How is child custody determined in Rhode Island?

The child’s best interests are at the center of a child custody case, including those disputed in Rhode Island. Although no standard definition for “best interests” exists, Rhode Island courts use a great number of factors to determine what this means for each individual child. Parents’ lives, the child’s needs, and even the child’s wishes are important determining factors in who gets custody. 

What Is Custody?

Child custody is an umbrella term that refers to many facets of parental rights, parent-child relationships, and parental obligations. It’s important to understand the following legal terms used in court when custody is being determined:

  • Legal custody. A parent or both parents have the legal right to make all decisions pertinent to the child.
  • Physical custody. Children live with a parent or parents who have physical custody.

Understanding the Standard of Best Interests

If parents cannot come to a custody agreement, Rhode Island courts consider many factors before making a decision. Each factor speaks to the best interests of the child. In addition to making sure a child has access to basic needs such food, shelter, and healthcare, courts also consider:

  • Emotional ties. The courts want to ensure that a child can maintain healthy relationships with siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and other mentors.
  • Parental abilities and resources. If one parent makes more money, has better health insurance, or lives in a safer neighborhood with better schools, this might factor into the court’s decision.
  • The child’s needs. The court considers if the child has special needs, either physical or mental, and one parent can better meet those needs.
  • Parental health and safety. If one parent has a physical or mental illness, or a history of violence, that may affect his ability to safely and fully care for the child, the courts will take this into consideration.
  • The child’s wishes. Rhode Island is one of eleven states in the U.S. that takes a child’s wishes into account. Considering the age of the child, the courts want to know the child’s perspective on which parent would be a better choice for physical or legal custody.

An Experienced Attorney Can Help in Your Custody Dispute

Child custody disputes can become complex, so it’s prudent to hire an attorney who has been through the process before. The team at Kirshenbaum & Kirshenbaum can help you better understand Rhode Island family law and build a strong case. To speak with us, start a live online chat on our website.