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Understanding Rhode Island Custody Arrangements


Divorce is challenging, regardless of your family dynamics. When children are involved, navigating divorce and understanding your options becomes even more complicated.

While custody arrangements vary, there are general terms you should familiarize yourself with during the divorce process. In Rhode Island, the relevant distinction is between child custody, visitation, and placement. The state law dictates that custody should be awarded based on the best interest of the child.

What is child custody?

In legal terminology, child custody refers to the parent responsible for the child’s well-being and for making any significant decisions that arise. These decisions generally revolve around health, education and other major life events that occur.

Many times, parents are awarded joint legal custody. If severe conditions prevent one parent from adequately caring for the child, sole legal custody could be granted to one parent.

“Your concern and aggressive representation on my behalf as well as your attentiveness to the interests of my children was so important during my recent divorce. Thank you so much for all you and your law office did for me.”
-Satisfied Client, Warwick, RI

Who determines physical custody?

Physical custody, also called “placement” is the legal term for the child’s primary residence. In an uncontested divorce, physical custody is often negotiated and agreed upon by the parents. If parents are unable to agree on placement, the family court judge decides where the child should live.

In contested child custody cases where spouses are unable to agree, the judge may appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL). Often an attorney or a professional with a background in social work, the GAL evaluates family dynamics, interviews the parents and their child, and uses other methods of research to guide the court on deciding where the child should live.

How is visitation determined?

Similar to child custody and placement determinations, a visitation arrangement must be in the child’s best interests. Under Rhode Island Visitation Law R.I.G.L. 15-5-19, the court must grant “reasonable visitation” to the non-custodial parent, unless there is a valid cause for denying it. In uncontested divorces, visitation is often mutually agreed upon by both parents. In contested cases, the court must determine the visitation schedule.

As a general rule, the court expects parents to uphold the visitation schedule and promote the child’s relationship with the other parent. A parent who withholds visitation can be held in contempt, or even lose physical placement.

If you and your spouse can't agree on custody arrangements or you have specific questions regarding your situation, contact us today. Our track record of success in gaining placement for both mothers and fathers speaks for itself. We are here to help you through this emotionally charged time.

Contact Kirshenbaum Law Associates today at 401-467-5300, regarding your situation.