What We Cover In This Article
Divorce Laws | Residency Requirements | Grounds for Divorce | Divorce Attorney | Filing for Divorce | Online Divorce | How Long? | Divorce Costs | Custody | Child Support | Alimony | Division of Asset | Common-Law Marriage | Alternatives
If you have gone through a divorce or are even considering going through a divorce, you are already aware of how painful and traumatizing it can truly be.
Not only is there a long and complicated legal process to navigate, but there is also the time and money you have to invest into closing this chapter of your life.
However, the costs of divorce extend far beyond your wallet, as this is a profoundly emotional time in your life.
Accepting that your marriage is over and ending a serious relationship is never easy. Ending a marriage is a life change that none of us ever truly wanted to make.
While in the midst of this emotional transition, the last things anybody wants to think about are laws and court proceedings. It can get so complicated that you can feel lost in the process.
We are going to help you with that.
In this complete guide to getting a divorce in the state of Rhode Island, we are going to compile all of the most essential information.
We will cover specific laws surrounding divorce in Rhode Island, what types of divorces are allowed in the state, what is considered when deciding on custody and child or spousal support, and whether or not to hire a lawyer.
If you have a question about the divorce process in Rhode Island, we will probably address it below.
Types of Divorce Laws in Rhode Island
Divorce is not a subjective matter. While it may feel that way sometimes, each state has specific divorce laws used to perform a divorce correctly.
For example, the forms you fill out and where you will file them may be affected by the laws governing the type of divorce you seek.
These laws can be found in the Domestic Relations title of the Rhode Island General Laws. Under Title 15, there are many chapters relating to divorce. We understand that it is difficult to interpret these laws as written sometimes, so we will go into as much detail as possible to explain the nuances of divorce laws in Rhode Island.
It is essential to follow the specific steps and required procedures as closely as possible when getting a divorce in Rhode Island. Deviating from the law in any way could lead to your divorce proceedings being delayed.
There are variables and considerations to take into account during your divorce. We will go into all of these in detail.
You must be sure that you are qualified to obtain a divorce in the state of Rhode Island. There are residency requirements and filing requirements to establish jurisdiction.
There is the question of fault or no-fault divorce, which just indicates whether one of the parties will take “responsibility” for ending the marriage.
The more popular option is a no-fault divorce. In this scenario, both spouses agree that there are “irreconcilable differences” (RI Gen L § 15-5-3.) in their marriage, and the only option is to divorce.
However, there are also guidelines for if an at-fault divorce is appropriate. There are specific grounds that you can file under.
Child custody, support (child support and alimony) are all determined in a divorce. There is also the matter of property and debt division. These can be complicated matters that cause a lot of strife and negativity between the parties.
One of the most important determinations to make is whether your divorce will be contested or uncontested. This can affect how the entire process is going to play out for you and your soon-to-be-former spouse.
An uncontested divorce is one in which both parties have already settled on the terms of their marriage dissolution.
They have either come together and worked out the details, or one party has made a proposal, and the other agreed.
They have already come to an agreement settling the terms of divorce grounds, child custody/visitation, child support, alimony/spousal support, property distribution, and anything else that may be relevant.
An uncontested divorce is preferable because it is, overall, less contentious (and therefore less traumatic). It is also less expensive. If you have hired a lawyer, you will be paying for significantly less time as there will be fewer hearings and less negotiating with the other party.
Not all uncontested divorces start that way. You may wish to pursue mediation.
Mediation is when both spouses sit down with a third party (a trained professional, usually an attorney or counselor) and hash out the remaining details of their divorce. The goal of mediation is to find a compromise or solution that works for both sides.
Rhode Island has a free mediation program for those who are involved in the family court. This will allow you to work out your issues together.
Once you and your soon-to-be-ex have hammered out the details and decided to proceed with an uncontested divorce, it’s time to file. If you’ve already filed and been to court, your attorneys will handle submitting your mediation agreement and asking for a court date to finalize the terms of your divorce.
The procedures for both a contested and uncontested divorce are the same. In both cases, you will file for divorce. For a truly uncontested divorce, you will file a no-fault divorce in Rhode Island.
As long as you meet the requirements to file for divorce in Rhode Island, you can proceed with a no-fault divorce if you and your spouse both agree there are irreconcilable differences that necessitate a divorce.
Rhode Island has no collaborative or joint divorce filings, so one party will still have to file and “sue” the other party for divorce.
We will tell you more about the required paperwork a little later, as well as the procedures for filing, answering, and serving your spouse the divorce complaint. We go into depth with all of this so that you know exactly what you are doing.
Even an uncontested divorce will require at least one hearing. As long as the judge is satisfied with you and your ex-spouse’s answers, they will approve your settlement and rule in favor of the divorce.
Rhode Island has a 3-month waiting period following this, during which time you will still be legally married. After 90 days, you may file to make the judgment final and have it entered into the court system. This waiting period is a little shorter when you are filing on the grounds of separation.
After that is complete, you will no longer be married.
Pros & Cons
A contested divorce is what it sounds like: a divorce in which you or your spouse contest or oppose the terms of the divorce offered by the other party.
