What factors do courts consider when determining child custody?

Courts primarily base their decision on what is in the child’s best interest, using the Child’s Best Interest Standard. Factors vary from state to state, but the overall goal is to make a decision that promotes the health and wellbeing of the child. IN Rhode Island, the Court considers about 9 different factors in accordance with the case of Pettinato v Pettinato. Keep in mind that the Court will only consider these factors during a contested custody action and the vast majority of cases are resolved between the parties in a manner they deem to be fair. When we resolve cases by agreement, these factors are guidelines, but the parties can do whatever they believe is best for their particular situation.

As such, Parents are strongly encouraged to come to their own agreement on matters of child custody and visitation, which will then be submitted to the court for approval. However, if the judge finds the settlement agreement is not in the child’s best interest, it can be rejected, this is very unusual but can happen.

Courts will generally determine the stability of each parent’s home environment and their interest and commitment to caring for the child. Other factors include the health of each parent, both physical and mental; the special needs of the child, if any; the child’s own wishes if they are mature enough to provide input; whether there is evidence of illicit drug use, or drug/alcohol abuse or mental health disorders; and adjustment to the community, such as where they go to school, proximity to other caretakers, the interrelationship of the parties and child with family in the area etc.

In Rhode Island, the best interests of the child and the Pettinato Factors are the overriding and guiding principles for judges making custody decisions. Child custody cases can be complicated and always require extensive knowledge of family law. When facing a child custody issue, you will probably have several questions. Please call our office for experienced advice regarding your family law concerns.