • Third eye witness statements

Drug tests are most reliable evidence to prove parental substance use. Court ordered drug tests are random, and people can be tested once every 10 days or so. Moreover, DUI and drug possession charges are also hard evidence for proving substance abuse.

Often, these forms of evidence are taken into more consideration than photographs. If someone is surrounded by empty bottles or drugs on a photograph, doesn’t mean that they consumed the alcohol or drugs. Furthermore, the court is obligated to determine the creditability of all evidence, and take into consideration the whole context of the third eye testimony.

Visitation Rights

The Rhode Island Family Court offers a free, court-based mediation program to help parents in settling cases through a process that is fair, cooperative, and respectful. When a case involves children, it is expected that mediation will result in a parenting plan that meets both parents’ concerns as well as the child’s best interest. [11]

Still, Rhode Island gives you the opportunity to create your own visitation schedule. A child visitation plan should specify the days and times your children will spend with each parent including the following components:

  • A residential schedule
  • A holiday schedule
  • A vacation schedule
  • Provisions for reasonable telephone or virtual contact

Nevertheless, most courts in Rhode Island have a standard, set visitation schedule that they will assign to families when they cannot agree on a child visitation schedule on their own. Generally, there are three types of visitation available to a non-custodial parent. These include:

1. Reasonable visitation

This type of visitation set up is for parents that have good communication and respect each other’s rights. Usually, they don’t need a fixed schedule and the visitation hours are flexible. In fact, parents with this set up arrange visits by themselves.

2. Visitation schedule

If parents cannot agree to a visitation schedule altogether, a court will create a detailed visitation schedule based on the child’s needs. The parents are obligated to follow this schedule.

3. Supervised visitation

This type of visitation occurs when the court declares that the child may not be safe if left alone with a parent. This visitation takes place at a designated facility within a strict time limit supervised by a social worker or a similar professional. In Rhode Island, the court provides supervised parenting time when ordered by a Judge. The supervised parenting time happens once a week only for one hour. [10]

What Happens if I Test Positive?

It depends.

Moderate drinking won’t affect the final decision in a custody case, but courts will strongly consider any illicit drug use as a form of child abuse. It’s considered child abuse if a parent is abusing substances in Rhode Island. Any substance abuse issue can make an impact on getting custody or on the visitation rights. A parent with a substance use disorder is less likely to win a child custody case.

Rhode Island’s Family Courts have numerous options to protect children from a parent’s substance use problems. First, the Judge may order no overnight visitation or supervised parenting time until the case is closed. They also order 24-hour abstinence before and during the parenting time. Plus, the court often requires that addicted parents submit drug and alcohol tests results periodically, as well as attendance on AA or NA meetings, or therapist sessions.

In some cases, the court may order the parent to enroll into an addiction treatment program. If you successfully finish the treatment program, you will prove the Court that you are willing to change, and provide a better an healthier environment for your child.

The Family Courts in RI take substance abuse very seriously. Generally, the sober parent has an upper hand in negotiations. In extreme cases, the court may award full custody to the parent who is not using, and ruled supervised parenting time for good. In cases where an addicted parent has cause serious injury to a child when under the influence, a judge may terminate the visitation hours, and custodial rights completely.

Can Someone Subponea My Records from Rehab?

Health information is protected and carefully regulated by federal and state laws. These laws protect the privacy of a patient’s medical information. But, if you are part of criminal or family case, your medical records can be disclosed if the court orders the information for use within the judicial system.

Federal laws that protect medical records include:

Federal Statute 42. The ‘Confidentiality of Records’ laws states that the identity, diagnosis, prognosis, or treatment related to substance abuse, education, prevention, training, rehab, or research which is conducted, regulated, or directed, or indirectly assisted by any department or agency in the U.S. shall be confidential and be disclosed only for the purposes and under circumstances authorized by a court order. [12]

The Health Insurance and Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. This act’s goal is to protect medical records, health insurance information, billing data, patient’s confidentiality, and other health information. [13]

Extra Rhode Island general laws that protect patient’s privacy include:

RIGL § 5-37-22 Disclosures.  Holders of medical records must keep them confidential, unless a patient requested in writing to be transferred to another medical care. [14]

RIGL § 5-37.3-2. Statement of purpose.  This act is created to establish safeguards for maintaining the integrity of confidential health care information that relates to an individual. [15]

RIGL § 5-37.3-6.3. Exceptions. This act is not created to interfere with the rights to confrontation and compulsory process secured to a defendant in criminal prosecution pursuant to the state and federal constitutions. [16]

RIGL § 5-37.3-6.1. Court proceedings – Confidential health care information. This law states that a health care provider or custodian of health care information may disclose confidential health care information in a judicial proceeding if the disclosure is pursuant to a subpoena and the provider or custodian is provided written certification by the party issuing the subpoena. Read more in the actual chapter. [17]

RIGL § 40.1-5-26. Disclosure of confidential information and records.  All information and records compiled, obtained, or maintained in the course of providing services to persons shall be confidential. Information and records may be disclosed to the courts only if the patent is subject of the preceding. Read the actual chapter to find more information on when your information and records may be disclosed. [18]

This list is not complete, and it is not intended to provide legal help. Some information such as HIV-related, alcohol and substance abuse treatment records, mental health files, and genetic information, are considered sensitive that state or federal laws provide special protection for them. [19] Consult with a lawyer or your health care provider for comprehensive information.