This means you do not agree on all matters about the dissolution of your marriage. You have disagreements on at least one of the following:
- Grounds for the divorce (fault or no-fault)
- Distribution of property
- Distribution of debt
- Child custody or visitation
- Child support
- Spousal support/alimony
- Any other matter that now must be determined by the court
Typically, one would want to avoid a contested divorce and focus on working together with their former partner to resolve all matters fairly. It is much easier to come to terms that are agreeable for everyone than having a (usually very ugly) fight in the courtroom and asking the judge to decide on these important matters.
When a judge is involved, one or both parties may be unhappy with the outcome.
However, there are a few cases that make mediating terms between the two parties difficult or impossible. In these situations, it may be preferable to pursue a contested divorce and leave it to the judge:
- Partnerships with a history of domestic violence: In this case, it is better to minimize the threat of harm and protect yourself by allowing the court to decide.
- Cases where one partner has demonstrated unfit parenting: In matters of custody where there is a threat to a minor child, you will have to prove this to the judge.
- Other situations: If you and your ex-spouse can not agree, there is a danger to one of you or a child by attempting mediation, there are financial assets that have been kept hidden from the court, or other situations that may require a contested divorce.
A contested divorce could require multiple hearings and could result in a long, drawn-out, litigious and very expensive process.
Both sides will have to present their case, and the judge will hear all of the relevant information. The court will decide on grounds for divorce, custody and support issues, marital property division, and whatever else may be questioned in your divorce.
If possible, it is always advisable to pursue an uncontested divorce.
Pros & Cons
Residency Requirements in Rhode Island
There are residency requirements for those who are seeking a divorce in the state of Rhode Island.
The residency requirements are pretty simple. The petitioner (person who files for divorce) must have resided in the state for one year before filing the complaint.
If the plaintiff has not resided in the state for a whole year, but the defendant has, the residency requirement is considered fulfilled.
What this means is that while officially, the law states that the plaintiff must be a resident of Rhode Island for a year preceding the date they file, the courts will allow the filing based on the defendant’s residency.
If you do not meet the residency requirements, you have a couple of options:
- Wait until you have reached the residency requirement of one year in Rhode Island before attempting to file again. This may not be ideal if you want to hurry up and get the divorce over with.
- Research the laws in the last state you lived in and determine if you or your spouse meet the requirements there and proceed with a divorce in that state. Again, it might not be the best option depending on how long this takes, though your options could be limited.
If you or your spouse lives out of state, you still have the option of filing in Rhode Island. Typically, you would file in the state where you and your spouse last resided together and have a higher chance of meeting the domicile requirements.
If you live in Rhode Island (for at least a year) and your spouse lives elsewhere, you may still file in Rhode Island.
If you and your spouse were residents of Rhode Island, but you are now unable to locate your spouse to serve them with the divorce complaint, there are procedures for a “Divorce by Publication” that must be followed.
This starts with a good faith search. You must prove that you made every effort to locate your missing spouse by exhausting every avenue. You must search diligently and show proof of your search.
Some records you may search include:
- Phone book: Show that you have attempted to find and contact your ex via the white pages.
- Social Media: You can prove that you conducted searches on various social media platforms for your ex’s name, aliases, and any known screen names.
- Military records: If your spouse is or was a member of the military, you can reach out to the branch they served under and attempt to locate them that way.
- Post Office: Inquire with the post office closest to their last known address to find out if they left a forwarding address for their mail.
- Last known address/phone number: Attempt to call, visit, or write to them at their last known contact information.
- Last known place of employment: Contact or visit their last known place of employment and see if they left contact information with a manager or coworker.
- Family/friends: Contact your in-laws and see if they know their location or are willing to assist with your search.
If your search comes up empty, you may proceed with a divorce by publication.
You must fill out an affidavit swearing you made a diligent search. Then you may publish your notice of the divorce complaint in public media for some time before proceeding to court for an uncontested divorce.
If your ex does not show, the judge will likely grant the divorce based on what you have asked for in your complaint. Rhode Island doesn’t use the term “default judgment,” but the process is very similar to a default judgment in other states.
Grounds for Divorce in Rhode Island
Rhode Island is a “no-fault” state. This means that the state allows for a divorce because there are irreconcilable differences within the marriage.
This just means that the parties are unable to remain married, no matter the reason.
Another ground for no-fault divorce is separation. While most states require a one-year separation period before being granted a divorce, Rhode Island is a little bit different. You must be separated for three years to get a divorce based on the ground of separation.
As with other divorces in Rhode Island, once you receive a judgment in favor of divorce, you will be subjected to the waiting period before the judgment is made final.
Alternatively, Rhode Island allows at-fault divorces. This means that one party is suing the other for divorce because they have violated the sanctity of their marriage in some way.
The grounds for an at-fault divorce include the following:
- Impotency: Impotency is the inability of a man to get or maintain an erection for sexual purposes. So yes, Rhode Island will allow a wife to sue her husband for divorce if he cannot “perform.”
- Extreme Cruelty: This does not have to solely be physical. If you can prove that your spouse was extremely cruel to you, physically or mentally, you can be granted a divorce on that ground.
- Adultery: Adultery means cheating. One of the partners stepped outside of the confines of the marital bond.
- Drunkenness: You may divorce your spouse in Rhode Island because of habitual or continued drunkenness, otherwise known as alcoholism.
