Rhode Island Divorce Guide

Rhode Island Divorce Guide

This is a complete guide to divorce in Rhode Island.

In this guide, we’ll address your burning questions – including some you didn’t even think to ask.

So if you want to make sure you have a lay of the land (and avoid the pitfalls), we’ve got you covered.

Let’s get started.

What Are Grounds for Divorce in Rhode Island?

Rhode Island is a no-fault and fault-based state when citing grounds for divorce.

A no-fault divorce means that are you must do is cite irreconcilable differences that have caused a breakdown in your marriage. You can also file a no-fault divorce if spouses have been living apart for three years or longer after a separation.

A fault-based divorce means that one spouse has violated the marriage in some way, creating a specific ground for divorce.

In Rhode Island, these grounds can include:

  • Impotency
  • Adultery
  • Extreme cruelty
  • Willful desertion that has lasted five years or more by either spouse or willful desertion of a shorter time period at the discretion of the court
  • Continued drunkenness
  • A spouse’s habitual or excessive drug use (including opium, morphine, or chloral)
  • Neglect or refusal of an able husband to provide necessities for the subsistence of his wife for a period of at least one year before the petition is filed
  • Any behavior by either spouse that constitutes gross misbehavior and wickedness that is in violation of the marriage covenant

Legal Separation vs. Divorce

Legal Separation vs a Divorce

Legal separation is an official court action that loosens the ties of marriage but does not end the marriage. It has many of the same elements and timeframes as a divorce, but a couple remains married to see if they can work things out.

Couples may choose legal separation for religious reasons when divorce conflicts with their spiritual beliefs. At other times, a legal separation may be a way to let a spouse keep health insurance or separation can provide tax benefits that only married couples can enjoy.

Like a divorce, a separation agreement is often written by the spouses and submitted to the court for approval. Issues such as a division of assets, child support, alimony, and custody issues are also determined.

Couples who later decide not to continue their relationship will still need to go through a divorce.

Annulment vs. Divorce

In Rhode Island, there is no such thing as a court granted annulment. It simply does not exist.

However, you can ask the Court to make a legal determination that the marriage was void ab initio. This means that the marriage was not legal when you entered it and it is therefore void or voidable.

This is a very difficult standard to prove and you need to show that you simply did not know you were getting married, or that you never intended to marry the person you did. A void marriage could also be one that could not have existed in the first place because it was against the law at the time it started.

For example, if you inadvertently married a blood relative.

Perhaps, the marriage was entered into under threat or coercion. This would also give rise to voidable marriage.

However, most often people ask about annulling their marriage because it was very brief and they made a mistake. Unfortunately, this is not a basis to annul a marriage in Rhode Island. You will still need to divorce.

If you think you may qualify for voidable marriage in Rhode Island, or you realize that you will need to divorce, please contact our office to speak with an attorney.

What are Your Options for Getting a Divorce in Rhode Island?

What are your Options for Getting a Divorce

There are several ways you can get a divorce in Rhode Island. Some are more contentious than others. Some take longer than others. And certain processes cost a lot more than others. The option you choose will be driven in large part by how much animosity there is in your marriage

Do-It-Yourself divorce. This is known as an uncontested divorce. If you and your spouse can agree on all the issues in advance, you can file paperwork with the court stating this fact, and you will usually be granted a divorce in a short amount of time, the least amount of emotional stress, and the lowest possible costs. You may be able to go through the entire process without appearing in front of a judge, or appearing only briefly to answer a few questions.

Online divorce. This is similar to a DIY divorce, except that you rely a lot more on pre-printed forms and online services or attorneys to help you complete the required paperwork. The automated approach can save a lot of money, but you need to be careful about making costly mistakes if you go this route.

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Divorce mediation. You meet with a neutral third party who helps you work through the areas of disagreement you have, such as property division, child custody and visitation, and related issues. When you strike an agreement, you draw up a proposal and submit it to the court for approval. This is a quicker, cheaper, and less contentious route for many couples than going through a full-blown trial.

Collaborative divorce. This is an option for couples who still have a fair amount of cooperation and trust between them. Any disagreements are resolved respectfully and amicably using attorneys who are specially trained in collaborative law. That is less costly than other forms of divorce and leaves decisions with the couple, and not a judge.

If collaboration fails, you can move forward with other types of divorce, but you will need to retain a different attorney if you do.

Litigation. Litigation is a traditional approach to divorce. You and your attorneys engage with your spouse and their attorneys in an attempt to negotiate a settlement before going to trial. About 95% of all litigated divorces end this way. If you can reach an agreement through a negotiated settlement or arbitration instead of a trial, then you can save some time and aggravation.

