When starting a divorce in Rhode Island, it is helpful to understand the options for filing and proceeding with the dissolution of marriage. Roughly speaking, divorcing couples have two options: contest the facts or grounds for divorce or have an uncontested divorce. This article will give you a rundown on both possibilities with and without an attorney.
Several aspects qualify a divorce as contested. The first is the reasons to end the marriage called ‘grounds.’ In Rhode Island, fault-based grounds include adultery, alcohol and drug abuse, impotence, cruelty, willful desertion, neglect, and other gross misbehavior.
The second main factor is the divorce-related issues that spouses are supposed to resolve before appearing in front of a judge. Couples who cannot amicably decide on child custody, spousal support, and financial matters, get assisted by their attorneys and the court. Upon exchanging financial information and filing restraining orders, if need be, the parties attempt to share custody and divide the pension, savings, and debts. Judges can get involved in private sessions at this stage to suggest best practices for such situations.
If these efforts bear no fruit, the court schedules a trial. A contested trial includes witnesses and expert opinions from both parties. Upon hearing all the evidence, the judge rules the case, ending the marriage and deciding on the divorce-related issues.
A contested divorce always requires a lawyer to represent each spouse.
If divorcing spouses agree to file their case on the grounds of irreconcilable differences, it is a no-fault divorce, which is also known as an uncontested divorce. In Rhode Island, a three-year separation with no intention to reconcile is another no-fault reason for divorce.
Filing for divorce without putting the blame on anyone streamlines the procedure. The court assigns a ‘nominal divorce’ hearing date within 60 days from the filing date. This gives the spouses two months to put all the documents in order.
At that, the procedure for an uncontested divorce is not simplified. Unfortunately, Rhode Island has no ‘summary’ divorce, but the court process is not complicated if the spouses can decide on custody, support issues, and property division. It can take spouses just one hearing to show the judge that they have no disputes regarding the issues in their case, and their divorce will be finalized in due time.
The role of divorce attorneys is clear: they prepare the paperwork, follow the timeline of their clients’ court hearings and motions, and provide legal advice.
It is common for divorce attorneys to offer a flat-fee payment structure for uncontested divorce cases to make legal services more affordable. The final fee may depend on whether a couple has children and more than a certain amount of money in the marital property.
The American legal system recognizes the right of each citizen to represent themselves in court without the pricey assistance of an attorney. Also, the uncontested divorce process is rather straightforward, and many people feel they are able to handle the preparation and filing of the divorce papers on their own in a DIY divorce.
To make sure they are on the right track, self-represented divorce litigants might consider consulting an attorney about a settlement agreement or a complicated issue they are struggling to resolve. Also, spouses can seek consultation with financial advisors on pension division and the home mortgage.
Internet divorce services are an option for those couples who want to make sure that their Do-It-Yourself divorce paperwork is error-free and court-ready. A web-based divorce company first asks clients some qualifying questions, as they provide services only to uncontested cases, followed by a more detailed questionnaire with information about their children and property. Based on the answers, the state-specific divorce forms are automatically completed and forwarded to the client. Preparing an application for divorce online significantly drives down the cost of divorce because it is much cheaper than hiring a lawyer and safer than preparing the paperwork on your own.
How to Help Yourself in Self-Representation
The best way for self-represented litigants to help themselves is to learn the steps of getting a divorce in Rhode Island. If the plaintiff (the spouse who files the paperwork) makes errors or fails to meet the state requirements, the case is disqualified, and the filing fees are not refunded.
Here are the steps in a DIY uncontested divorce in Rhode Island:
Step 1. Meeting the requirements. One of the spouses must have resided in the state for at least one year before the couple decides to apply for divorce.
Step 2. Preparing the divorce papers. The divorce forms are available at a local family court or the Rhode Island Judiciary Branch website. The plaintiff completes the forms and makes two copies of each form.
Step 3. Starting the legal proceedings. The plaintiff formally initiates the divorce by submitting the completed forms to the court clerk and paying a filing fee.
Step 4. Serving the defendant. Law requires the plaintiff to inform the defendant (the non-filing spouse) of the ongoing divorce process by forwarding a copy of the divorce complaint through a third party (usually a sheriff or a private process server).
Step 5. Responding. After being served with the divorce papers, the defendant must file a response.
Step 6. Preparing for a court hearing. After submitting the bulk of the paperwork, couples with children must also file visitation and child support forms. Meanwhile, the spouses keep working on dividing their marital assets and parental responsibilities so that when they face the judge at a hearing, all their agreements are in place.
Step 7. Attending a hearing. If the judge finds that the spouses have reached an agreement on all the issues, the case is ready to be finalized after a waiting period, and the spouses submit a “Decision Pending Entry of Final Judgment” form with the court. If there is no signed settlement agreement, the judge qualifies the case as contested and schedules a new hearing.
Step 8. Waiting out a mandatory period. In Rhode Island, an “irreconcilable differences” divorce gets finalized after 3 months; a “separate and apart” divorce has a 3-week waiting period. Spouses cannot remarry during the waiting period.
Making an Informed Choice
Divorcing couples decide how to file and proceed with their divorce, factoring in their finances and time available to invest into the entire process. Given the several options discussed above, spouses can choose between different costs and lengths of a divorce process in Rhode Island.