- Habitual, excessive, and intemperate use of opium, morphine, or chloral: If your spouse is addicted to drugs, you may seek an at-fault divorce, especially if it disrupts your marriage.
- Willful desertion for five years, or shorter at the discretion of the court: There are a few conditions on this. It may not be consensual or justified. Fleeing domestic violence does not count as desertion, nor does the agreement to separate.
- Neglect to provide for your wife for one year: If a husband has the means to support his wife financially and materially and he fails to do so for one year, there are grounds for an at-fault divorce.
- Any other gross misbehavior or wickedness from either partner, which violates the marriage contract: This could be anything that breaks the marriage vows, at the discretion of the court.
While there are a few reasons you may want an at-fault divorce, the fact is that you will spend time in court arguing about it and rehashing what may be traumatic events. Most Rhode Island residents do not pursue at-fault divorces.
Using a Rhode Island Divorce Attorney
Since divorce is a complicated legal matter, many choose to hire an attorney during this process.
There are some cases where you may not want to bring a lawyer into the mix. For example, if your divorce is an uncontested divorce and you and your spouse agree on everything, you can do a DIY divorce pro se (meaning, without a lawyer), or you can pay an online divorce service.
If your divorce is contested and you and your spouse are at odds about property division, debt allocation, child custody, child support, alimony, or any other aspect of your divorce agreement, you will want an attorney.
A lawyer will assist if things are contentious and strained between you and your ex. You will have someone to help you navigate the legal system and act as a buffer between you and the other party.
Even if you have an uncontested divorce and things are cordial, you may want to hire an attorney anyway. They are trained professionals who are well-versed in family law and know the ins and outs of a divorce.
With proper representation, you don’t have to worry about which forms to fill out or file or where to send them or what signatures you need, or when a deadline is approaching! Your legal team will handle all of that for you.
Regardless of your circumstance or your role in the divorce – whether it is a fault or no-fault divorce, contested or uncontested, and whether you are the plaintiff or defendant, we strongly recommend having a high-quality attorney with you.
They will not only take care of the “legal stuff” and the paperwork but also will make sure that your interests are protected, and you aren’t being taken advantage of by your spouse or their attorney.
If there are children involved in the divorce, get a lawyer. Ensure that you have adequate representation and that you and your ex can find a fair solution to both you and your children.
This sentiment also applies when you or your spouse have a lot of property or debt that must be allocated. Having proper representation will help you both ensure that the distribution is fair to all involved.
There are advantages and disadvantages to hiring representation.
The advantages are, of course, those things we already went over: having a trusted professional on your side assisting you with the difficult parts of the divorce, having someone to advocate for you, and feeling secure knowing that you are being looked after.
The main disadvantage to hiring an attorney is the cost. Especially if your divorce is pretty straightforward and uncomplicated, that money may be unnecessary.
Whatever your reason for hiring an attorney, you must be fully comfortable with that person.
Do not hire someone with whom you do not “click” or who you feel is untrustworthy or uncommitted.
This is one of the most pivotal experiences of your life, and the person you choose to represent you through this legal process has got to be someone reputable that makes you feel safe.
What Makes a Good Divorce Attorney?
Before you start your search for a divorce lawyer, think about the characteristics you will want to see in your lawyer.
Some of the most essential qualities in a divorce attorney are:
- Skills and Experience: Research, your potential lawyer. How long have they been in practice? You will want to find someone who has plenty of experience with divorces (and who has been on the “winning” side!). You should feel comfortable with their skill level and feel confident that they can represent you in your unique circumstance. For example, if you are divorcing a narcissist, they will know how to deal with them.
- Reputation: If you know any previous clients, ask them about their experience with this attorney. Read reviews online. You must be comfortable with how they handle their cases and how they conduct themself in court and with clients.
- Communication: Communication is a vital part of the attorney-client relationship. Is the lawyer accessible? Will they be responsive when you e-mail or call them with questions? Attorneys have many clients. If they are too busy to answer your query, is there a paralegal or someone on staff who can address it?
- Interpersonal Skills: Also known as “people skills,”- is the attorney charismatic? Will they represent you well in court? Do they know how to handle difficult people such as your ex or your ex’s attorney? How will they conduct themself in front of the judge? Do you feel comfortable in the lawyer’s presence? All of these are crucial to choosing a lawyer.
How to Find a Good Divorce Attorney
The process of finding a good lawyer for your divorce can take some time.
First, you must decide on a budget. It is essential that you are upfront about your ability to pay, just as it is essential that your potential representation is transparent in their pricing.
Make sure you budget more than you think you’ll need for the divorce – there are unexpected obstacles that may come up. In a divorce, an “obstacle” is never free!
Once you have a budget, you can follow these steps to find a good divorce attorney in Rhode Island:
- Make a list of family law attorneys in your area. You can narrow it down by selecting only those who specialize in divorce.
- Research each attorney on the list and get a feel for their skills and experience and their reputation. If you have family or friends who have used this lawyer, get their input. Call them to find out if they fit your budget.
- Eliminate anyone from the list who does not meet your criteria.
- Order the remaining candidates by your preference. The one you feel most confident about will be your first choice, and so on.
- Call each attorney, starting with your first choice, and schedule a consultation. You can get a feel for how comfortable you are with them and ask them some interview questions.
