You’ve tried to make your marriage work through thick and thin, but the reality is that divorce is what it’s come down to. Your first thought is about your children: who will they live with, and how will they be impacted by the divorce? You would love for your children to split time living between you and your spouse — after all, your child loves both parents, even if both parents could not make the marriage work out.

But your spouse doesn’t agree, and wants the children to mainly live with them, and grant you visitation time. Unless both parents agree beforehand to shared physical placement, it is very rare in Rhode Island for the courts to award joint physical custody. This is unique to Rhode Island.

What is the difference between physical and legal custody?

Family courts take many factors into consideration when determining both the physical and legal custody of the child or children during a divorce. Physical custody has to do with who the child or children will mainly live with. Legal custody has to do with who can legally be involved in important decisions for the child, including the child’s upbringing, education, medical decisions and religious decisions.

Although a court can grant joint legal custody and both parents have the right to make important decisions for the child, a court can also choose to grant one parent sole physical custody. This is likely to happen in Rhode Island if both parents don’t have a prior agreement in wanting to share physical and legal custody.

How do Rhode Island courts decide on child custody?

In deciding custody, a court takes the following into account, all in an effort to do what is in the “best interest” of the child:

  • The parents’ wishes, whether they agree or disagree
  • The child’s preferences, if the child is old enough to understand his or her choice
  • The child’s relationships with his or her parents or siblings
  • How the child may have to adjust to a new home or school
  • Whether the child’s home provides stability
  • The health of the parents and children, both mentally and physically
  • The parents’ moral fitness
  • How willing and able each parent is to maintain a good co-parenting relationship with the other parent, and how likely it is that they will be able to make sure their actions keep a close relationship between the child and the other parent

A family law attorney with skill and experience in the area of Rhode Island’s child custody laws can help answer questions about your specific family’s situation, and what your options may be regarding your child or children’s custody arrangements.