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RI Divorce Attorneys and Rhode Island Divorce Lawyers | Attorney Christopher Pearsall

In a Rhode Island divorce or family law case before a family court, " child custody " is often mistaken as the physical location of the minor child(ren).  This is a common misconception.  The primary physical location of the minor child is known as "placement".

Child custody is the legal right of a parent or guardian to participate in the major decisions affecting the well-being of a minor child's life, including but not limited to aspects of the child's life such as religious upbringing, medical care and procedures, educational choices, daycare facilities, extra-curricular activities, etc.

Joint legal custody is typically granted by the Rhode Island Family Courts. Generally it is accepted that absent extraordinary circumstances both parents should participate equally in the decision-making process and have an equal say regarding major issues affecting the child's life.

However, the Court deviates from this general concept when the Family Court Judge determines that it is in the best interests of the minor child that only one parent retain the legal decision-making power for one or more children either temporarily or permanently.


Collette and Bryan have a daughter, Tabitha. Tabitha is 4 years old. Collette and Bryan split up after six (6) years of marriage because of Bryan's controlling nature and his growing drug addiction. Bryan hired an attorney who persuaded the court that Collette was a drug addict and alcoholic and obtained an Emergency Order from the Family Court giving Bryan sole custody and placement of Tabitha. Collette was not allowed to make any decisions regarding Tabitha and was further denied any visitation.

Collette obtained an attorney who was able to secure a random drug screening order as to both parties. After only two weeks Bryan had several positive test results which showed cocaine use and several "no shows".  At the next court review, the Rhode Island Family Court Judge modified the existing court orders and awarded sole legal custody to Collette and supervised visitation to Bryan after he showed several consecutive negative screens. At the divorce hearing Collette was awarded sole legal custody of Tabitha as well as placement.

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Notice: This website is provided as a courtesy to provide you with a greater appreciation of the complexity of Rhode Island divorce and family law issues. This website is not legal advice. Legal advice regarding Rhode Island Divorce, Child Custody, Child Support and Family Law issues under the laws of the State of Rhode Island should be provided only by a licensed Rhode Island Divorce Attorney or Family Law Lawyer who knows all the facts and circumstances of your case and can advise you after a comprehensive and detailed advice session regarding your case. (*Disclaimer: Rhode Island licenses all attorneys in the general practice of law. Rhode Island does not have a procedure for certification or specialization in any particular area of law.)

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