Basics of Legal Custody & Physical Custody by a Child Custody Attorney

RI Family Court judges utilize the “best interest of the child” standard in Child Custody Visitation cases.   Rhode Island Family Court Magistrates and Judges should utilize a “best interest of the child” standard in making custody decisions . These Custody factors are set forth in the seminal RI Custody Law case of Pettinato v Pettinato, 589 A.2d 909 (R.I. 1990)

Custody decisions are made in all types of Domestic matters including: Post Divorce, Paternity, DCYF, Family Law, and  Restraining Order Cases.

Fundamentals of “Legal Custody”

child custody

Providence child custody attorneys

The Judge can award either sole legal custody to a parent or may award Joint Legal Custody to both parents. If a party is awarded joint custody it is essentially a certification that that person is a fit and proper person to make custodial decisions. Once a parent agrees to give the other party joint custody, they cannot later claim the person is unfit unless there are new allegations after the joint custody award. Legal custody is independent of the issue of visitation. RI Visitation Rights are beyond the scope of this legal post. Please Consult with East Providence child custody attorney David Slepkow 401-437-1100 about your situation.

Sole Legal custody

Sole Legal Custody means that one parent can make all important and major decisions concerning a child’s health, welfare and upbringing without consulting with the other parent.  Unless a parent lives out of State, has drug, criminal, mental health issues or is abusive to the child, it will typically be joint custody. These major decisions include religion, education, medical and general welfare decisions. The parent with sole custody of the child will usually 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.

Joint Legal Custody | child custody in Rhode Island

Joint Legal Custody means both parents should be involved in major / important decisions concerning a child’s education, upbringing, medical and religious welfare. Theoretically, both parents with joint custody have equal rights in making important decisions regarding their child or children. The parent who the child resides with will have a lot more influence in custodial decisions. Both parents have full rights to access all medical, educational and other records pertaining to the child. 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.

Physical Placement – Physical custody

The Court must also award to one parent physical placement of the child or children. Physical placement is where the child will be living on a day to day basis. Physical placement is also commonly known as “physical custody” The parent who does not have physical custody of the child will have reasonable visitation rights. The parent with physical placement of a minor child has the right to receive Rhode Island Child support from the parent who has visitation rights. Child Support is typically determined by the Rhode Island Child Support Guidelines

Shared Physical Placement | Child custody in Providence Family Court

Shared Physical placement (Shared Physical custody) is when the child splits time residing with both parents.  Shared Physical placement is relatively rare in Rhode Island. In some instances, the child may be placed with one parent for half the week and then the other parent the other half of the week. Some parents will alternate weeks or months. This type of arrangement is usually only done by agreement of the parties and is rarely ordered by the Court Absent an agreement.

Split Physical Placement

Split physical Placement is when one child lives with the father and one child lives with the mother. It can also be when the children are split in away so that at least one child lives with a parent and at least one child lives with mother.

If the Parents cannot agree to legal custody, physical placement or visitation, then The RI Family Court must determine what is in the “best interest of the child.” This is very subjective and analytical standard.

It is advisable to contact a Rhode Island Divorce Lawyer or a RI Family Law Attorney to get legal advice concerning the facts and circumstances in your case. There are 8 basic factors that the judge should look at in determining the best interest of the child. These factors are used by the court in determining both physical and legal custody of children

“This [C]ourt has held that child-custody awards must be made in the ‘best interest[s]’ of the child.” quoting Petition of Loudin “[T]he best interests of the child standard remains amorphous and its implementation has been left to the sound discretion of the trial justices.” Id. Several factors must be taken into consideration by the Judge in making a best interest of the child determination. However, no single factor is determinative; rather “[t]he trial justice must consider a combination of and an interaction among all the relevant factors that affect the child’s best interests.” Among the factors the court must consider are the following:

  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.”  Pettinato v. Pettinato, 582 A.2d 909, 913-14 (R.I. 1990).

In many contested child custody cases, Professionals such as Social workers, Therapists, Psychologists, and the Guardian ad litem for the children may play a major role.

Rhode Island Attorneys legal Notice per RI Rules of Professional Responsibility:

The Rhode Island Supreme Court licenses all lawyers / attorneys in the general practice of law, but does not license or certify any lawyer or attorney as an expert or specialist in any field of practice.