The Basics

When beginning the divorce process in Rhode Island, it is important to determine whether the divorce is contested or uncontested?

In answering this question, a party can gain a better understanding of what awaits them in the legal system as they begin this difficult process.

Contested or Uncontested?

The question of whether a divorce is contested or not comes down to whether the parties have been able to come to an agreement on the terms of their separation before filing for divorce.

If filing for an uncontested divorce, both parties have usually agreed ahead of filing divorce on ALL issues including the division of property, alimony, child support, and child custody. They may have worked this out individually, through their attorneys, or in professional mediation.

An uncontested divorce is not filed claiming that a spouse was at fault for the breakdown of the marriage. Instead A party simply states that irreconcilable differences exists between them, without adding any further specificity in their divorce complaint.  The basis for filing a divorce alleging fault will be discuss further in the next section.

Uncontested divorces are assigned a “nominal” date, generally 2-3 months from the date of filing which is sooner than if they had filed a contested divorce. The first Court date for cases field as contested are usually 4-6 months form the initial filing.

At the Nominal divorce date, the parties can tell the Court of their agreement and seek approval of the same.

Often, an attorney will file an uncontested divorce even though there are a issues still outstanding. This is done in order to secure an earlier Court date because the attorney believes the issues are most likely to be resolved through brief negotiation. If the parties are unable to reach consensus and tell the Court their agreement at the nominal divorce date, the case is automatically added to the contested track. Most divorces eventually end up on the contested divorce calendar if even only for a brief time.


The State of Rhode Island recognizes certain grounds for divorce, including the following:

  • Adultery: This is one of the most common grounds for divorce in Rhode Island and is considered as sexual relations with a person other than one’s spouse, and it is still technically considered a crime. As such, the details of a divorce case involving adultery may be kept private more so than cases based on other grounds. Adultery can also impact settlements on alimony and child support, with extra consideration given to the wronged party.
  • Extreme Cruelty: This may include, but is not limited to verbal belittlement, demands for intercourse or marital rape, and threatening the other spouse with a firearm. Using cruel and abusive treatment as a grounds for divorce allows the possibility of a civil suit against the abusive spouse as well.
  • Neglect and Failure to Provide Support: When one spouse is able to provide for the other but evinces complete disregard for the necessities of the aggrieved part, and has done so “grossly, wantonly, and cruelly,” this may be used as grounds for divorce.
  • Impotency: While uncommon today because of the availability of medical treatments, the law defines this as a complete inability to have conjugal relations long-term or permanently.
  • Intoxication: When one spouse’s alcoholism or other substance abuse issue is lasting, excessive, voluntary, and provable to the court, intoxication is a grounds for divorce in Massachusetts. If one partner seeks treatment, or the intoxication otherwise resolves prior to filing for divorce, it cannot be used as a grounds for divorce.
  • Willful Desertion: When one spouse leaves the other, without the consent of the other spouse, and leaves the residence to reside elsewhere for more than a year, with no intention of ever resuming marital life, this is utter desertion. Intent is important; a soldier deploying on a tour of duty may be gone for more than a year, but has the intention of returning home to resume marital relations with his or her spouse.

What Next?

Presented with this information, you may be feeling more overwhelmed than reassured. We understand. At our firm, we are committed to providing both competent legal counsel and the reassurance you need during this difficult time. Call our office today to discuss your family’s unique situation.