- If you love your first choice, there’s no need to proceed! If you aren’t so sure, call the next attorney on the list. You can repeat the process as many times as needed until you have found the best attorney for your circumstance.
Interview Questions for Divorce Attorneys
There are some basic questions you should ask a potential attorney before hiring them:
How long have you been handling divorce cases?
You need an attorney who is familiar with family law and well-versed in litigating a divorce. Ideally, they are a divorce specialist rather than a generalist in family law.
How long does it take you to return phone calls?
It’s good to establish upfront that you have expectations for your legal team to be responsive. This question lets them know that you are keeping track of their communication skills. If the attorney cannot commit to a specific timeframe within which he can return your phone call, he may not be the one you want to work with.
What will your strategy be for my case?
Knowing what to expect will help you to have everything organized in preparation. This will also help you see how competent the attorney is by hearing what strategy they have in mind after learning the details of your case. This could be a deciding factor in whether or not you choose to work with this particular attorney.
Is Initial Consultation Free?
This really depends on the attorney. Some attorneys charge their regular rate, a reduced rate, or nothing for their initial consultation.
Upon doing some research, there is a large number of reputable, experienced divorce attorneys in the state of Rhode Island who offer an initial consultation for free. It should not be difficult to find one or several attorneys who will meet with you free of charge to help you find the attorney who is right for your case.
If you need further assistance with an attorney, there are programs that help you get an initial consultation for free or help to cover the costs of a lawyer.
Rhode Island Legal Services is one such organization that assists low-income Rhode Island residents with legal care.
Is the Meeting Confidential?
Yes. The initial consultation is confidential.
An attorney should not share any information from your meeting. For that matter, if you do not hire an attorney, you consult with, in most cases, that attorney would also not be able to work with your ex in the divorce.
Pros of Using an Attorney
- You have a trusted professional to guide you through the legal process.
- You do not have to worry about complicated procedures or paperwork being filled out wrong or misfiled.
- You have an expert to ask questions about the divorce.
- Someone is being paid to make sure your best interest is protected.
- You will look better (more organized, more prepared) in court if you are represented.
Cons of Using an Attorney
- The cost of hiring an attorney is usually very high.
- The process may take longer than if you did a DIY divorce or used an online service.
- You may have disagreements with your attorney. Using a third party to help you with your divorce will require you to let go of some control. Your attorney is a professional and may have different ideas on how to handle disagreements or situations than you do.
Filing for Divorce in Rhode Island
The process of filing for divorce in Rhode Island can be scary if you don’t know the procedures or how to begin.
To help you not feel so lost, below is the full divorce process in Rhode Island.
We will walk you through it step-by-step, with a thorough explanation of each item on the list.
The first step to the divorce process is actually filing for divorce. It is at this point that you have to decide if you’re filing for a fault or no-fault divorce and whether or not you will be hiring an attorney.
If you proceed with an attorney, your legal team will be handling the below steps. If you continue pro se, that job is yours. Pay attention to the procedures required to file for your divorce yourself.
Pro Tip: The information below is perfect for you to get an overview of the divorce filing process and also use as a guide if you will be filing for divorce on your own. However, if you are using an attorney, their team will typically be taking care of these steps as part of their proper representation of you as a client.
Preparing Your Divorce Forms
To file for a divorce, the following forms are required:
- A Complaint: The Complaint will ask you questions about the divorce, the whereabouts of your spouse, and other information pertaining to your request for a divorce.
- DR6: The DR6 is a Financial Statement, or Statement of Assets, Liabilities, Income, and Expenses. It is a complete listing of all assets and obligations you have. We will go into detail below.
- Two statements that list any children of the marriage: The Statement Listing Children is exactly what it sounds like. Include two copies.
- A family services counseling report form: This form indicates whether or not you desire counseling and family support services during the divorce.
- Report of Divorce: This form includes all of the facts surrounding the divorce.
- Copy of the marriage certificate: Include a copy of the marriage certificate showing that you are legally wed.
- The summons: This will list the court date and motion and will be served to your spouse.
If there are children, you will also include the child support guidelines and worksheet and a notice of automatic court orders if applicable. All of these are available at the Rhode Island Courts website.
Filing Your Divorce Forms
All of the above are submitted, along with the filing fee, to the family court clerk’s office. Please note that Rhode Island utilizes an electronic filing system, and you may be required to file all of your documents online rather than in person at the clerk of court’s office.
If you have any difficulties navigating the electronic court system, there is a Virtual Clerk's Office available for you to ask questions and receive help through this process.
If the filing fee is too expensive, you can submit one more form. You will file for in forma pauperis status to have your filing fee waived.
Upon receipt of the above forms, the court clerk will issue a docket number and initial hearing date for your case. This initial hearing date is known as the nominal date. This first hearing is very important in uncontested cases. In contested cases, the case is not heard on that date.
Serving Your Spouse
Once you have filed the paperwork with the clerk of court, the clerk will return the summons to you along with a copy of the complaint and information that must be given to the Defendant.
The court will not serve your spouse for you. You must make sure this is done.
To have the summons served on your spouse, follow these steps:
- Take the packet to the sheriff’s office in the county where the Defendant resides
- Pay the service fee ($45 to serve Rhode Island court documents)
- Provide the sheriff with an address where your spouse can be found during business hours.
