Factors Judges Consider in Child Custody Determinations

In Rhode Island, judges determine child custody based on the “best interest of the child” standard. This legal standard comprehensively analyzes various factors to safeguard the child’s welfare and promote a healthy, stable environment. This approach allows Rhode Island courts to tailor custody arrangements that best suit each family’s unique circumstances.

Below are the key elements that judges consider during custody determinations:

Best Interests of the Child

The primary consideration in any custody decision in Rhode Island is the child’s best interests. This standard guides judges to best serve the child’s emotional, educational, and physical needs. Factors to consider as to what constitutes their best interests include 1) The child’s age, health, and emotional needs – Younger children may need more consistent care, while older children’s educational and social needs might dictate different arrangements; 2) The parents’ ability to meet the child’s needs, which includes assessing each parent’s willingness and ability to provide a stable, loving environment; 3) The child’s relationship with each parent – The strength of the bond with each parent and the role each parent has played in the child’s life are critical.

Parental Conduct and Capability

Judges evaluate each parent’s lifestyle and behavior to determine their fitness as a custodian, including 1) mental and physical health – parents must be physically and mentally capable of caring for the child; and 2) Willingness to support the child’s relationship with the other parent.  Rhode Island courts look favorably on a parent who encourages a healthy, ongoing relationship between the child and the other parent; 3) History of domestic violence or substance abuse- any history of domestic violence, abuse, or substance dependency can significantly impact custody decisions.

Types of Custody Arrangements

Rhode Island recognizes several types of custody arrangements: 1) Legal custody – the right to make significant decisions about the child’s life, such as education, healthcare, and religion; 2) Physical custody – pertains to with whom the child will live, which can be sole or shared. 3) Joint custody – both parents share in one or both types of custody; 4) Sole custody – one parent has exclusive legal and physical custody rights, usually granted when the other parent is deemed unfit.

Parenting Time and Visitation

Even if one parent obtains primary physical custody, the non-custodial parent usually has the right to regular visitation. The judge might implement different schedules based on the circumstances: 1) Standard visitation, which often includes alternating weekends, some holidays, and portions of school vacation; 2) Supervised visitation may be required if there are concerns about the child’s safety and well-being; and 3) Virtual visitation is increasingly used, especially if parents live far apart, involving communication through electronic means.

The Child’s Preference

The child’s preferences may be considered, mainly if the child is of sufficient age and maturity to form an intelligent choice. Judges will carefully weigh the child’s desires against other factors to ensure the decision aligns with the child’s overall best interests.

External Influences That Are Considered

Judges may also consider the support systems each parent has in place, such as proximity to extended family and the child’s current school and community. Stability and continuity in the child’s life are highly valued.


Child custody determinations in Rhode Island are multifaceted and thoroughly consider the entire well-being of the child. Judges will evaluate all relevant factors to craft a custody arrangement that best supports the child’s development and happiness. If either parent disagrees with a custody decision, they may appeal it or request a modification if circumstances change significantly. Palumbo Law has dedicated attorneys who will work hard to ensure your child’s custody arrangements are fair and fit your family’s circumstances. 

Contact our Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut law firm today.

The content of this blog is intended to be general information and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult with a qualified lawyer regarding your specific situation.