Trial. When two people have tried other ways of settling their marital affairs, and there is a high degree of conflicts and outstanding issues, a trial often results. These can be long, drawn-out, and expensive with a judge who will make rulings based on applicable state law. You may also not like the rulings that are decided by a judge, and you’ll have little recourse in most cases to modify the results.

What is the Process of Getting a Divorce in Rhode Island?

Process of Getting a Divorce

At least one of the spouses must have been a resident of Rhode Island for at least one year before filing for divorce.

You will need to decide if you want to file a contested or uncontested divorce and whether or not your divorce will be fault-based or a no-fault action.

The exact forms you’ll need to complete will vary depending on several factors, such as whether or not you have children.

You’ll need to file your paperwork in person in the county of residence of the plaintiff unless the one-year residency requirement has been satisfied by the defendant’s residence. In such a case, the divorce must be filed for in the county of the defendant’s residence.

When you file, you’ll also need to pay a filing fee of approximately $150. You may incur an additional fee if you hire a sheriff to have your spouse served with paperwork. You can’t give the paperwork to your spouse. Someone else needs to do it and they provide you with proof of service.

You’ll return that proof of service to the court.

Your spouse will have 20 days to file a response to the complaint. If they don’t respond, you can seek a default judgment.

If you agree on all the issues and are seeking an uncontested divorce, there will be a 60 to 75-day waiting period before your case comes before a judge. If the judge approves the settlement you have both agreed to, then your divorce can become final that day.

In a contested divorce, you will need to try and resolve your differences in several possible ways, perhaps through mediation or collaboration. If you can’t reach an agreement, you’ll need to litigate your case. This may involve arbitration or a trial (although most cases never make it this far).

To resolve your differences, your case could take a year or longer. It will also cost you more money and time when there is a lot of conflicts to resolve.

Do I Need an Attorney?

Attorney for a Divorce

You are not required to retain an attorney to help you with your divorce in Rhode Island. However, moving forward on your own can be problematic if you encounter resistance along the way.

When in doubt, it’s best to work with an attorney to protect your rights.

Can I File for Divorce Online?

Divorce Online

You can start your divorce online using a firm or a private attorney to assist you in preparing your initial forms for submission. However, once the forms are complete, you will need to file them in person at your local courthouse.

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In most cases, you’ll file at the courthouse in the county in which you currently live.

Can I Mail Divorce Papers?

After you file with the court, you must serve divorce paperwork to your spouse either by having a sheriff or a private constable complete the action. You cannot mail the papers.

After service is complete, you’ll receive a verification that the paperwork was served and you’ll submit that document to the court.

If you can’t find your spouse, you’ll need to notify the court who may give you the option of publishing the divorce notice in a local newspaper. This is called service by publication.

Refusing or Contesting a Divorce

If someone wants to divorce you, there is no way to refuse the process. You will wind up divorced one way or another.

You can either decide to work out the issues with your spouse in advance, or you may disagree on various issues, in which case you’ll enter into a contested divorce.

Contested divorces take longer and are more expensive but sometimes this process is the best way to go to protect your interests from an uncooperative spouse.

How Long Does a Divorce Take in Rhode Island?

How Long Does a Divorce Take

It depends on the type of divorce you go through.

The Rhode Island Family Court fast tracks uncontested divorces. You can have a hearing scheduled in about 60 to 75 days after filing your initial paperwork.

In some cases, if you have resolved all the issues and the court agrees, the divorce can be granted that day.

There are also some instances when the initial waiting period is waived and a divorce is granted immediately after the initial paperwork is filed.

The waiver requires both parties to sign an agreement requesting expedited treatment and affirming there is absolutely no chance of a reconciliation.

A divorce does not become final until either the expiration of either a 21-day or 90-day additional waiting period after the first hearing.

If the divorce was granted on the grounds of “irreconcilable differences” then the 90-day additional waiting period applies. If the divorce was granted on the grounds that the parties lived “separate and apart for at least 3 years” then the 21-day additional waiting period.

When disagreeing on certain issues and enter into a contested divorce, you’ll need to negotiate those issues to reach an agreement. Depending on the complexity of your issues and the degree of cooperation with your spouse, this could take several months to resolve, possibly through mediation or another form of collaborative divorce.

When you can’t reach an agreement, you will have to go to trial to resolve your divorce. This could easily take a year or longer.

Is There a Waiting Period?

You must meet one-year residency requirements in Rhode Island before you can file for a divorce. After you file, there is typically a 60 to a 75-day waiting period for an uncontested divorce.

In some cases, you can agree to a waiver which may result in only a 21-day or 90-day waiting period

The actual time to have a divorce hearing depends on court caseloads and the availability of judges to review and approve your request.

Expediting Your Divorce

There are some things you can do to minimize the timeframe of divorce in Rhode Island.