- Once your ex has been served, the sheriff will fill out the back of the summons.
- You must pick this up from the sheriff’s office and file the completed summons at the clerk of court’s office(or through the online filing system). This will serve as proof that Defendant was served.
If the sheriff cannot serve your ex, you might have to file a motion to ask the court for permission to use an alternate service method. This could be mail (regular or certified), service by publication, or any other way you can serve them.
After being served, your spouse then has to file an answer and counterclaim.
If they agree and wish to proceed with an uncontested divorce, then your spouse does not have to answer your complaint. It will proceed to the nominal date.
Nominal Date (Uncontested Divorce)
When you filed your initial forms, the court clerk issued a nominal date or initial hearing date.
If the parties have not reached an agreement by this date, the case will not be heard. It will instead be put into case management and a conference held between the attorneys.
From there, the case goes to a pretrial conference and finally to trial.
If the parties are in agreement (or if Defendant does not show up) on the nominal date, the judge will hear the case and usually rule in favor of divorce.
As we mentioned previously, there is a waiting period after the hearing before you can file for a Final Judgment. If you do not submit the Final Judgment, your divorce will not become final!
The required forms must be submitted through the Rhode Island courts Guide and File system. There are detailed instructions that will guide you through completing this vital step.
Each divorce requires a form DR-6 filled out.
As mentioned above, this is a comprehensive financial statement. It goes deep into detail about your financial status.
You will list your health insurance information, your dependents, checking and savings accounts, stocks, trusts, pensions, retirement funds, government assistance, and any other financial information, as well as any property you own.
You must also fill out all of your bills and utilities, and health care costs. It is extremely detailed and even asks about the costs of your cell phone or grocery bill, as well as vehicle maintenance and gasoline.
It is comprehensive and can be overwhelming. Take your time and be thorough.
You want your answers to be as accurate as possible. This will help in determining child support and spousal support, if applicable. The court wants to have an honest and thorough idea of both you and your spouse’s financial situation.
Online Divorce in Rhode Island
Online divorce services allow you to file for a divorce without the aid of an attorney.
These services assist you with preparing complex documents and forms. They will help you navigate this process so your focus can be where it belongs – walking away and closing this chapter of your life.
Online divorce services have a range of prices, but for just a few hundred dollars, you can have all of your documents filled out and ready to file. Considering that the filing fee for a DIY divorce is $120, you will be saving money in the long run by conducting your divorce online.
How to Qualify for an Online Divorce in Rhode Island
To qualify for an online divorce, you must be pursuing an uncontested divorce. Online services are not capable of mediating or litigating cases where a judge must decide the terms of the dissolution.
You must already agree to everything and be ready to file and move on. If you and your soon-to-be-ex partner are on the same page about all issues in your divorce, this might be the option for you.
Do You Still Need To Go To Court?
Yes. Although online divorce services can help you prepare the documents and file them, Rhode Island does not allow you to finalize a divorce without appearing before the judge at least once.
While the convenience of an online service is high, you will have to enter the courtroom if you want to obtain a divorce.
How Long Does It Take To Get a Divorce in Rhode Island?
How long it takes to get divorced in Rhode Island can vary.
Several factors go into deciding the timeline of the divorce process.
All involved parties will make decisions that affect the length of the divorce process: you, your spouse, your lawyers, the judge, and the court system can all slow down (or speed up!) the divorce.
The largest factor that determines the length of a divorce is whether or not the divorce is contested and how contentious (or amicable) it is.
Uncontested Divorce Timeline
An uncontested divorce will be the shortest and easiest divorce to obtain.
Since most uncontested divorces are granted at the nominal hearing, this significantly reduces your wait time.
The judgment could be passed in as little as 75 days – the earliest a nominal date will be set from the date of filing.
However, you are not yet officially divorced. Remember that Rhode Island has a mandatory waiting period before the divorce judgment is made final, and you are required to file a motion to make the judgment final and become officially divorced.
The waiting period depends on the ground for divorce. In an uncontested, no-fault divorce, there are two options.
The first option has a shorter waiting period. If your divorce is granted on the grounds of a three-year separation, the wait to finalize the divorce is only 21 days. The court may waive this waiting period in the case of a three-year separation. It is up to the judge’s discretion.
However, if your divorce is granted because of “irreconcilable differences,” you must wait 90 days.
This means that on the chance that the nominal hearing is granted at the earliest date, an uncontested divorce could be over between 75 and 165 days.
However, if your divorce is not uncontested right away and it takes some time to reconcile some differences or attend mediation or work out some parts of the agreement, then it will delay the process.
Contested Divorce Timelines
Contested divorces are more complicated.
In Rhode Island, typically, a temporary hearing is held five weeks after filing. This allows for the creation of a temporary order that covers child support, spousal support, and custody/visitation during the divorce proceedings.
Since a contested divorce usually requires multiple hearings, and we all know the court systems are not exactly speedy, the process could take months to complete – even a year or more.
We recommend that you utilize mediation and your attorneys to try to facilitate an agreement between you and your spouse. It will move much more quickly if you can come together on the terms of your dissolution.
Factors That Affect the Divorce Timeline
The Rhode Island divorce timeline does vary.
