Rhode Island Child Custody: Factors the Family Law Judge Will Consider

Two legal cases have defined child custody decision making in Rhode Island family law: Pettinato v Pettinato (child custody) and Dupre v Dupre (child relocation). As a result of these two cases, the courts have identified several specific factors that a judge must consider when making a child custody or child relocation decision.

1. The wishes of the child's parents

2. The reasonable preference of each of the children (if the judge deems the child(ren) to be of sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a preference)

3. The interaction and interrelationship of the child with each parent

4. The child's adjustment to the home, school and community environment

5. The mental and physical health of everyone involved (this can involve step parents and step siblings)

6. The stability of the children's home environment

7. The moral fitness of the parent

8. The willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate a close and continuous parent/child relationship between the children and the other parent

It's important to understand that no one factor is more heavily weighted than any other. For example, a child's preference will not be the deciding factor. The judge – or the guardian ad litem (GAL), if your child is assigned one – will make a global assessment looking at ALL of the eight factors together.

You may be asked to participate in a home study. A guardian ad litem will do this for the court. The GAL will watch for positive interactions between the child and parent, as well as the child and siblings or step-siblings. The GAL will look for other people in the child's life with whom the child shares a special relationship – strong ties to extended family or family friends.

The GAL will also look at how the child is doing in school. How long have they been in that school? How are their grades? How are their relationships with teachers? If the child is not flourishing in their current environment, the GAL may look more favorably on a change in the environment.

The home study will also look at how well the child is integrated into the community. What activities does he or she participate in? Is there a church or religious community for the child? Do they participate in after-school activities?

The "moral fitness" criteria can be confusing to parents. "Misbehavior" on the part of one spouse may have led to this divorce , but if that behavior doesn't affect the child, it will not be considered by the court. Behaviors that would be considered include drug and alcohol use, criminal activity, mental health issues, and activities that can result in an unstable home life.

The last of the eight factors – the ability to foster the child's relationship with other parent – is a tie breaker. You need to show the court that you are making a good faith effort to help your child maintain his/her relationship with the other parent.

In all of these matters, it's not enough to say that something is true. You need to prove it is true. For example, if you want to tell the court that the school you will be moving your child to is a better fit than his/her old school, you will need to provide evidence for that claim – higher average test scores, more experienced teachers, more or better field trips, etc.

Coventry child custody lawyer protecting your parental rights

If you have questions about these eight factors may be considered in your divorce and child custody case, talk with an experienced Coventry child custody lawyer. Call Kerry I. Rafanelli, attorney at law, at 401-398-8388 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.