Divorce in Rhode Island: Everything You Need to Know

1 min readLast updated March 26, 2024by Unbiased team

Discover everything you need to know about getting a divorce in Rhode Island, from the different processes to the cost.

Summary

  • Rhode Island recognizes both no-fault and fault-based divorces, offering couples options based on their unique circumstances. 

  • No-fault divorces are more common in Rhode Island due to their simplicity and the absence of the need to prove fault, speeding up the resolution process.

  • Uncontested divorces can be more straightforward and less expensive, while contested divorces can lead to higher costs due to the increased need for legal services and court time.

  • A financial advisor can help you protect your finances through a divorce and develop a long-term plan to rebuild afterward. 

What are the different types of divorce in Rhode Island?

Rhode Island recognizes both no-fault and fault-based divorces, offering couples options based on their unique circumstances.

  • No-Fault Divorce: In a no-fault divorce, neither spouse needs to prove the other's misconduct as the cause of the divorce. This category includes two grounds:

    • Irreconcilable Differences: This ground is cited when spouses can no longer get along, leading to an "irremediable breakdown of the marriage."

    • Separation: If spouses have lived apart for at least three years, whether by choice or circumstance, they can file for divorce based on this ground.

  • Fault-Based Divorce: Fault-based divorces require one spouse to prove the other's wrongdoing, which contributed to the marriage's failure. Grounds for a fault-based divorce in Rhode Island include:

    • Adultery

    • Extreme cruelty

    • Willful desertion for five years

    • Any other gross misbehavior and wickedness in violation of the marriage covenant

No-fault divorces are more common in Rhode Island due to their simplicity and the absence of the need to prove fault, speeding up the resolution process.

How much does a divorce cost in Rhode Island?

The cost of a divorce in Rhode Island can vary widely depending on the complexity of the case, whether it's contested, and the need for legal representation. 

Here are key factors that influence the overall cost:

  • Filing fees: The process of divorce begins with filing a complaint for divorce in court, which incurs a fee. These fees vary by county but typically start around $160.   Additional costs may arise for filing motions or other documents during the divorce process.

  • Attorney fees: Legal fees are the most significant variable cost in a divorce. Attorneys in Rhode Island may charge hourly rates that range widely, with an average rate from $200 to $400 per hour. The total cost will depend on the complexity of the divorce and the length of time it takes to resolve.

  • Mediation costs: Mediation can be a cost-effective alternative for couples looking to avoid a contentious court battle. Mediation fees are generally lower than hiring two separate attorneys and can expedite the resolution process.

  • Miscellaneous expenses: Other costs may include court-mandated courses for divorcing couples, fees for serving documents, and expenses related to dividing assets, such as home appraisals or financial analysis.

Uncontested divorces can be more straightforward and less expensive; contested divorces, especially those involving custody disputes or significant asset division, can lead to higher costs due to the increased need for legal services and court time.

How do you file for divorce in Rhode Island?

Filing for divorce in Rhode Island, whether uncontested or contested, requires a detailed understanding of the process and necessary paperwork. 

Here's how you can navigate the process: 

  1. Gather necessary documents: Start by filing a complaint (the divorce petition) along with financial disclosure forms and any other required documentation.

  2. Obtain forms: Most forms are available from the family court clerk's office in the county where you'll file - the petitioner's residence or the defendant's if the petitioner meets residency criteria. Forms may also be found online at the Rhode Island Judiciary website.

  3. Submit the forms: Confirm with the court clerk whether to file paperwork electronically, in person, or by mail. Here, you can call the clerk, visit the court, or utilize the Family Court's "Virtual Clerk Help Desk."

  4. Serve the complaint: You then must notify your spouse of the divorce action. This can be done through various methods, including sheriff's service or certified mail, ensuring they receive the complaint and summons.

  5. Wait for a response: After service, the other spouse has a specific timeframe to respond, either agreeing to the terms, contesting them, or filing counterclaims.

  6. Proceed according to divorce type: The next steps depend on the type of divorce filed. Uncontested divorces might move quickly to settlement agreements, while contested cases could require mediation, discovery, and court appearances.

How do you split assets in a divorce in Rhode Island?

Asset division in Rhode Island divorces adheres to the principles of equitable distribution. This means marital assets are split fairly, though not necessarily equally, based on a set of factors. 

Initially, assets and debts must be classified as either marital (acquired during the marriage) or separate (owned before marriage or received as a gift/inheritance).

The value of all marital property is then assessed. This may involve professional appraisals for real estate, businesses, or unique assets.

The assets can then be split. Rhode Island courts consider several factors when dividing assets, including:

  • The length of the marriage.

  • The conduct of the parties during the marriage.

  • The contribution of each spouse to the acquisition, preservation, or appreciation in value of their respective estates.

  • Each spouse’s contribution as a homemaker.

  • The economic circumstances of each spouse at the time the division of property becomes effective.

  • The age, health, and station in life of each spouse.

  • The earning capacity of each spouse, including skills, employment, and employability.

Couples can agree to divide assets through negotiation or mediation. 

If an agreement cannot be reached, the court will decide based on equitable distribution factors.

How does alimony work in Rhode Island?

In Rhode Island, alimony, also known as spousal support, is a financial payment one spouse makes to the other during or after a divorce. 

The purpose of alimony is to prevent unfair economic impacts on the lower-earning spouse as a result of the divorce. 

Not every divorce includes alimony. Eligibility depends on one spouse's need for financial support and the other's ability to pay.

The court considers numerous factors when determining alimony, including:

  • The length of the marriage.

  • Each spouse's behavior during the marriage.

  • The age and health of both spouses.

  • The financial and employment circumstances of each spouse.

  • The ability of each spouse to maintain a standard of living similar to that during the marriage.

  • The time and resources needed for the receiving spouse to become financially independent.

Rhode Island may award temporary alimony during the divorce process, short-term alimony for rehabilitation purposes, or long-term or permanent alimony in cases of long marriages or when the receiving spouse cannot become self-supporting.

Alimony can be modified or terminated based on a significant change in circumstances, such as the financial situation of either spouse or the recipient's remarriage or cohabitation.

What happens to children during a divorce in Rhode Island?

The family courts in Rhode Island prioritize decisions that best serve the children's interests, particularly concerning custody, support, and overall welfare. 

  • Child custody

Rhode Island distinguishes between physical custody (where the child lives) and legal custody (who makes important decisions regarding the child). 

The court considers many factors, including the preferences of the child (if old enough), the relationship each child has with both parents, the parent's ability to cooperate and communicate, and the stability of the environment each parent can provide.

  • Child Support

The state uses a formula to calculate child support, which considers both parents' incomes, the number of children, and other relevant factors to ensure that children maintain a standard of living similar to what they would have experienced if the marriage had not dissolved. 

The formula aims to distribute the financial responsibility of raising the children fairly.

  • Adjustments and modifications

Life circumstances change, and Rhode Island law allows for the modification of custody and support orders. 

Either parent can request a review and adjustment of the orders if there's a significant change in circumstances that impacts the child's well-being or the financial situation of either parent.

Get expert financial advice

A financial advisor can help you assess your current financial status, create a post-divorce budget, and develop a long-term financial plan that aligns with your needs and goals.

Unbiased can connect you with a financial advisor suited to meet your needs. 

Simply provide some details about what you’re looking for, and Unbiased’s platform will match you with your advisor.

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Unbiased team

Our team of writers, who have decades of experience writing about personal finance, including investing and retirement, are here to help you find out what you must know about life’s biggest financial decisions.