The fastest is an uncontested divorce. These can usually be resolved quickly.
The process gets a lot longer if you’re fighting with your spouse over details of the divorce or if an extenuating circumstance comes up – like a divorce by publication in the case of a missing spouse.
Contested divorces are rarely quick and smooth. They can last up to two years in some extreme cases.
Here are the most common elements that can alter the timeline for getting a divorce in Rhode Island:
- Child Custody: Custody battles are especially ugly. The court may make one determination in the temporary hearing, but determined parents are not going to accept that. Disputes about parenting can draw a simple divorce out into a contentious process. Custody can add weeks or months to a divorce.
- Child Support: Child support is separate from custody or visitation. Payments will vary significantly based on things like income and assets. Parties may fight over or agree upon support payments. Usually, support is resolved relatively quickly but will add a few weeks and typically one extra hearing.
- Division of Property: While many couples split assets 50/50, refusals and arguments arise that slow down the timeline for getting a divorce in Rhode Island. How long of a delay this causes depends on the spouses’ willingness to work through it, how much property is owned between them, and whether or not the judge must make the determination.
- Division of Debt: Spouses may argue about who is liable for specific debts. Whether an obligation on a mortgage or lien or a credit account, they could have two very different ideas about who owes what. The division of debt could delay the divorce by weeks or months. It depends on how much debt there is and how this must get resolved.
- Alimony: Alimony is typically awarded from the higher-earning spouse to the lower-income spouse. The purpose of alimony is to ensure the other spouse recovers financially since they’re likely to lose income in the divorce. Fighting over alimony amounts is typical. Nobody wants to pay for a relationship that is over.
What Makes a Divorce Final in Rhode Island
Rhode Island has a mandatory waiting period at the end of the divorce.
In some cases, this can be waived at the judge’s discretion. The waiting period ranges from 21 days to 90 days and is affected by what kind of divorce you have and what grounds you use.
Within that time period, you must submit a request to make the judgment final pending the waiting period. Once you have finished waiting, you have to submit a request electronically to make the judgment final.
Once this is done and it is filed, you will be officially divorced!
Divorce Costs in Rhode Island
As in any other state, the costs of a divorce in Rhode Island can fluctuate.
There is a wide variance between a simple, uncontested divorce and a litigious contested divorce.
The cost of a divorce can be the source of major anxiety and fear in anyone. It’s something that we never want to have to prepare for.
All of the decisions you make regarding the divorce will go into the total costs you end up having to pay. Whether or not you choose an attorney, whether you file a DIY divorce pro se, use an online divorce system, if the divorce is contested or uncontested, how well you and your spouse work together to agree on terms, and more will all affect your wallet during this process.
We will break down some of the fixed and potential costs of a divorce in the state of Rhode Island.
The fee for filing the primary forms to begin the divorce is $120.
If you cannot afford this, you have the option of filing in forma pauperis and having the filing fee waived. Without the waiver, you cannot start your divorce unless you file these documents and spend the $120.
Attorneys are among the highest expenses that many of us will ever incur outside of purchasing a home or vehicle.
Of course, if you have a simple divorce with no attorney or with minimal counsel needed, these costs could be $0-500.
However, attorneys charge hundreds of dollars per hour. Rhode Island divorce attorneys average between $200 and $350 per hour or even more depending on the attorney. These costs can add up quickly.
If your divorce is drawn out and complicated, you may end up paying upwards of $10,000+ in attorney’s fees alone.
The Rhode Island Sherrif’s Department has a service fee of $45 for in-state court documents to be served on a resident. You will pay this to have your spouse served with the initial complaint and summons.
However, if your spouse lives out of state, you may have to pay a sheriff’s department or process server to locate and serve them in their state of residence. This will take more time and may cost you more than an additional $100.
Mediation (Reduce Costs)
If you choose to attend mediation to settle your divorce peacefully, this will save you money in the long run. Instead of thousands of dollars in attorneys fees, you will be able to pay one fee to the mediator.
Some mediators cost up to $2500. This may not be necessary because of the Rhode Island free mediation program.
If you can resolve all of your issues without paying anything, this will significantly reduce both the money and the time spent on ending your marriage.
Online Divorce Service
Online divorce services are designed to save you money. They often charge just a few hundred dollars. They will guide you through filling out the necessary forms, and then they will either file them electronically or provide them to you to print and file.
The range for these services is advertised between $99 and $299+. What the exact price will end up being will depend on which service you use and what your specific circumstance is.
Many sites require you to register before showing you the final price. Make sure you are using a reputable service and are not paying too much for this convenience.
The cost of using an online divorce service may be worth it to buy you some convenience and peace of mind.
Custody Considerations in Rhode Island
If child custody is contested during a divorce, it means the parents cannot come to an agreement, either on their own or through mediation. In this case, the judge will have to make a determination.
The judge may enlist the assistance of a Guardian ad Litem (an attorney appointed to represent the child) and an investigator from the Family Court Investigative Unit who will conduct a home study. The judge’s goal is to decide what arrangement would be in the best interest of the child.
Rhode Island has enacted a “minimum parenting time” guideline for visitations, which grants the noncustodial parent one weeknight a week and every other weekend. They could be awarded more but will not be awarded less except in cases where supervised visitation is necessary, or their rights are terminated.
