When parents split up, it can be very difficult to come to an agreement about child custody and/or visitation. In some cases, one parent may have concerns about the safety or wellbeing of their child when spending time with their other parent. If your ex has been awarded visitation or custody rights, however, you must abide by the court’s decision.
How Is Custody Decided in Rhode Island?
If parents cannot reach an agreement about custody on their own or through mediation, they will have to appear in court and a judge will determine custody for them. Regardless of how the agreement is reached, once a judge approves the child custody agreement, it is legally binding.
The court prioritizes the best interest of the child in its child custody decisions. In order to determine what is in the child’s best interests, a judge will review several factors, including:
- The relationship of the child with each parent
- The willingness and ability of each parent to provide for the child's developmental needs
- The stability and continuity of the relationship between the child and each parent
- Any history of abuse or neglect by either parent
- Any health concerns or special needs a child may have that require special circumstances or accommodations
- The moral fitness of each parent
- The geographic proximity between parents' homes
- Each parent’s ability to financially support a child’s living expenses
- Each parent’s willingness to support the child’s ongoing relationship with the other parent
- Any other factors deemed relevant to providing for a child’s best interests
If the child is old enough and deemed mature enough, the judge can consider the child’s preferences for custody. There is no automatic age at which the judge must consider the child’s stated preferences, however.
Physical Placement vs. Legal Custody
There are two important concepts related to custody in Rhode Island:
- Physical placement – refers to with whom the child lives
- Legal custody – refers to the parent’s legal right to make major decisions on behalf of the child
If parents share physical placement of their child, this is called “shared placement.” Alternatively, one parent can be awarded placement and the other parent can be granted scheduled visitation. In either case, the parent with whom the child primarily resides for the majority of the time is referred to as the “custodial parent” whereas the other parent is referred to as the “noncustodial parent.”
Legal custody can also be shared between both parents, which is known as “joint custody,” regardless of whether or not physical placement is shared. Alternatively, it can be granted to one parent only, which is known as “sole custody”.
Supervised vs. Unsupervised Visitation
If a parent is granted visitation of their child, it can either be supervised or unsupervised. In most cases, Rhode Island requires that a parent be granted – at minimum – unsupervised visitation at least every other weekend and one night a week with the noncustodial parent.
However, in some cases, the court may decide that there is a compelling reason to grant only limited supervised visits to protect the safety or wellbeing of the child. Supervised visits are conducted in the presence of neutral third party. That person can either be a person to whom both parents agree can supervise the visits, or a professional monitor designated by the court.
A court may consider the following reasons when determining whether supervised visitation is warranted:
- The noncustodial parent has a history of domestic violence.
- The noncustodial parent has a history of physical or sexual abuse or neglect of the child.
- There is a risk that the noncustodial parent may attempt to abduct or remove the child.
- The noncustodial parent has a history of substance abuse.
- The noncustodial parent has a history of violence toward others.
Interfering with Parenting Time
Both parents are required by law to abide by the custody decision handed down by the court. The court expects both parents to encourage the child to have an ongoing relationship with the other parent. If one parent interferes with the order by somehow blocking or making it difficult for the other parent to spend their court-ordered time with their child, that parent can be held in contempt of court.
Interference with visitation can happen directly by prohibiting visits, moving out of state without court approval, taking the child without permission, refusing to return the child, or cancelling visits. Interference can also be indirect and can include blocking communications from the other parent, preventing a parent from attending school functions, or speaking negatively about the other parent to the child with the purpose of discouraging visitation.
It is also not permitted for a parent to block visitation because of unpaid child support.
Consequences for Interfering with Parenting Time
If one parent interferes with the other parent’s court-ordered parenting time, the court can hold the interfering parent in contempt of court and can implement further orders to remedy the interference, including:
- Ordering make-up parenting time
- Ordering the interfering parent to pay for counseling for the child and/or parents
- Ordering the interfering parent to pay for legal and other fees resulting from the interference
- Ordering the interfering parent to complete community service
- Ordering the arrest and imprisonment of the interfering parent
The court considers both parents responsible for encouraging and facilitating visits between the child and both parents and can hand down serious penalties if a parent violates court-ordered custody arrangements. If you are concerned that complying with a court order will place the child or yourself in physical danger, it is critical that you consult with a reputable child custody lawyer who can help you decide what next steps to take.
Child custody issues can be emotionally fraught and extremely complex. At McIntyre Tate LLP, our family law attorneys have the experience and knowledge to help you protect you and your child’s best interests.
If you are having your parenting time blocked by your child’s other parent or have been accused of interfering with court-ordered visitation, you can reach out to us online or call us at (401) 351-7700 to schedule a consultation.