by Attorney Christopher E. Heberg –

No one enters a marriage with the idea that it is going to end in divorce. However, for many couples a divorce is the only alternative for an unhappy and difficult situation. If you’re considering filing for divorce in Rhode Island, you should make sure you understand the divorce process.

A divorce commences when one spouse (the plaintiff) files a Complaint for Divorce. The complaint is similar to other Court actions, in that it is the formal initiation of legal proceedings, and it requires a response or answer from the other spouse (the Defendant).

At the outset, the case is either assigned to the contested or uncontested track. Most divorces in RI are filed upon the grounds of Irreconcilable Differences. If you file a divorce upon these grounds it will be most likely be assigned for an initial agreed upon divorce date. This date is generally 60 days from the date of filing and more commonly known as the Nominal Date.

If you are forced to seek emergency relief or intervention from the Court, like the filing of a restraining order, or awarding of Custody, your case will automatically be placed upon the contested divorce track. Your case will also be placed on the contested track if you need interim Alimony, or child support. You can seek this relief through the filing of a Motion for Temporary Allowances.

If you have a complete agreement, on every single possible issue, you may divorce on the Nominal date. If you cannot reach a complete agreement at this time, your case will immediately be added to the contested track and you will attend Court periodically, generally every 6-8 weeks, until you are able to reach an agreement.

During this period, both sides exchange information and attempt to resolve any issues, such as child custody, division of pensions and 401K’s, and what to do with the marital home. This is generally done directly by your attorney and through the use of Interrogatories (questions) and Request for Production of Documents (demand for documents). You almost always have to answer all of the questions asked of you, completely and truthfully, even if they ask for information which is harmful to your case.

Once all of the assets and debts are identified and valued, you can begin the process of determining how to distribute them. Each side generally proposes resolutions to the other and the issues outstanding are refined and slowly resolved.

During this time you will still attend Court periodically. During your Court dates the Judge may assist the parties in trying to reach an agreement. This is most often done in an informal manner and may include the attorneys meeting with the Judge in a conference. This conference is often private and allows attorneys to frankly and openly discuss the issues of the case with a Judge. Judges will make suggestions on how best to help the parties resolve their differences.

If the parties are still unable to reach an agreement, the case will eventually be assigned to a contested trial date. During a contested trial, the judge hears evidence from both sides, including live witnesses, exhibits and expert opinions. The Judge will grant the divorce and decide all issues in a manner he sees appropriate and in accordance with the law. Neither party may like the decisions of the Judge, but his decisions are almost always final. If a Judge makes a rare legal mistake you may be able to Appeal his decision, but this can delay your case for years and cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Whatever road your divorce takes, it’s important to have the proper support system. That includes a good lawyer who understands divorce laws in Rhode Island.