This RI divorce law article, Rhode Island Divorce from A-Z, was authored by Rhode Island divorce lawyer, David Slepkow. This article explains the entire divorce process from finding a Rhode Island divorce lawyer through a full trial on the merits.
Finding RI Divorce attorneys
The first step in obtaining a divorce from your spouse is finding a top Rhode Island divorce attorney who you are comfortable with. Many RI Family Court attorneys give free initial consultations while others charge for the first consult. I have always taken the position that the initial consultations will be free. It is important to ask the proposed lawyer about his or her experience and qualifications to handle your case. It is also crucial to determine the hourly charge and the amount of any initial fee or retainer.
Cost of Divorce
It is often impossible to determine how much a divorce in RI will cost from beginning to end. However, it is a good idea to get an educated estimation of the eventual fee. This will never usually be more than an estimation because the cost of the divorce usually depends on several factors.
How much will my contested divorce cost?
- The cost of the divorce depends on the following factors:
- how quickly a settlement is reached,
- the number of motions that each party will file,
- the amount / nature and complexity of assets to be equitably divided,
- the amount of documents involved in the case,
- the animosity of the parties to each other,
- the waiting time while you are in court and many other potential issues.
The longer the divorce goes on, the more expensive
The Golden Rule is that the longer it takes to reach a settlement the more the divorce will cost. If the divorce drags on, the Rhode Island divorce lawyers will spend a lot more time working on the case. If there is no settlement and the case goes to trial or the day of trial, the divorce could get very expensive. If everything is agreed or nearly agreed and the parties are relatively amicable then the divorce should take a lot less time and therefore be much less expensive.
Uncontested divorces in Rhode Island should be much less expensive then contested divorces. However, there are many different types of uncontested divorces. There are uncontested divorces with no real assets and uncontested divorces with assets to divide. If the divorce is uncontested and there are assets then the lawyer may need to prepare a property settlement agreement, deeds, qualified domestic relation orders etc. Therefore, the cost of an uncontested divorce could vary depending on the circumstances. For example, if a lawyer has to draft a property settlement agreement, the lawyer will devote more time to the case.
I believe that a fair price for an uncontested divorce from soup to nuts in Rhode Island with no assets, no contested issues and no property settlement agreement is about $900 flat fee plus out of pocket costs. The typical costs are a filing fee of about $145 and service of process fees of approximately $50.
Intake process and drafting Rhode Island divorce Documents
After you have retained a RI divorce lawyer, there is typically an intake process in which the lawyer gets the basic information so that he or she can properly represent you. The Providence divorce lawyer typically drafts the divorce documents and you sign the documents in front of him or another notary. These documents include a divorce complaint, DR(6) financial statement, cover sheet and statement of children of the marriage. It is important that the DR6 form otherwise known as financial statement is accurately filled out.
There are many important decisions that may need to be made before you file for divorce in Rhode Island. Strategy is crucial in many instances!
Should I file a motion for temporary Orders in RI?
In some cases, the divorce attorney in Rhode Island will file a motion for temporary orders when the divorce complaint is filed. A motion for temporary orders should be filed if the husband or wife is in need of temporary resolution of issues while the case is proceeding. These temporary motions typically request temporary child support, payment / contribution to daycare, contribution to medical bills, alimony, payment of household expenses, payment of the mortgage, taxes and insurance.
A motion for temporary orders can also address child visitation and RI child custody issues related to the minor children as well as issues concerning exclusive use and possession of the marital home. The temporary motion can also request temporary orders concerning financial restraining orders as well as personal restraining orders. A myriad of other temporary issues could be addressed in a motion for temporary orders. The motion for temporary orders will typically be heard by the Court within 30-40 days of the filing of the complaint for divorce.
If no temporary orders enter then there is no legal obligation of a spouse to pay anything while the case is proceeding until there is a decision by the judge or the parties sign a property settlement Agreement. If there are no temporary orders, the financial issues, visitation and custody issues will be up to the parties to figure out while the case is proceeding without the benefit of a court order.
Should I file an emergency motion in a Rhode Island divorce?
If there is an emergency in which irreparable harm will be caused if the party has to wait for a court date, then an emergency motion should be filed with the complaint. An emergency motion must either be verified under oath or be accompanied by an affidavit. The attorney will bring the emergency motion to the proper judge and ask for an ex parte order. Ex-parte means that the other side is not present to object. The Rhode Island Family Court judge will only consider the affidavit and documentation before him or her. If the Providence Family Court judge signs the emergency order then it will be served on your spouse by the constable along with the divorce complaint.
If an emergency motion is needed after a lawyer enters his or her appearance for your spouse or there is an answer then your spouse must be notified of the emergency motion.
