How to get divorced in Rhode Island

Tags: Online Divorce, Rhode Island

Image: S. Goodwin / iStock

By Valerie Keene

Published Jul 27, 2022

Rhode island divorce requirement

  • You can file for divorce in the state of Rhode Island as long as either your spouse or you have resided in the state for a minimum of at least 1 year before filing for divorce.

  • In Rhode Island, you and your spouse are eligible for a “separate and apart” divorce if you have been living apart from each other for 3 or more years.

  • If your spouse and you have not been apart for a period of 3 years, then you can get a “nominal divorce”; however, you will have to wait for 3 months before the divorce gets finalized.

  • Typically, in Rhode Island, an uncontested divorce is heard in the court 75 days after the divorce petition is filed; however, in some cases, this waiting period may be canceled.

  • There is one more waiting period that starts after the hearing and depending on the grounds for divorce this waiting period can be either 21 or 90 days. If both spouses have lived apart for a minimum period of 3 years, then the waiting period is 21 days and if the divorce is on basis of “irreconcilable differences”, then the waiting period is 90 days.

The “fault-based” grounds for divorce in Rhode Island are:

  • Adultery

  • Impotence

  • Drug addiction and/or alcoholism

  • Abandonment by spouse or spouse presumed to be dead

  • Willful desertion for 5 years (or for a lesser number of years as per the judge’s discretion)

  • Inhuman or cruel treatment

  • Gross neglect

  • Bigamy

Step 1: Starting your divorce

Documents Needed for Filing for Divorce

  • Complaint for Divorce: This identifies both spouses, starts the divorce action and defines the grounds.

  • Verification: This endorses the truth and accuracy of the Complaint.

  • Marital Settlement Agreement: Defines the terms and conditions of the division of the marital property.

  • Uccja (Declaration Under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act): Has the details of the custody of minor children.

  • Schedule for Visitation (Minor Children): If there are minor children, then this form defines the visitation schedule.

  • Child Support Guidelines, Worksheet & Income Table: Defines the support of minor children.

  • Entry of Appearance & Waiver of Service: The respondent enters an appearance in action and waives the Service of Process. This means that the divorce is not contested and can be concluded quickly.

  • Notice of Hearing: Places the respondent on notice that there will be a hearing for the action.

  • Final Judgment of Divorce: This ends the marriage when the judge signs the divorce decree.

Filing Your Forms

In the state of Rhode Island, the divorce forms can be obtained from the court directly. The plaintiff must fill out the Complaint and Verification form and submit it at the family court in the county where he/she resides. The divorce forms must be filed along with a filing fee; however, if your income is below a certain level, you can file the In Forma Pauperis petition and the court may waive the fee.

You can file your divorce in the county where the defendant spouse resides if he/she meets the domicile requirement or you can file it in Providence County. There are 4 family courts in Rhode Island, one court for each of the counties except for Bristol and Providence counties that are covered by a single court.

When the divorce complaint and verification are filed with the county court, you will receive a blank “Summons” that you must serve on your spouse after filling the details of your case i.e. the case name, the family court name and docket number provided by the court clerk.

Step 2: Legally notify your spouse

Once the divorce forms are filed, you must serve the copy of the divorce complaint and the summons on your spouse.

You can serve the forms in the following ways:

  • You can use the sheriff of the county where your spouse resides or works to deliver the papers for a fee.

  • You can use a private authorized Rhode Island constable to serve the documents for a fee.

Both the sheriff and the constable will then return the proof that the defendant was served.

The Missouri law requires that the respondent be served with the petition for dissolution copy by one of the methods as below:

  • The respondent is served by the county sheriff in the place where he/she resides or works.

  • Receiving the divorce petition via a private process server.

The respondent can complete the “Answer” if he/she does not want to be served the petition directly. By completing the answer, the respondent spouse acknowledges that he/she has received the copy of the petition and the court has authority over the divorce case.

The answer can also be made use of to file the respondent spouse’s response to the petition, where the respondent can agree or disagree with any of the statements presented by the petitioner in the divorce petition.

Step 3: Contested or uncontested?

Contested Divorce (High Costs)

If by the date of the nominal hearing, your spouse and you have been unable to agree on all the terms of the divorce, then your case will become a contested one and a date will be assigned for a status or case management conference. In this meeting, the lawyers will meet the judge and explain the various issues that have not been decided, for which the judge may give his/her suggestions.

The date will then be set for the pre-trial conference and the lawyers will document all the issues and prepare the paperwork with details of the facts that both spouses plan to prove in the court, the witnesses’ names, etc.

If you do not reach an agreement on the various issues with your spouse, then the divorce case will go to trial and both the spouses must then present their witnesses and evidence to support their case and then the judge will issue his/her decision.

Uncontested Divorce (Low Costs)

In the case of an uncontested divorce, both parties agree to end their marriage and also agree on how the various issues related to the divorce such as property division and alimony will be resolved.

In Rhode Island, the easiest way in which you can get an uncontested divorce is a no-fault divorce, where you tell the court that your spouse and you agree on all the terms of the divorce and also the reason for the divorce.

A no-fault divorce is when one of the parties claims that there are “irreconcilable differences” which are beyond repair. Even if one of the spouses, or both, are at fault and the cause of these differences, the court does not consider the fault. And, avoiding claims that a spouse is at fault actually can simplify the process of divorce.

In an uncontested divorce, both spouses should resolve all the financial issues before the final divorce is granted by the court. Issues such as property division or alimony cannot be brought to the court after the divorce becomes final and both spouses lose the right to make any claims.

Step 4: Do it yourself or get a lawyer?

