Rhode Island law encourages parents to work out custody arrangements themselves without bringing the issue to court. If they cannot come to an agreement, courts make custody decisions based on what is in the "best interest" of the child.
What Is a Parenting Plan?
A parenting plan is a detailed, written agreement that sets out how divorcing parents will share legal and physical custody of their children. In Rhode Island, parenting plans are voluntary (but strongly encouraged). The courts provide trained mediators that can help parents negotiate. If parents cannot agree on a parenting plan, the court will assign custody.
What Does the Court Consider in Assigning Custody?
Rhode Island courts balance a series of factors when determining the best interest of a child. These factors include:
- The strength of the parent-child relationships,
- The importance of sibling relationships,
- The child’s connection to his or her home, school, and community,
- Both the parents’ and child’s physical and mental health,
- The stability of each parent’s home environment,
- The parents’ character and moral fitness,
- Evidence of child abuse or spousal abuse,
- The child’s reasonable preference (if age appropriate), and
- The parents’ wishes.
A parent’s gender is not considered as a factor. In a custody dispute, a guardian ad litem may be assigned to advocate for the child and help assess his or her best interests.
What Happens When the Court Has Made a Decision?
Once the custody and divorce order are approved, they are filed with the court clerk. Both parents are then bound by the approved custody order and the court must approve any modification of the plan.