These types of emergency motions typically deal with issues concerning abuse of a child, dissipation or unreasonable spending of marital assets, domestic violence, child abuse or a plethora of other potential emergencies. If there is domestic violence involved in which you are in imminent fear of physical harm or have been abused or threatened with abuse please discuss with your RI divorce attorneys the benefits of filing a separate case called a Complaint Protection from Abuse! Please note that the Complaint Protection from Abuse is very different from an Emergency motion.
The timing of whether the divorce or Complaint Protection from Abuse case is filed first or whether they are filed simultaneously could be crucial to the outcome of your case.
If an emergency motion is granted and emergency orders enters then a hearing will be set approximately 20 days to determine if the order should stay in effect while the divorce case is proceeding. At that hearing your spouse has an opportunity to contest the motion and tell his or her side of the story. At that hearing, the Court will determine whether the emergency relief will stay in effect while the divorce case proceeds.
Nominal or Contested Track?
When a Rhode Island divorce is filed, the case is put onto one of two tracks, the contested track or the nominal track. The Plaintiff in their initial divorce filing designates the track they desire. The vast majority of divorces filed in Rhode Island are placed on the nominal divorce track. A designation on the “nominal track” does not necessarily mean that the divorce will be uncontested. It usually means that the party who filed believes that the case can be settled relatively quickly or wants the divorce to be settled relatively quickly.
Answer to RI Divorce Complaint
The defendant must file an answer to the divorce within 20 days of service and absolutely no later than the nominal court date or any motion date. If the Defendant does not answer the case he is subject to being defaulted. A default is when the defendant does not answer the case on a timely basis and the Plaintiff will usually get all of the relief that he or she requests.
Under RI divorce law, If the case is put on the nominal track then the clerk will automatically set a nominal divorce hearing upon the Plaintiff filing for divorce. This hearing will typically be scheduled approximately 65 days after the Plaintiff files. In the event that the divorce is not settled by the nominal divorce date then the case will automatically be changed to the contested track. If the matter is not settled by the nominal court date and both parties want to try to resolve the remaining issues in court and believe it is possible to resolve the remaining issues, then the parties can attempt to settle the case in the hallway or conference rooms in the courthouse. If they are able to settle they can put the case through as a nominal uncontested divorce on that date.
The need to file an answer
If the defendant has not filed an answer, the defendant must attend Court and at a minimum enter their appearance. It is very risky for the defendant to not appear in court at the nominal court date based on representations made by the other party. There have been a number of incidents in which a spouse has assured the other party that it is not necessary to appear in court and not necessary to file an answer. The defendant is later surprised to learn they were defaulted and the other spouse obtained 100 percent of the assets of the marriage. If the defendant was defaulted they could hire a Rhode Island divorce lawyer to seek to to vacate the default. Winning a motion to vacate a default can be difficult to win.
Divorce in RI
On the date of the nominal divorce hearing, at the call of the calendar, the case will be either ready nominal or the parties will ask the judge to hold the case so they can try to resolve the remaining issues. If the parties cannot resolve the remaining issues, they will inform the Court clerk or the judge that the case cannot be settled and the case track will be changed to the contested divorce track. If the case track is changed there will be no hearing that date and the court will inform the parties of the next pretrial conference date.
Settlement at nominal date
If the parties ask the clerk to hold the matter they will usually get a substantial amount of time, on that date, to negotiate the remaining issues in the hallway. Upon reaching a settlement of all the remaining family law issues the clerk should be informed that the case is now ready nominal. At that point, the clerk and judge will put the case back on the list of cases ready for a nominal hearing. The issues that need to be resolved may include:
- issues of property division,
- child support,
- child custody,
- child visitation,
- contempt issues,
- restraining order issues etc .
divorce cannot be resolved without a nominal divorce hearing
Pursuant to Rhode Island General Law and RI divorce laws, a divorce cannot be resolved without a nominal divorce hearing. At the nominal divorce hearing certain testimony must be elicited in order for the divorce to be granted. In some circumstances, it is necessary to have witnesses to briefly testify. If you don’t have the required witness your case could be delayed or even dismissed and you may waste your time attending court.
For a detailed explanation of whether or not you must have witnesses to testify on your behalf and the residency requirement for filing a Rhode island Divorce please go to my Ezine article “Rhode Island Divorce Law FAQS How Long Until It’s Over?”
Most Rhode Island divorce and family law attorneys have done these nominal hearing hundreds of times. It is a very bad idea for a person to represent himself or herself in a divorce! As the old adage goes a person who represents themselves has a fool for a lawyer. Since everything you have worked so hard for is on the line it is foolish to go through the Rhode Island divorce process without Rhode Island divorce lawyer or Providence family lawyer.
