When I refer to legal custody here I am referring to a parent's legal right to have a say in making major decisions that affect a child's life, particularly those that fall into four (4) categories. The four categories are (1) education, (2) religion, (3) healthcare, and (4) those major aspects that may substantially affect the "general well-being" of the child.
The most commonly adopted standard by judges is that parents should have "joint legal custody" regarding their natural minor children or adopted children. The generally speaking the principle is that by virtue of being the natural or legal parent of a child that the "parent" should have an equal say with the co-parent in the major issues affecting a minor child's life.
The question then is, when might this standard not be appropriate. There are no concrete hard and fast lines here when it comes to Rhode Island caselaw or statutes. Yet judicial discretion and common sense provide us with what are the most common scenarios and what might cause "joint legal custody" to topple.
Some quick examples are as follows:
1) A severe alcohol problem;
2) Drug addiction;
3) A criminal record or charges which indicate the minor child is more likely to be at risk if the parent is given equal decision making rights with other parent;
4) Addictive, obsessive or violent behavior again indicating that the minor child may be placed at risk if both parent are afforded equal decision making rights for the minor child;
5) Anger management issues which demonstrate an inability to exert a temperament consistent with making good decisions; or
6) Abandonment of a child in the role of a provider or any attempt to be an active decision participant in the life of the minor child for a reasonable period of time.
These situations are not, all inclusive. They are merely examples.
All in all, the Rhode Island Family Court Judges do not wish to strip any parents of their joint legal custody rights unless it is necessary even on a temporary basis for the protection of minor children.
One judge gave me a fantastic example in my early years of practice that I have found helpful even as of the writing of this article. The example is this. Imagine that you are able to sit in the judge's position long enough to look at the facts presented to the court. If you are able to look at all the facts and determine that either parent is unable to make good decisions for themselves then should that same person be allowed to make decisions for their Minor Children? The obvious answer is no.
This is a standard that is not set forth in this manner in any Rhode Island law, nor in any Rhode Island case, but it is one that makes complete sense and it makes perfect sense.
Good rule of thumb from my standpoint is this. If a judge can be convinced by the evidence presented that a parent is not reasonably capable of making decisions for himself or herself, then it follows that such a parent should not reasonably allowed to participate in making major decisions for their children until he or she gets back on track with their own life.
All My Best to You on Your Journey Through The RI Family Court,
Attorney Christopher A. Pearsall - "The Rhode Island Divorce Coach"™
Whether you need courtroom representation or need to know your legal rights in your case in Providence or in Newport, I am here to help when you need me.
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