Difference in physical or legal child custody
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Difference in physical or legal child custody


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. A person with “sole custody” has sole legal custody. They typically have sole decision making authority in the end. So, with sole custody, a party need not discuss, necessarily, issues like health, education, or religious upbringing. The law requires couples sharing “joint custody”, or joint legal custody, to keep each parent “in the loop” of such issues. And both parents also have the right to access information relating to those issues, regardless of custody.


An example arises 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. However, 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, may participate on some level though. Dad would have to let mom know about things like doctor’s appointments, school issues, etc. Basically coparent.

Regardless of custody, parental rights are still retained by mom. So, she could go to school to speak with the teacher, or get copies of medical records. And both of these examples require her to still have parental rights. Terminating parental rights is different than not having custody.


Overall, 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.” In this case, the non-custodial parent has “visitation” for their parenting time. It is important to have the help of an experienced child custody and family attorney if you are facing these issues

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Don Moyer is a Rhode Island attorney who focuses his practice on family and divorce law. He obtained his legal education at Roger Williams University School of Law. Don’s undergraduate degree is in Finance and Business Administration. His finance degree is a critical benefit to clients litigating any issues relating to real estate, retirement division, hidden assets, support, or any variety of other financial issues.

Don also spent a number of years in the U.S. Army Infantry, including spending a year in the Bosnia, Croatia, Hungary region of Europe in a special operations unit in the immediate aftermath of the Bosnian conflict in 1996-97.

Don has over 21 years of experience litigating and mediating divorce and family law cases in Rhode Island.

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