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Classifying Custody and Understanding What Will Work Best for Your Family

 Custody issues can get cloudy and confusing, particularly since it can be such an emotionally charged time for parents and in some cases the involved kids as well.

If you’re about to begin divorce or custody proceedings, or are even just considering it as an option but you’re unclear about custody classifications or even how to know which is right for both your children and yourself, here are some basics:

How Are Decisions Determined?

First, if you’re contemplating various custody agreements, know that in the state of Rhode Island all decisions are determined based on a standard of what’s in the best interest of the child.

The judge will work to determine exactly how that standard can be met, and then make all custody decisions accordingly.

Some moms may enter into a situation automatically thinking they’ll receive primary custody simply because they are the mother and fathers may think they don’t have a chance of having any significant amount of custody, but both of these instances aren’t necessarily going to hold true.

Legal Custody

Legal custody is really a term that dictates which parent or perhaps that both parents are going to be well-suited to make decisions regarding a child. This can include decisions about healthcare, school and general welfare.

In the case of legal custody, it can be granted to either one parent, or in some cases both parents may be a good candidate to have legal custody of a child so both parties can not just make decisions, but also have access to various records and documents related to the child.

When joint custody is shared among two parents, it often means the parents need to be able to get along, at least reasonably well, because they will have to come to an agreement on a number of decisions, although sometimes the primary decision-making may fall to the parent with whom the child primarily resides.

Physical Custody

What’s important to note about physical custody when compared to joint custody is that just because both parents may have legal custody, the same isn’t always going to hold true for physical custody.

In simplest terms, physical custody refers to where the child lives, and if a parent doesn’t have primary physical custody, they may instead have visitations., also called “parenting time.” In some cases, when it’s feasible and in the best interest of the child, physical custody may be equally shared between parents. This isn’t usually the route mandated by Rhode Island courts, and this is more likely to occur when it’s an agreement parents come to on their own.


Shared physical custody can take a number of formats—it may mean a split week, or even a split year where a child lives six months with one parent, and six with the other.

If a parent is deemed to have primary custody of a child there will be a requirement put in place that the other spouse also pay some form of child support.

Although shared custody arrangements tend to be great if both parents provide a safe, loving environment, one other consideration that should come into the mix is how well a child can tolerate frequent transitions from one home to the other. Some children may be happier in this type of setting, while other children may find it disruptive and upsetting.

These are just some of the basics of child custody in Rhode Island. If you still have questions or need more clarity on a custody issue, contact an experienced family lawyer to learn about your options and understand the complexities of custody issues. 

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