Factors that Influence Custody Terms
- The wishes of the parent: The judge will take into consideration what each parent prefers. They will try to make a fair decision that benefits the child but is fair to the parents.
- The child’s wishes: If the child is old enough and mature enough to have a say in their own custody, the judge will accept this and take it into consideration.
- The child’s relationship with each parent: The judge (or guardian ad litem) will ask the child and caretakers about the relationship between them. If the child has a significant attachment, this is an essential factor in the judge’s decision.
- Siblings in each home: The judge will want to keep siblings together wherever possible. Having siblings in either home may factor into a custody determination.
- Mental and physical health of the parents: The judge will want to determine that both parents are physically and mentally fit to care for the child.
- Stability and moral fitness: The judge will consider heavily the stability of each home and the ability of each parent to abstain from illegal or immoral activities and provide a safe home for the minor child.
- Home, school, and community involvement and attachment: An important consideration when determining where a child will reside is where they attend school or church and where they have made significant friendships or other attachments. It is not usually in a child’s best interest to remove them from a comfortable and familiar environment.
- Parent’s ability to co-parent/encourage a relationship with another parent: The ability to co-parent and foster a healthy relationship between the child(ren) and their other parent is essential. If one parent demonstrates an inability or unwillingness to do this, their parenting time is likely to be limited.
Child Support Considerations in Rhode Island
In Rhode Island, child support is designed for the noncustodial parent to provide continual, ongoing material support to their child while they are in the care of the custodial parent. The custodial parent provides care directly and is therefore not responsible for making any payments.
Rhode Island bases child support on an Income Shares Model. This means that the total income of both parents is added up, and an obligation is determined based on each parent’s share of the income and parenting time. The state has a schedule that determines the income share and obligation, which is then further split depending on parenting time.
Child support in Rhode Island lasts until the child is 18 years old or until they graduate from high school. The non-custodial parent has to file a motion to terminate the child support order at that time.
The Rhode Island family court will not order a noncustodial parent to pay child support after a child has turned 19. An exception to this might be if the child has a severe mental or physical impairment and must continue to live with the custodial parent, though even that case is rare.
Factors that affect Child Support in Rhode Island
- Income of both parents: Because of Rhode Island’s income shares model, the income of both parents is considered, not just the non-custodial parent. The reason for this is that the state wants to ensure that the child is still being allocated the same resources and care they would receive if the family were an intact unit.
- Parenting time of both parents: The custodial parent is providing support to the child directly, so they do not have to pay the non-custodial parent, even if their share of the income is larger.
- Other support obligations: The court does take into consideration if the non-custodial parent is ordered to pay alimony or child support for another child. This may lower their ability to pay and lower their obligation as a result.
Alimony Considerations in Rhode Island
During the divorce process, the parties may agree, or a judge may order that alimony is necessary.
Alimony, which is also known as spousal support, is a court-ordered payment that is meant to provide financial support to a former spouse following the divorce.
Alimony has a couple of functions:
- To support a spouse who will experience a significant decrease in their standard of living as a result of the divorce
- To provide a punitive payment for a spouse that caused the divorce through their own immoral actions. An example of this is infidelity.
The details of the alimony payments are determined on a case-by-case basis by the judge. Payments are calculated by the judge, and the following factors are considered when deciding on the amount:
- Income and earning ability of both parties: Not only is the income important when determining if alimony payments are appropriate and how much they should be but earning potential is also considered. The education, experience, and ability to maintain a standard of living are all looked at.
- The ages and physical and mental health of both parties: These factors will affect a spouse’s ability to maintain their standard of living. If a spouse is too old or too young and reliant on the support from their now-ex spouse, alimony will help them make that transition.
- The duration of the marriage: This determines how long the parties were accustomed to a certain standard of living and whether it would be severely detrimental to lose that or not.
- Monetary needs of both parties: While alimony may ease the financial distress the divorce causes on one party, the amount must not cause significant distress on the party ordered to pay.
- Marital misconduct committed during the marriage: This can have a punitive effect on the amount awarded.
There are many other factors that go into determining the amount of alimony. A judge will take every detail into account when making a decision.
Another decision that must be made surrounding alimony is the duration. Alimony can be awarded temporarily or indefinitely.
Indefinite, or permanent alimony, is rarely awarded. In this case, the payments continue indefinitely regardless of the situation of either party. The most likely cause for this would be advanced age or poor health status that makes it unlikely that the lower-income partner would “get back on their feet” by the time alimony payments have ceased.
The judge will determine the timeline for temporary alimony.
Alimony usually reflects the length of the marriage. The judge may go with the old standard that states alimony is paid one year for every three that the pair were married.
Alimony can be discontinued if the receiving partner remarries or lives with another individual.
Alimony accrues arrears if it is unpaid. Just like with child support, the payer’s wages can be garnished, and they could be held in contempt of court.
Division of Assets
Rhode Island is what is known as an equitable distribution state. This means that the court makes every effort to divide all assets in a way that is fair and equitable to both spouses.
Marital property is considered anything that is acquired or is a direct result of the labor or investments of the spouses during the marriage, under Rhode Island state law. All marital property is subject to the division of assets.
The keyword is equitable. This does not mean equal. Both spouses may not get the same or equal amount of property, but they will have their assets allocated in a way that is fair and equitable to both of them.