DIY divorce Papers (Slower & Least Costly)

A “do-it-yourself” divorce or a “Pro Se” divorce is one without a lawyer and in Rhode Island, you can represent yourself in the court in the case of an uncontested divorce.

A DIY divorce is a great and inexpensive option if you do not have a lot of property that needs to be divided or your spouse and you don’t have any children. And, if you agree on all the issues with your spouse and you are well organized, then you can have a Settlement Agreement with your spouse and arrange a DIY divorce very quickly.

Online Divorce Services (Fastest & Inexpensive)

If you agree on all the issues with your spouse and your divorce is an uncontested one, then you do not need to spend a lot on your divorce. However, if you’re not very sure of how to go about preparing all the necessary divorce forms, you can take the help of an online divorce service.

An online service will prepare all the divorce forms that will be customized as per your situation and according to the rules of your county. The online service will provide the completed forms and all you need to do is sign the documents that have been prepared for you and submit it with the county court with the filing fee.

Attorney Divorce Trial (Longer & Expensive)

If you don’t reach an agreement regarding the various issues with your spouse, then the divorce case will go to trial. Both the spouses must then present their witnesses and evidence to support their case at the trial to the judge and then the judge will issue his/her decisions on all the disputed issues.

Usually, both spouses must hire divorce lawyers who will present their case in court in a contested divorce. However, a divorce trial takes a long time and is also quite expensive.

Step 5: The main issues

Property division

In Rhode Island, the marital property of both spouses is divided equitably in the case of a divorce and any property that owned by a spouse before the marriage and any property that is received as a gift or inherited before or during the marriage is called separate property and is not divided.

However, any income of property that was acquired during the marriage will be divided and the court will consider the following factors:

  • Length of the marriage.

  • Contribution of each of the spouses to the purchase, maintenance and appreciation of the value in marital property and also the contribution of each of the spouses as a homemaker.

  • Ages and health of each spouse.

  • Sources of income and amount of each spouse.

  • Behavior of both spouses when they were married and during the divorce.

  • Occupation of each spouse and their overall employability.

  • Contribution of each spouse for the training, education, business, licensure or the increase in the earning ability of the other spouse.

  • Need of the custodial parent to own or occupy the marital property and own or use the property to provide for the children.

  • Wasteful use, destruction or unfair transfer of any of the assets during the divorce by either spouse.

  • Opportunity of each spouse to acquire income and assets.

  • Any other relevant factors.

Alimony / Spousal Support

Sometimes also called alimony, spousal support may be awarded to one spouse by the court to help him/her live comfortably after the divorce. The support may be decided by both spouses together before filing for divorce or in the case of a contested divorce, the spousal support may be decided by the court.

The spousal support can be awarded to either spouse after legal separation or divorce and the spousal support will be determined after considering the following factors:

  • Length of the marriage.

  • Standard of living maintained during the marriage.

  • Extent to which each spouse cannot support himself/herself.

  • Extent to which either of the spouses would not be able to support himself/herself because of his/her position as the custodian of the child whose age, circumstances and condition do not support the parent to work outside the home.

  • Extent to which one of the spouses was unable to seek employment because of fulfilling his/her responsibilities as a homemaker.

  • Extent to which the education of a spouse has become outdated and has resulted in diminished earning capacity.

  • The expense and time needed for the spouse seeking support to get the appropriate training or education to develop skills and be employed.

  • Probability of a spouse to complete training or education to become self-supporting given his/her age and skills.

  • Behavior of both spouses during their marriage.

  • Age, health, station, occupation, sources and amount of income, employability and vocational skills of both spouses.

  • Needs and liabilities of the spouses.

  • Opportunity of either of the spouses for the future income and purchase of capital assets.

  • Capability of the spouse paying support to pay considering the spouse’s earning capacity, standard of living, assets, debts, income that is earned and unearned.

  • Any other relevant factors.

Child Custody & Support

In case there are minor children, then the custody of the children will be determined after taking into consideration their best interests. Unless it is harmful to the child, reasonable visitation must be granted to the parent who has not been given the child’s custody. Rhode Island does not have a provision for joint custody, although this can be adopted by agreement between the parents.

All the standard rules and regulations pertaining to child support will apply to all divorce cases in Rhode Island except if the circumstances are extraordinary. The gross incomes and some of the expenses related to the child will be considered when the child support amount is calculated. Child support will continue until the child is 18 years of age and can continue until the secondary education of the child is completed.

The child support will be decided after considering the following factors:

  • Standard of living of the child if the parents were not filing for divorce.

  • The child’s financial resources.

  • The child’s educational, physical and emotional requirements.

  • Non-custodial parent’s requirements.

  • Financial resources of the custodial and non-custodial parent.

  • Any other relevant factors.

Step 6: Finalizing your divorce in Rhode Island

You must prepare the divorce petition and all the financial documents and file them with the court. Once this is done, the court will assign the date for the “nominal hearing” around 11 weeks after the date of filing.

In the case of a nominal hearing, if your spouse and you agree on all the issues of the divorce or if your spouse does not file a response with the court or does not appear at the hearing, then this is the only hearing that will be held and the judge may issue a ruling.

In case your spouse does not attend the hearing, then you must bring along two witnesses who can attest that either your spouse/you or both of you meet the residency requirement of Rhode Island, that there have been “irreconcilable differences” in the marriage and that your spouse and you have/have not been living apart. If both parties appear in the court for the hearing, then only one witness is sufficient.

After the nominal divorce hearing or the contested divorce trial, the attorneys will put together the final divorce agreement which includes the child custody and property division and this document is submitted to the court and must be approved by the judge. Once this is done, the divorce will be finalized by the judge.