best interests of the child for rhode island

Rhode Island legislators never defined the considerations that should be considered by courts when determining what is in a child’s best interest.

Thus, the Rhode Island Supreme Court enumerated numerous considerations to evaluate in the 1990 case Pettinato v. Pettinato. These factors have now been dubbed the “Pettinato factors.”

As a result, the best interests of the child standard remains vague in this state, and its application has been delegated to the trial justices’ sound discretion.

However, there are observable factors that must be considered in the context of the best interests of the child analysis when it is appropriate. These considerations are as follows: 582 A.2d 909 (R.I. 1990)

  1. The wishes of the child’s parent or parents regarding the child’s custody.
  2. The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a preference.
  3. The interaction and interrelationship of the child with the child’s parent or parents, the child’s siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interest.
  4. The child’s adjustment to the child’s home, school, and community.
  5. The mental and physical health of all individuals involved.
  6. The stability of the child’s home environment.
  7. The moral fitness of the child’s parents.
  8. The willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate a close and continuous parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent.

Any one factor should not be used to establish whether or not a child’s best interests are being served. When determining what is in the best interests of the child, the trial justice must take into account a combination of and interaction between all of the relevant considerations.

Grandparent Visitation Rights

Upon receiving a miscellaneous petition from a grandparent seeking visitation rights with the petitioner’s grandchild, and after giving notice to both parents of the child and holding a hearing on the petition, a family court may grant the grandparent reasonable visitation rights with the grandchild to whom the petition was filed.

To award the petitioner reasonable visiting rights, the court must decide and record in writing that it is in the grandchild’s best interest, as established on a case-by-case basis, that the petitioner be granted visitation rights with the grandchild.

When determining whether a course of action is in the child’s best interests, the court shall consider all relevant factors, including but not limited to the following: RI Gen L § 15-5-24.3

  1. The nature of the relationship between the child and the grandparent seeking visitation;
  2. The amount of time the grandparent and child spent together;
  3. The potential detriments and benefits to the child from granting visitation;
  4. The potential effect of granting visitation on the parent-child relationship;
  5. The preferences of the grandchild who is of sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a preference; and
  6. The reasons that the parent(s) believe that it is not in their child’s best interests to have visitation with the grandparent(s).
    • That the petitioner is a fit and proper person to have visitation rights with the grandchild;
    • That the petitioner has repeatedly attempted to visit his or her grandchild during the thirty (30) days immediately preceding the date the petition was filed and was not allowed to visit the grandchild during the thirty-day (30) period as a direct result of the actions of either, or both, parents of the grandchild;
    • That there is no other way the petitioner is able to visit his or her grandchild without court intervention; and
    • That the petitioner, by clear and convincing evidence, has successfully rebutted the presumption that the parent’s decision to refuse the grandparent visitation with the grandchild was reasonable.
    • The court may assess the reasonable attorney’s fees incurred by the parent(s) to the grandparent(s) if the petition for visitation is denied.

R.I. Gen. L § 15-5-16 indicates the court must award visiting rights to the noncustodial parent unless the custodial parent demonstrates good cause for not granting visitation. Whenever a court mandates visitation, both the custodial parent and the children are bound by the court’s decision.