Many states have differing terminology for legal and physical custody. In Rhode Island, legal custody is the ability to have input in major life decisions of the children in question. A person with “sole custody” has sole legal custody, and does not need to include the other parent in the decision making process things like health, education, or religious upbringing issues of the children. Couples who share “joint custody”, or joint legal custody, are required to keep each parent “in the loop” of such issues, and both parents also have the right to access information relating to those issues.

As an example, if the kids are living with dad primarily, and the parties have joint custody, then dad would need to communicate with mom about major issues, such as health, education, or religious affairs. Dad does not need to comply with mom’s wishes: mom does not have a veto ability. Mom simple must be kept in the loop. Mom on the other hand, would have the ability to, say, go to the school to speak with the teacher, or get copies of medical records, which she would not be able to do if dad had sole custody.

Physical custody, in Rhode Island, is generally described as “possession” or “physical possession.” This term described which parent is the primary caretaker of the children. The “non-custodial” parent would pay child support to the parent with “possession,” and their time with the children would be described as visitation.

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