Child Custody and Relocation in Rhode Island

Learn what factors judges consider when deciding whether one parent may move a child to another state after a divorce.

Most child custody agreements are based on the assumption that both parents are living in the same geographical area, with the children alternating visitation periods between the parents. When one parents moves out of state, however, regular visits may become impossible. When one parent wants to move with the children, the court must weigh several factors, including whether the children will be better off with the relocating parent, even if it means a diminished relationship with the nonmoving parent.

Overview on Custody in Rhode Island

Courts determine custody based on what is in the child’s best interest. A Rhode Island judge must consider a long list of factors when making a custody determination, including the following:

  • each parent’s wishes for child custody
  • the child’s preference, if the child is mature enough to provide a meaningful opinion
  • the child’s relationship with each parent, siblings, and anyone else who affects the child’s best interests
  • the child’s relationship to home, school, and community
  • the child and both parents’ mental and physical health
  • the stability of the child’s home life
  • the parents’ moral fitness, and
  • each parent’s ability and propensity to encourage a good relationship between the child and the other parent.

Relocation and Custody in Rhode Island

Whether a parent should be allowed to move to another state with a child whose other parent is remaining in Rhode Island is a complex decision that judges don’t take lightly. Courts must weigh any potential benefits from the move against the downsides, particularly the loss of valuable time with the nonmoving parent.

Which parent is the primary custodian is an important factor in the court’s decision on relocation, but it won’t be the only thing the judge will consider. Courts must also consider the child’s need for continuity and stability, meaning that a child’s long-term friends, involvement in school and extracurricular activities, and proximity to other relatives in the area will all factor into the decision. The judge will also look at the harm to the child in losing valuable time with the other parent.

The judge will look closely at the moving parent’s justification for relocating, including the following reasons:

  • the move is for health related reasons (such as access to important medical help)
  • the move is to be close to extended family and other support networks
  • the move is to protect the child’s safety or the safety of another household member
  • the parent, parent’s significant other, or child is seeking important educational or employment opportunities, and
  • the move will increase the family’s quality of life in some other way.

The relocating parent has the burden of proving any of the above factors.

The moving parent should be able to show a compelling reason for the proposed move—if the reasons are questionable, like someone just looking for a change of scenery, that parent can expect the court to be skeptical. Judges will definitely consider evidence of a parent’s desire to interfere with the other parent’s relationship with the child.

When awarding custody in a situation where one parent wants to relocate with the child, the court’s primary objective is determining what is in the child’s best interests. If you’re in a dispute with your child’s other parent over relocation, you should be prepared to show the court evidence about each parent’s relationship with the child. The judge will consider the nature, quality, extent of involvement, and the length of the relationship between the child and each parent.

Judges also look at the feasibility of maintaining the relationship between the child and the nonmoving parent. If the moving parent is going overseas, for example, the court must consider the significant strain the move would have on the child’s relationship with the nonmoving parent. Judges will look at the parent’s finances and the logistic of travel to see if visitation remains possible. Also, whether the relocating parent has facilitated the relationship between the child and the other parent in the past will be an important factor.

Other Considerations

Judges can expedite a hearing on how custody and visitation should change if one parent is leaving the state due to military service. If the child is remaining in Rhode Island, the court can ensure that the deploying parent still has access to the child and the child’s records.

If one parent who wants to move is in another country, the court must consider whether that country is a signatory to the Hague Convention, an international coalition of countries that help prevent international child abduction.

If you or your child’s other parent is thinking about relocating, you’ll definitely want the assistance of a skilled family law attorney. The court’s decision will be based on a complex set of laws, and a lawyer can help guide you through this difficult process.

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