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.  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. If you need legal representation in Providence Family Court contact a RI child custody lawyer. A child custody lawyer in RI will fight to get you justice in RI family Court. Rhode Island Family Court Magistrates and Judges should utilize a “best interest of the child” standard in making custody decisions.

Fundamentals of “Legal Custody”


Providence custody lawyer

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 

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

Best Interest of child

“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.

What statute gives the RI Family Court jurisdiction to hear child custody matters?

RI general law establishes the jurisdiction of the Providence Family Court to determine custody and visitation of children.  § 8-10-3. Establishment of court – Jurisdiction – Seal – Oaths. 

“(a) There is hereby established a family court, consisting of a chief judge and eleven (11) associate justices, to hear and determine all petitions for divorce from the bond of marriage and from bed and board; all motions for allowance, alimony, support and custody of children, allowance of counsel and witness fees, and other matters arising out of petitions and motions relative to real and personal property in aid thereof, including, but not limited to, partitions, accountings, receiverships, sequestration of assets, resulting and constructive trust, impressions of trust, and such other equitable matters arising out of the family relationship, wherein jurisdiction is acquired by the court by the filing of petitions for divorce, bed and board and separate maintenance; all motions for allowance for support and educational costs of children attending high school at the time of their eighteenth (18th) birthday and up to ninety (90) days after high school graduation, but in no case beyond their nineteenth (19th) birthday; enforcement of any order or decree granting alimony and/or child support, and/or custody and/or visitation of any court of competent jurisdiction of another state; modification of any order or decree granting alimony and/or custody and/or visitation of any court of competent jurisdiction of another state on the ground that there has been a change of circumstances; modification of any order or decree granting child support of any court of competent jurisdiction of another state provided: (1) the order has been registered in Rhode Island for the purposes of modification pursuant to § 15-23.1-611, or (2) Rhode Island issued the order and has continuing exclusive jurisdiction over the parties; antenuptial agreements, property settlement agreements and all other contracts between persons, who at the time of execution of the contracts, were husband and wife or planned to enter into that relationship; complaints for support of parents and children; those matters relating to delinquent, wayward, dependent, neglected, or children with disabilities who by reason of any disability requires special education or treatment and other related services; to hear and determine all petitions for guardianship of any child who has been placed in the care, custody, and control of the department for children, youth, and families pursuant to the provisions of chapter 1 of title 14 and chapter 11 of title 40; adoption of children under eighteen (18) years of age; change of names of children under the age of eighteen (18) years; paternity of children born out of wedlock and provision for the support and disposition of such children or their mothers; child marriages; those matters referred to the court in accordance with the provisions of § 14-1-28; those matters relating to adults who shall be involved with paternity of children born out of wedlock; responsibility for or contributing to the delinquency, waywardness, or neglect of children under sixteen (16) years of age; desertion, abandonment, or failure to provide subsistence for any children dependent upon such adults for support; neglect to send any child to school as required by law; bastardy proceedings and custody to children in proceedings, whether or not supported by petitions for divorce or separate maintenance or for relief without commencement of divorce proceedings; and appeals of administrative decisions concerning setoff of income tax refunds for past due child support in accordance with §§ 44-30.1-5 and 40-6-21. The holding of real estate as tenants by the entirety shall not in and of itself preclude the family court from partitioning real estate so held for a period of six (6) months after the entry of final decree of divorce.”

What RI custody law pertains to visitation in RI Family Court?

RI law 15-5-6(d) states “d)(1) In regulating the custody of the children, the court shall provide for the reasonable right of visitation by the natural parent not having custody of the children, except upon the showing of cause why the right should not be granted or as provided in subdivision 15-5-16(d)(4). The court shall mandate compliance with its order by both the custodial parent and the children. In the event of noncompliance, the noncustodial parent may file a motion for contempt in family court. Upon a finding by the court that its order for visitation has not been complied with, the court shall exercise its discretion in providing a remedy, and define the noncustodial parent’s visitation in detail. However, if a second finding of noncompliance by the court is made, the court shall consider this to be grounds for a change of custody to the noncustodial parent.

Child custody lawyer in RI

If you are in need of aggressive legal representation in RI Family Court contact RI child custody lawyer , David Slepkow. Rhode Island child custody attorney, David Slepkow has a superb rating with avvo, dozens of 5 star reviews and 22 years of experience in Providence Family Court.

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 RI child custody attorney or Providence child custody lawyer  as an expert or specialist in any field of practice.