If the case was originally placed on the contested track calendar, then the clerk did not schedule any automatic nominal court date. If the case later becomes settled then the parties can ask the clerk for permission to come on a particular date for the nominal divorce hearing. Otherwise the parties can wait for a motion date or the pretrial date to do the nominal divorce hearing.
Discovery in a RI Divorce. How do I get information about my Spouse?
After the divorce is filed the litigants can, at their option, proceed with “discovery.” Discovery is the process by which the parties get information or admissions from the other party. Discovery is most important and perhaps crucial in a case when a spouse is unaware of the nature and extent of the marital property and estate. Discovery can be also useful to obtain documents or other tangible evidence that is needed for settlement or trial.
The Rhode Island discovery process also can be used to obtain admissions of certain allegations. It is unethical and perhaps immoral for a person to lie about cheating or an affair to their spouse. It is not illegal or criminal for a person to lie to their spouse about an affair. If a person lies under oath either in testimony or in a written document under oath they may be committing the crime of perjury. Sadly perjury in Family Court is often not prosecuted.
lying under oath
Also if a judge believes a party is lying under oath there could be stiff sanctions and penalties including a referral to the attorney general for prosecution. However, in reality, most incidents of lying in Rhode Island Family Court are not prosecuted as crimes. Many Providence Family Court attorneys use request for admissions or interrogatories to force the other party to state under oath whether or not they had an affair and the extent and details concerning the extra-marital affair / cheating/ infidelity.
There are several discover mechanisms that can be used:
- request for production of documents,
- request for admissions,
- subpoena duces tecum,
What are interrogatories and are they worth the time and effort?
Interrogatories are written questions that a party may sends to the other party. Each side is allowed up to 32 interrogatories. Interrogatories can be helpful in obtaining lists of assets, allegations that will be made by your spouse or other useful information. This information requested can run the gamut from:
- child support,
- marital infidelity
- custody issues,
- child visitation,
- drug and alcohol abuse,
- gambling addiction,
- health insurance issues,
- real estate issues,
- estate planning and trust issues,
- personal injury claims,
- domestic violence / restraining orders,
- criminal history,
- valuation of assets,
- mental health history
- any Rhode Island family law issues.
Interrogatories must be answered in the time frame set by the Rhode Island domestic Court Rules. Interrogatories are usually partially written and also reviewed by your husband or wives’ lawyer. Therefore, while a valuable tool in a RI divorce there are some limitations to the usefulness of the information received.
Request for Admissions in a RI divorce
Requests for admissions when used appropriately can be a powerful discovery tool in a RI divorce. Request for admissions are written requests usually prepared by an attorney. The other party must reply within a short period of time. If the party does not reply to the request for admissions, within the applicable time, the allegation will be deemed admitted.
Should I take the Deposition of my spouse in a RI Divorce?
A Deposition is when a party, usually through their lawyer, can ask their spouse questions under oath in front of a stenographer. In Rhode Island Family Court, a party is not required to obtain leave of court / permission from the court in order to take a deposition. Motions to take deposition of the other party are almost always granted by Family Court Judges. Depositions are powerful yet expensive discovery tools. A deposition usually is effective because the Providence divorce attorney can ask the other party questions face to face. The divorce lawyer in RI can ask follow up questions and can ask questions in different ways. This is particularly effective if a party is being evasive or less than forthcoming. There is very little the other attorney can do to help their clients answer the questions during a deposition.
Depositions are expensive
Depositions are very expensive because the Court reporters transcript could cost several hundred dollars. Also the attorney doing the deposition will need perhaps several hours to prepare for the deposition. Also both attorneys will need to attend the deposition, which could take up to several hours. Depositions are usually better ways to get information about sensitive topics then interrogatories.
Request for Production of Documents
Request for production of documents is a list of requested documents that must be responded to within the applicable time period. I find this discovery tool to be particularly successful in obtaining documents and records concerning: pension plan documents, 401k records, retirement accounts, health insurance records, stock accounts, estate planning documents, bank statements, real estate documents etc.
Subpoena in a RI divorce
A Subpoena duces tecum can be very effective in obtaining documents from third parties such as bank records, stock records, employment and wage records and other documents.
Motions and pretrial conferences
During the course of the divorce, the parties can file motions asking the Court to take action. There may be a series of pretrial conferences with the judge to discuss the case as well as settlement of the case.
RI divorce Trial
If a case cannot be settled, the Court will send the parties a notice of a pretrial conference. At the pretrial conference the Judge may make some effort to help the parties settle the divorce. If the case is not settled then the judge will schedule the matter for a trial.