How to Be Reunited with My Kids?

Following court orders and suggestions can help you greatly in getting more face time with your children. It can even lead to reunification with your children.

The primary goal of the Rhode Island child welfare system is safe reunification of the child and family. [20]

BUT, if you want to have positive outcome from your treatment, YOU should be the one wanting to change. In order to move forward in life, you must make the change for yourself only. There is no point of cutting down on drinking or judge use to prove something to a judge.

If you do not want to quit your drug-of-choice for yourself, you may easily relapse, and find yourself back at square one.

Hope is here. Breaking the cycle of dependence is possible! American Addiction Centers focus on treating the whole person by healing to body, mind, and spirit. This approach includes rebuilding relationships with your family. Our goal is to help you become a better person first for yourself, then for your children.

Please call us to learn more about how rehab helps. Our operators are standing by day and night for your call. We want to talk with you. You are not alone.

What Happens When I Finish Rehab?

Completing a rehab program is only the first step of the path to recovery. Sobriety is a long process that requires hard work and dedication. What you need to do after finishing an addiction treatment to continue working on sobriety. Usually, this is done via a process called “aftercare”/

An aftercare program is an ongoing treatment plan for people in early recovery to help them stay clean and sober by teaching them to avoid triggers, manage stress, and cope with cravings. Usually, an aftercare program consists of:

  • A stay at sober living home
  • Counseling sessions
  • Family therapy
  • Support group meetings

If you want your kids back, know that completing rehab will show the court that you are starting over. Another important thing is to always follow court’s orders. Do whatever the Judge orders to increase the chances of gaining a joint custody or more parenting time. Keep in mind that the Judge can order a drug test as a proof of your sobriety.

Once you are stable in recovery, you can consult with a lawyer to file a motion for a custody modification. You can find all forms from the Family Court in Rhode Island here.

Where to Find Rehab?

Choices for rehab options are enormous. But, first you need to admit that you have a substance use problem, and you are willing to change. Then, start your search for treatment. The only advice is that you need to find the one that best suits your needs. Here are some options where to find rehab:

Reach out for help, don’t waste your time. You deserve a better life! You are worth it! Our caring admission operators are waiting for your phone call.

When to Get Legal Help

Child custody cases are complex. But finding the right lawyer can be hard. There are many factors before making the decision. But, if you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, the court will appoint, a state attorney for you. One place to start searching a lawyer is through:

Or, you can ask for a referral from friends or family.

The reality is that your kids need you, and you need your kids.

Don’t wait until is too late. We know addiction. Addiction respond to medical treatment. If you are struggling with drink or drug…call us. Together we can create a treatment plan. When you work for it, you can be reunited with your kids.

Reference Sources: [1] Child Welfare: Determining the Best Interest of the Child 
[2] Courts in Rhode Island: Family Court
[3] State of Rhode Island: Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act CHAPTER 15-14.1
[4] State of Rhode Island: Domestic Relations- Child Custody
[5] State of Rhode Island: Domestic Relations § 15-14.1-13. Initial child custody jurisdiction
[6] State of Rhode Island: Domestic Relations § 15-14.1-14. Exclusive, continuing jurisdiction
[7] State of Rhode Island: Domestic Relations § 15-14.1-16. Temporary emergency jurisdiction.
[8] State of Rhode Island: Human Services: Abused and Neglected Children § 40-11-2. Definitions.
[9] State of Rhode Island: Human Services: Abused and Neglected Children § 40-11-3. Duty to report – Deprivation of nutrition or medical treatment. 
[10] Rhode Island Family Court: Supervised Parenting Time 
[11] Rhode Island Family Court: Mediation Program
[12] Gov Info: 42 U.S.C. 290dd-2 – Confidentiality of records
[13] HHS: Your Rights Under HIPAA
[14] State of Rhode Island: Business and Professions: Board of Medical Licensure and Discipline § 5-37-22. Disclosures
[15] State of Rhode Island: Business and Professions: Confidentiality of Health Care Communications and Information Act § 5-37.3-2. Statement of purpose 
[16] State of Rhode Island: Business and Professions: Confidentiality of Health Care Communications and Information Act § 5-37.3-6.3. Exceptions
[17] State of Rhode Island: Business and Professions: Confidentiality of Health Care Communications and Information Act § 5-37.3-6.1. Court proceedings – Confidential health care information. 
[18] State of Rhode Island: Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals: Mental Health Law § 40.1-5-26. Disclosure of confidential information and records. 
[19] State of Rhode Island: Department of Human Services: Notice of Privacy Practices 
[20] Child Welfare: Reunification With Parents With Substance Use Issues 
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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