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Rhode Island Divorce Laws and Timelines 

9 min read
Rachael Goldstein, Attorney

by Rachael Goldstein, Attorney

Divorce can be a difficult and emotional process for everyone involved. Understanding Rhode Island’s laws governing divorce can provide clarity during this transition.

The time it takes to get divorced in Rhode Island varies based on whether a divorce is contested or uncontested (that is, whether or not both spouses have agreed on specifics of key issues like property division and custody before filing).

How Long Do Divorces in Rhode Island Take?

Uncontested Divorces

For uncontested divorces, initial hearings are typically scheduled around 75 days from the date of filing to make sure there are no contested issues. However, there is a further waiting period after this initial hearing. 

If an uncontested divorce is filed under the grounds of irreconcilable differences, there is a 90-day waiting period from the date of the initial  hearing before the divorce is finalized. Divorces granted on the basis of living separate and apart only have a 21-day waiting period from the initial hearing.

Contested Divorce

Contested divorces in Rhode Island tend to be lengthier processes. After filing the petition, initial hearing dates are usually scheduled three or four months after filing. Actually finalizing a divorce takes significantly longer, as the parties must go through discovery, mediation, pre-trial conferences, and potentially a trial. In some of these cases, the divorce could process could go on for years. However, spouses will have the opportunity to finalize their divorce sooner if they can both come to an agreement.

Divorce Process in Rhode Island

When filing for a divorce in Rhode Island, it can be either contested or uncontested, which has an effect on the process. 

Uncontested Divorce

This type of divorce happens when spouses have mutually agreed on all important aspects regarding their separation, such as child custody and support, the division of assets and debts, and alimony payments. This agreement streamlines the legal process considerably, as the parties are telling the court that there are no outstanding disputes that require resolution.

The process for an uncontested divorce in Rhode Island includes the following steps: 

Step 1: Drafting and Preparing Documents 

You or your lawyer will begin with creating a Complaint for Divorce along with necessary supporting paperwork. In an uncontested divorce, this will include a marital settlement agreement that details the agreements made regarding asset division and any matters pertaining to children.

Step 2: Filing and Serving

Once prepared, these documents are formally filed with the court. Copies must be served on your spouse as formal notice of the impending divorce proceedings.

Step 3: Court Date Set

When you file for an uncontested divorce, your case is typically set up with what’s known as a “nominal” court date. This hearing usually takes place between two and three months after filing.

Step 4: Court Hearing Attendance

You’ll attend the hearing where the judge will review your documentation to ensure everything is thorough and accurate. The court may also ask some questions to confirm that the agreement is fair and entered into voluntarily by both parties. Once satisfied with these conditions, the judge will issue your Final Judgment of Divorce officially dissolving the marriage.

Contested Divorce 

If spouses can’t agree on important matters such as asset distribution or child custody arrangements, then it will be a contested divorce. These cases will take longer and involve more complex procedures, as the court will need to step in to make decisions dividing property, establishing custody agreements, and making determinations about spousal support.

The process for a contested divorce in Rhode Island typically includes the following steps: 

Step 1: Drafting and Preparing Documents 

Much like with an uncontested divorce, you’ll start by preparing a Complaint for Divorce and filing it in court. 

Step 2: Filing and Serving

The completed documents will be filed with the court and served on your spouse.

Step 3: Consider Mediation

Parties are typically encouraged to work with a mediator (a neutral third-party facilitator) in hopes of coming to an amicable agreement on disputed matters.

Step 4: Attend Hearings

Throughout the divorce process there may be several instances where you’ll need to attend court hearings. These relate primarily to provisional matters that require immediate attention, like temporary child support orders or custody arrangements while the divorce is ongoing.

Step 5: Discovery Phase

Once hearings for temporary orders are complete, the discovery phase begins. This phase involves exchanging all relevant documents and information between spouses that pertain to assets, debts, income, and any other factors important in determining settlements.

Step 6: Pre-Trial Conferences

These meetings take place before an actual trial occurs. Their main purpose is to outline contested issues still present after mediation efforts and continue to encourage settlement. Pre-trial conferences provide another opportunity for both parties and the judge to assess which matters could be resolved ahead of trial.

Step 7: Divorce Trial if Necessary

If mediation fails to resolve disputed aspects and parties remain at odds, the case then progresses to a divorce trial.

While contested divorces in Rhode Island could lead to a trial, this actually occurs infrequently. Rhode Island family courts are known for emphasizing divorce settlements outside of the courtroom – judges strongly encourage couples to work towards agreements without resorting to trial.

Residency Requirements for Rhode Island Divorce

To be eligible for a divorce in Rhode Island, residency requirements must be met. At least one spouse must have been a resident of the state for a minimum of one year immediately prior to filing for divorce. This established residency ensures the Rhode Island courts have appropriate jurisdiction over your case.