The most obvious of these is the work with your spouse and reach agreement on all issues before you go through a divorce. Uncontested divorces are the fastest, cheapest, and least stressful of all options.

When you both agree and file for an uncontested divorce, you’ll minimize court appearances, and a judge will only need to review the terms of your settlement before rendering a final decision to approve it.

When you can’t reach an agreement, consider mediation or a collaborative divorce. You’ll still save time instead of going to trial, but the process will take more time than an uncontested divorce.

If you litigate a divorce, you can expedite your case by being responsive to requests for information. Be thorough and timely in your replies.

Also be sure to appear on time for all court dates and be ready to be flexible in deciding what’s important for you versus what you are willing to give up in a negotiation.

The bottom line is that the more confrontational you are, the longer the divorce will take.

What is the Cost of a Divorce in Rhode Island?

Cost of a Divorce

The cost to file for divorce in Rhode Island is approximately $150. You may need to pay an additional $40 if you hire a sheriff to serve papers on your spouse.

If your income is below a certain level, the court may waive your fee. You will need to file a form called an In Forma Pauperis petition which you can get at the court clerk’s office, along with income requirements to qualify.

Cancel or Stopping a Divorce

In Rhode Island, if you are the plaintiff in a divorce and you have filed your paperwork but your divorce hasn’t been finalized, you can file a Motion to Dismiss to cancel or stop your case.

You can’t file this motion if you are the defendant.

After your divorce has been finalized by the court, there is no way to cancel it. If you want to reconcile with your spouse, you will need to get married again.

Contested vs. Uncontested Divorces

A contested divorce means that you and your spouse do not agree on all the issues related to ending your marriage. You will have to negotiate the contested issues or appear in front of a judge who will decide the issues during a trial.

An uncontested divorce means that you and your spouse agree on all the issues related to divorce in advance of going to court. It is the simplest, cheapest and quickest way to get a divorce.

Fault-based vs No-fault Divorce

What is a No-fault Divorce 1

Rhode Island allows you to get a divorce by citing specific reasons for divorce (fault-based) or by simply declaring irreconcilable differences with no hope of repairing the marriage (no-fault).

No-fault divorces are streamlined, and save time, costs, and stress for both sides.

Decree of Divorce vs Proof of Divorce

Divorce Decree

A divorce decree is a court’s final order granting you a divorce. It contains full details of the terms of your divorce, including a division of assets, alimony, child support and custody instructions, and other important legalities. It is a legally enforceable document. When the decree is finalized, you are single and free to marry again.

Divorce certificates are much less detailed, only stating that two people divorced, as well as when and where the divorce took place.

To get a divorce certificate you can go in person to the Clerk of the Family Court where your divorce was granted, as long as you have a valid ID and pay the required fee of $3. You can also get a certificate by mail, also requesting a certificate from the Clerk of the Family Court where the divorce was granted.

You’ll need to supply the following information:

  • Name of husband
  • Name of wife
  • Date of decree
  • Place of decree
  • Applicant’s name and address
  • Applicant’s phone number
  • Reason for the certificate request
  • Your relationship as an applicant to the Registrant
  • Applicant signature
  • Photocopy of Govt Issued ID

According to Rhode Island state law, vital records are confidential.

This means only those individuals who have what is called a “Direct and Tangible Interest” in the records may have access to records. That includes persons named on the certificate or an immediate family member, attorneys, title examiners, or persons granted court orders.

Bifurcated Divorce

In a bifurcated divorce, a judge will allow a couple to divide the case into two separate legal actions. This bifurcation may take place when certain issues can be resolved, but a few key issues cannot be decided.

Some states allow this as an option, but Rhode Island does not.

All issues such as child custody, visitation, support, distribution of property, and attorney fees must be resolved completely prior to reaching a divorce agreement.

How Does Infidelity Affect Divorce in Rhode Island?

Adultery is one of the fault-based reasons for divorce in Rhode Island. It can have an impact on a division of assets, child support, and alimony, depending on the unique circumstances of a case.

Changing Your Name

You will be presented either an option to restore your former name or request a court order for changing names when preparing your divorce forms.

The name change will be granted as part of your divorce. You can choose to receive a separate court order to make your name change official, or you can have your name change recorded on the final divorce decree. Both of these documents are acceptable for all US agencies and organizations as evidence of your name change.

Just having a court order does not mean your name change has taken effect. You will need to contact all of your organizations to request your records are updated.

It’s best to begin by updating your name with the Social Security Administration. Once complete, you can go on to change names everywhere else.

It’s a long process to contact each company and figure out what to send where. To lighten the load, we recommend using an Easy Name Change kit to prevent the 10+ hours of paperwork and research that you would have to do by yourself.

Read More: 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Changing my Last Name

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