Rhode Island child custody disputes can be especially difficult during and after a divorce. Family court judges are granted wide discretion in determining what custody or visitation arrangement a family will be required to abide by, and overturning these decisions can be difficult. The Rhode Island Supreme Court recently released an opinion denying a father’s request for argument in an appeal that he had filed challenging a family court judge’s ruling which suspended unsupervised visitation with his children.
The appellant in the recently decided case is a Rhode Island father of three children who was divorced from the mother of the children in early 2014. As part of the divorce agreement, the father was granted partial custody of the children with the right to visitation. In 2017, the mother of the children sought to suspend the father’s visitation, in part because of alleged animal abuse that occurred in the presence of the children. After hearing from witnesses, including both parents and the couple’s children, a family court judge granted the mother’s request to suspend unsupervised visitation. The judge also ruled that the father must complete a mental-health evaluation and seek leave from the court before resuming unsupervised visits with his children.
The father was displeased with the family court’s decision and appealed the ruling. The appeal eventually reached the Rhode Island Supreme Court. The father, representing himself throughout the process, argued that the lower court abused its discretion when it ruled that his behavior was harmful to the children. Additionally, the father alleged that incident involving the alleged animal abuse never occurred, and that it was the result of “false memories” that were created with the encouragement of the children’s mother and their maternal grandparents.