Courts will look at these factors when dividing property:
- Share of the marital property: How much of the marital property is maintained or was acquired by each spouse rather than as a joint venture?
- The financial circumstance of each spouse: The court will look at their income and earning potential. The lower-income spouse will possibly acquire more assets to put the warring partners on a more equal economic footing.
- Marital misconduct: A judge in Rhode Island will consider marital misconduct during this process. There may be a punitive division of assets as a result of grievous misconduct, such as infidelity.
- Child custody: The court will take into consideration which spouse, if either, will be the custodial parent and will need the greater share of financial support.
A divorcing couple can make the decision to divide the property on their own or to let the court decide if they can not agree. Of course, it is always preferable to agree on as much as possible so that you can proceed with an uncontested divorce, but this is not always possible.
Several things are considered marital property, especially when acquired during the marriage. We will explain a little about these below.
Real estate refers to any lands or homes that a couple owns together (or that either party acquired during the marriage).
When dividing real estate, the judge will look at the factors listed above, particularly child custody. If the family home is in question, they will almost always make sure that the children can continue to reside in their home.
For other real estate property, the judge may give you the option to liquidate it or for one party to buy out the other party’s interest in the property so that it may be awarded to only one of them.
401k, IRA, Investments
Retirement accounts and the money in them are only considered for allocation if the money was earned during the marriage and there are extenuating circumstances.
Typically whoever owns these accounts will continue to own them.
If a retirement account is considered joint property by the judge, they must look at the value of the accounts and what was accrued during the marriage and decide how to divide it up.
Stocks are harder because of the volatility of the stock market. They may be assigned to one partner or liquidated, and the proceeds split.
If the parties own a business together, the judge must decide how to divide up the assets and debt.
The judge may consider the contribution each spouse put into the business. If primarily one spouse was responsible for running the business, the judge may award that party ownership of all business-related assets. Alternatively, they will have the other party buy out their interest in the business.
Property division in Rhode Island is based on equitable distribution, which tries to ensure that the allocation of assets is as fair to both parties as possible.
Common-Law Marriage Considerations in Rhode Island
Rhode Island is one of few states that still recognize Common-law marriage.
Common-law marriage is legally binding but does not entail a marriage certificate or ceremony.
The benefit to a common-law marriage is that you receive all of the tax benefits and other upsides of being legally married.
The downside is that if you have children or property together and wish to go your separate ways, you must have a legal divorce if you need the court’s assistance parting ways.
For your marriage to be considered common-law in Rhode Island, the following conditions must not only be true, but you must be able to prove these statements to the court:
- Both parties have the intent and desire to be spouses and consider themselves married.
- Spouses must live together for a substantial amount of time. The exact length of time is not specified, but it must be long enough to convince the court you are married.
- The couple behaves in such a manner that the community is led to believe they are married.
Alternatives to Divorce in Rhode Island
If you are considering divorce but not sure if it’s right for you, or you aren’t quite ready to take the plunge, you may consider one of these alternatives to getting a divorce.
There are a few reasons why you might choose separation over divorce.
If you are separated, there is still room for reconciliation. You can use your time separated to work out the details of a possible impending divorce.
Rhode Island recognizes both legal and informal separation. You can request a divorce on the grounds of separation with either type of separation. However, with a legal separation, it is easier to prove that you and your spouse have lived apart for the designated three years.
An annulment is basically asking the court to erase that your marriage ever happened.
Rhode Island does not actually recognize annulments.
However, there are some cases where the state of Rhode Island is willing to declare a marriage “void,” which has the same effect as an annulment: we pretend the marriage never existed.
Reasons that qualify a “voided” marriage are:
- Incest (spouses are closer than first cousins)
- Bigamy (one of you was legally married to someone else)
- Mental incompetence
- Refusal to consummate the marriage (the parties never had sex)
If your marriage is declared void, it’s as if you and your former spouse never were married.
Work it Out Together
Instead of seeking a divorce, you and your spouse may find a way to work through your marital difficulties. There are benefits to working it out and staying together, such as:
- The financial and tax benefits of staying together
- Not having to dissolve a long relationship with someone you care about
- Honoring your vows
- Not having to spend money on a divorce
- Not worrying about child custody, visitation, support, etc.
- The satisfaction of knowing that you made it work.
In order to work it out, you may need to seek counseling. Find a therapist who is an expert in marriage counseling and can help you and your spouse work through your problems.
An open marriage is where one or both partners practice non-monogamy. You may have other partners for either sexual or romantic reasons.
This is a difficult path to pursue because it may lead to further fighting or tension in the marriage.
However, for some couples, this is exactly what is needed to save the marriage.
Read More: Dating During a Divorce
A parenting marriage is one in which the two parties stay together until their children are old enough that they feel they can divorce without causing them harm. It is “staying together for the kids.”
A parenting marriage can be combined with a separation agreement or an open marriage, or even counseling and working it out.
Lauren Cook-McKay is the Vice President of Marketing at DivorceAnswers.com. She holds a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) from the University of San Diego and applies her training in private practice to helping couples struggling in their marriage. She believes there is hope in all marriages and strives to provide therapy to couples that will lead them back towards a loving marriage, or an amicable divorce that brings peace and closure.