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Will I Get Physical Custody Placement if I’m Awarded Legal Custody?

Child custody is one of the more hotly debated aspects of a Rhode Island divorce. One parent might feel that they should be the sole custodian of the child.

Rhode Island child custody laws prefer that both parents maintain their relationships with the children. A parent granted sole physical placement does not mean that the same parent will also be awarded sole legal custody.

Physical Placement vs. Legal Custody

Child custody in Rhode Island outlines which parent(s) has the authority to make decisions for the child.

A parent with physical placement lives in the same home as the child. Physical placement means that the parent is responsible for the child’s food, shelter, clothing, and care. When a parent is granted sole physical custody, the child lives with that parent. The other parent is typically granted scheduled visitation or parenting time. Typical parenting time is generally one weeknight per week and visits every other weekend.

In joint placement, the child splits time living with each parent. Joint or shared physical placement is not common in Rhode Island as courts believe this is usually unnecessarily disruptive for the child.

The parent where the child lives most often is called the custodial parent.

A parent with legal custody has the authority to make medical, educational, religious, and other decisions for the child. Like the child’s physical placement, one parent may have sole legal custody or both parents share the responsibility through joint legal custody.

In cases where one parent is given sole legal custody, that parent makes medical, educational, religious, and other decisions for the child. However, the other parent can still make emergency medical decisions when the child is with them. In cases where both parents have joint custody, each parent participates in medical, educational, religious, and other decisions for the child.

Courts cannot award custody based on the gender of the parent.

Factors Considered in RI Custody Determinations

When a judge is tasked with determining custody, they evaluate numerous factors through the lens of what is in the child's best interests (Pettinato v Pettinato, 589 A.2d 909 R.I. 1990).

Custody considerations include the following:

  • Each parent’s wishes
  • The child’s wishes (depending on the child’s age and maturity)
  • The child’s relationship with their parents and siblings (if any)
  • Where the child attends school and is involved in activities
  • The mental and physical health of all individuals involved
  • The stability of each parent’s home environment
  • The moral fitness of the child's parents
  • The willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate a close and continuous parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent

An offending (found guilty or pled nolo contender) parent will be barred from custody or visitation if the child is conceived as a result of any of the following:

A judge will also take into consideration evidence of domestic violence. Counseling and other stipulations may be required before a parent is allowed visitation.

Parents can reach their own custody decisions with the help of their family law attorneys. A judge must approve the agreement before it can become an official custody order.

Receive knowledgeable and adept child custody counsel at McIntyre Tate LLP. At our firm, we have more than 150 years of combined experience helping Rhode Island families navigate the complexities of child custody laws.

Send us an online message or call (401) 351-7700 to schedule a consultation.