Approximate Cost to File for Divorce in Rhode Island 

In Rhode Island, the minimum filing fee for a divorce is $160. However, this does not include additional charges that may apply in your specific case. For instance, choosing to file electronically incurs extra costs and credit card processing fees.

Legal representation isn’t mandatory but often plays a crucial role in navigating the divorce process. Attorney fees can be expensive and vary widely based on numerous factors such as case complexity, attorney experience, and reputation.

For those concerned about cost but don’t want to sacrifice legal assistance, ‘unbundled services’ might provide an effective alternative. This allows you to hire a lawyer for only specific tasks related to your divorce rather than having to pay a lawyer to handle every aspect of the process. You might decide to hire a lawyer just for advice on filling forms or negotiating child custody arrangements, which can significantly reduce costs while still providing expert guidance where it’s most needed.

Recognized Reasons for Divorce in Rhode Island

Rhode Island recognizes both fault and no-fault grounds for divorce, offering options based on the specifics of your marital situation.

No-Fault Grounds

In cases where neither spouse is blamed for the breakdown of marriage, a judge may grant a divorce on no-fault grounds – irreconcilable differences that have led to an irrevocable collapse in the relationship. You can also file for divorce under no-fault grounds if you and your spouse have been living apart for three years.

Fault Grounds

Alternatively, a person can pursue a fault-based divorce, citing specific wrongful conduct by their spouse as reason for ending the marriage. Examples of fault-based reasons include adultery, cruelty, desertion, neglect, and “gross misbehavior” or “wickedness” that violates the vows of marriage – examples include sexually inappropriate or immoral behavior.

While Rhode Island divorces are typically filed under no-fault grounds, conduct during the marriage, such as affairs or abuse, might still influence judicial decisions regarding property division. Demonstrating fault could tilt asset distribution more favorably towards the innocent spouse.

Division of Property in Rhode Island Divorces

In Rhode Island, the division of property during divorce proceedings follows an “equitable distribution” framework rather than splitting marital assets down the middle. This means that courts aim to achieve a fair or equitable, though not necessarily equal, allocation of shared property amongst divorcing spouses. 

While considering asset distribution in Rhode Island divorce cases, numerous factors are taken into account by the court, including: 

  • The length of your marriage
  • Both parties’ behavior during the marriage
  • The health of both parties
  • Income and employability of both parties
  • Services provided by either spouse as a homemaker 
  • The occupation and employability of each of the parties
  • The presence and specific needs related to any shared children 

Courts are granted considerable discretion in assigning weight to these factors; none of these factors necessarily overpowers the others when a judge is making decisions related to assets and property. Ultimately, the goal for the courts is to reach a fair and equitable outcome.

Alimony Considerations in Rhode Island

When considering alimony in Rhode Island, courts generally view it as rehabilitative, meaning it is to support a spouse only until they can support themselves. However, long-term or even permanent alimony might be awarded if one spouse is unable to gain employment due to disability or other compelling reasons that impact their ability to become self-sufficient.

Alimony determinations in Rhode Island are determined by balancing various factors, including: 

  • The duration of the marriage
  • Standard of living during the marriage 
  • Both spouses’ age, physical state, and mental well-being 
  • Income or potential to earn income for both parties 
  • Each party’s contribution to marital property  
  • Reasons behind the divorce 
  • Child custody determinations

The court can typically consider any factors it deems relevant when determining if alimony will be awarded.

Child Custody Considerations in Rhode Island

In Rhode Island, child custody considerations center around the well-being and best interests of the child. Whenever possible, parents are encouraged to collaboratively determine arrangements for their children’s care without court intervention. When these matters are agreed upon, a judge must review it and will typically give approval as long as it is in the best interest of the child. 

When child custody arrangements can’t be agreed to, the Rhode Island Supreme Court has outlined several key factors that a judge must consider in order to make this determination:

  • The parents’ wishes
  • The child’s preference, in some cases 
  • The child’s interactions and relationships with the parents and siblings
  • The stability of the child’s environment at home
  • The mental and physical health of the child 
  • The parents’ moral fitness
  • Each parent’s willingness and ability to ensure that the child continues to have a close relationship with the other parent

The factors listed above only represent part of what judges can consider when determining child custody. Rhode Island courts will look at any relevant information affecting the welfare and best interests of the child.

Divorce can be an emotionally draining experience that brings with it a host of legal complexities, but you don’t have to face this challenging journey alone. If financial considerations are a concern, don’t forget about unbundled legal services. This can offer you the support and expertise of an attorney for specific tasks or moments where you need it most, making this process more manageable both legally and financially.

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