What is sole custody? Should it be abolished?

Parties who are involved in a child custody case, divorce or miscellaneous custodial petition in Providence and Kent County Family Courts typically agree to share joint custody over their minor children. When people agree to joint custody in RI, they agree that they both are fit and proper people to enjoy joint custody of their children. Some of these agreements are driven by a desire by both parents to co-parent their children. Many of these agreements are because both parties come to a realization that there is no other feasible option since there is a high likelihood that the judge will award joint custody of the child, if the parties cannot agree.

What is sole custody?

  • A parent may solely make all important and major decisions concerning a child’s health, welfare and upbringing without consulting with the other parent.
  • These major decisions include religious, educational, medical and general welfare decisions.
  • The parent with sole custody of the child will also have physical placement of the child.
  • The parent with sole legal custody has complete access to medical, educational and other records related to the child.

Distinction between joint and sole custody

Child custody in RI: sole custody increasingly rare

Sole custody has really become a relic of the past. It should only be implemented in the most extreme circumstances in my opinion. Both a father and mother should be involved in decisions concerning their child except under extreme circumstances. Judges in Rhode Island (RI) are awarding joint legal custody of a minor child to a vast majority of parents in Rhode Island divorce, child custody and family law cases. Sole custody is usually only awarded after a full trial or testimonial hearing on the merits and in the most extreme factual circumstances.

When may sole Custody be warranted in Providence Family Court? 

  • Severe mental health problems of one parent rendering the parent incapable of making sound custodial decisions
  • Long history of domestic violence, complaint protection from abuse and restraining orders.
  • Serious drug and alcohol problems over a long period of time and existing in the recent past
  • Little to no relationship between the parent and child.
  • Substantial and serious criminal record such as felonies involving drugs or violence
  • Lack of a visitation / parenting time over a long period of time
  • Complete lack of any meaningful communication between the parties

SOLE CUSTODY in Rhode Island does NOT mean:

  • that the other parent will not get overnights
  • that visitation will be supervised
  • It has little to no effect on a visitation schedule.

Joint Legal Custody means both parents of a child or children should be involved in major / important decisions concerning a child’s upbringing, education, medical and religious welfare. Theoretically, both parents with joint custody have equal rights in making important decisions regarding their child or children. Both parents have full rights to access all medical, educational and other records pertaining to the child. In order for joint Custody to be feasible, the parents must have some level of communication and respect for each other to allow them to co-parent.

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Rhode Island child custody attorney legal advice

In the family law child relocation case of Dupre v Dupre, the Rhode Island Supreme Court stated: “Implicit in an award of joint legal custody, either by agreement or by judicial determination, is an acknowledgment of the value of both parents in the physical, emotional, educational, and spiritual development of their children. It also presumes that both parents will act and make decisions in the best interests of their children’s welfare. Hopefully, joint custodial parents can resolve major differences on their own. If unable to do so, however, they are encouraged to use mediation or other non-adversarial means of dispute resolution. ” https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=3761585665316696366&q=sole+legal+custody&hl=en&as_sdt=4,40 Robert E. DUPRÉ v. Melanie S. DUPRÉ. 857 A.2d 242 (2004

What legal standard is used to decide whether there should be joint or sole legal custody of a minor child?

In, PETTINATO v. PETTINATO, The RI Supreme Court set forth the law in RI to determine custodial and visitation decisions: 

  “Consequently in this state, the best interests of the child standard remains amorphous and its implementation has been left to the sound discretion of the trial justices. However, there are identifiable factors that must be weighed in the best interests of the child analysis when relevant. These factors include:

  1. The wishes of the child’s parent or parents regarding the child’s custody.
  2. The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a preference.
  3. The interaction and interrelationship of the child with the child’s parent or parents, the child’s siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interest.
  4. The child’s adjustment to the child’s home, school, and community.
  5. The mental and physical health of all individuals involved.
  6. The stability of the child’s home environment.
  7. The moral fitness of the child’s parents.
  8. The willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate a close and continuous parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent.”

The best interests of the child should not be determined by assessing any one factor. The trial justice must consider a combination of and an interaction among all the relevant factors that affect the child’s best interests” http://www.leagle.com/decision/19901491582A2d909_11482 

If you are in need of legal assistance in Rhode Island, please contact a Rhode Island divorce attorney or a Providence Child Custody lawyer. A RI divorce lawyer or a Providence child custody lawyer will help you get the best possible result in your divorce or RI child custody case.