Rhode Island Divorce: How Spouses Can Hurt Their Own Divorce Interests!

Spouses who feel wronged by their partner sometimes are so hurt or angry that they simply want to exact retribution against the spouse they feel has hurt them even if it means hurting their own interests.

Consider Pam and Jerry's divorce situation.

Pam and Jerry were married for 15 years.  Jerry worked as a Master Electrician for an HVAC company. Pam was a homemaker.  She had a high school education and worked 10 hours a week at the local library and cashed her check for her spending money.  Jerry always seemed to work long hours and several times a week told Pam he was going "out with the guys." 

Like many couples, they didn't communicate well and they became physically and emotionally distant from one another. One day Pam told Jerry she wanted a divorce and demanded that Jerry move out.  Jerry went to stay with his parents.

The next day, Pam goes to see a divorce lawyer.  Pam learns that she can make a claim for alimony because she doesn't have enough education or work experience to be able to immediately get a job where she can support herself.  Jerry has a good job and the lawyer is of the opinion that the court will award her some alimony.

The following day, Pam is trying to fix a fallen picture and goes into their storage shed to get some screws. In the shed, Pam sees some electrical equipment and an HVAC logo tag on her husband's workbench but she is more frustrated that she can't find the screwdriver. Pam heads to the local hardware store to get a screwdriver.  At the store, Pam's small debit card purchase is declined. Pam has no other means of payment and is mortified. Pam makes a call and quickly learns that Jerry has emptied their joint bank account.  

Driving home, Pam is furious and calls Jerry on his cellphone. Jerry doesn't answer. Pam calls the HVAC company and asks to speak to Jerry. Jerry's supervisor gets on the phone.  Pam learns that Jerry has the day off.  The supervisor also mentions that some expensive equipment was stolen from the HVAC company over the weekend.  He asks Pam if she would please have Jerry call the office if she speaks with him.  Pam puts the pieces together.

Pam keeps calling but won't answer.  Pam finally texts Jerry and the following short text exchange occurs:  

Pam:  "You emptied our joint account!"

Jerry: "Our?  It's MY MONEY! I earned it."

Pam:  "Half of that is mine. I talked to a lawyer."

Jerry:  "I don't care who you talked to."

Pam:  "You're leaving me with nothing."

Jerry:  "I've taken care of you for 15 years! ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!" 

Pam sends a few more texts demanding some money but there is no response.  Pam is livid that Jerry is leaving her penniless. Pam calls back Jerry's supervisor and tells them that she and Jerry have split up and she was going through their house after their call and found some equipment she doesn't recognize.  Pam invites the supervisor to come over to the house.

The supervisor identifies the stolen equipment and the police are called.  Pam is questioned but not arrested. Jerry is later arrested and refuses to answer questions. Jerry is terminated by his employer.

In this scenario, both spouses hurt their own interests because they were angry and not considering the repercussions of their actions.

1.  Pam did not take time to consider that she needs spousal support during the divorce and alimony after the divorce.  Jerry lost his job and as a result, there is no income from which Pam can now get any award of support.

2.  Jerry failed to keep in mind that Pam still lived in their home and might have discovered the equipment.  He also did not consider what she might do with that information when she discovered he had emptied their joint bank account.  In this regard, he damaged his own interests by jeopardizing his own freedom, his job, and his home and any other assets that might rely on his income.

3.  Jerry damaged his interests by his indirect text admission that he took the money in the joint bank account and considered it was his.  This admission may lead the family court to compel Jerry to produce the remaining funds to be held by the court. This may prohibit him from using the funds for his criminal defense.  If the funds are gone, the court could award Pam a greater share of the remaining marital assets to make up for the monies that Jerry disposed of.  

4.  Jerry also may have damaged his interests by his direct text admission that he had taken care of Pam for 15 years.  Though less likely, if Jerry were to obtain employment before the end of the divorce, Jerry's admission would support Pam's claim for alimony given her minimal employment, high school education, and reliance upon Jerry to get by with her daily needs for so many years.

It is always best to ask yourself, "how will my actions affect my own interests?"

Do you need to know and understand your legal rights and options?  Call (401) 632-6976 to set up an affordable legal advice session.

What happens if I don't want child support from my husband in the divorce?

You are getting divorced. You and your spouse agree that you will have placement of the child.  You don't want child support from your spouse.  What might happen?

First, child support is a child's right to be supported by both parents.  As a custodial parent with placement, when child support is ordered, the child support actually belongs to the child and you are entrusted as the parent with those monies for the support of the child.  An award of child support by the Rhode Island Family Court carries with it the presumption that as a custodial parent you will use the child support in the child's best interests.  These best interests typically including providing the child with a place to live, food, heat, and clothing, etc.

You are not allowed to "waive" child support for your child.  The underlying principle behind the prohibition on the waiving child support is that it is never in the best interests of a child for any parent to waive financial support for a child from the other parent. One concept fundamental to this principle is that a "waiver" is most often considered to be permanent and by Rhode Island law child support is subject to review and modification by the family court until the minor child is emancipated. Therefore, a waiver is not only contrary to the best interests of a minor child but is contrary to Rhode Island law and therefore would be unlawful.

The question may more appropriately be, "Can a Rhode Island Family Court Judge put to through a divorce matter without awarding either parent child support?"  The answer to this question is "Yes." 

Though either party may still return to court in the future to have child support set or modified, a judge has the power to leave child support "open."  Leaving child support "open" essentially means that based upon the circumstances as presented that the judge orders that the issue remains open with no award to either spouse and may be addressed in the future if and when either party returns to court.

The question then changes to, "Under what circumstances will a judge leave child support "open?" There is no concrete answer to this question since the circumstances of every case are different. 

Ultimately, the parties need to reach agreement that child support should remain open and they must also present to the court a substantial reason as to why it is in the best interests of the child to leave child support open.

Example:  Sandy and Bill have three (3) minor children ages 14, 15 and 17 and a home in Warwick, RI.  They reached a Marital Settlement Agreement to resolve their divorce. Sandy earns $30,000 per year. Bill earns $67,000 a year.  Sandy cannot afford to buy Bill out of his interest in their home.  Sandy wants to continue to live in the home until the youngest child reaches age 18.  Bill wants their kids to be stable and he agrees they should all stay in the house until their youngest child reaches age 18. 

However, Bill could never afford to continue to pay the mortgage on their home, the calculated Rhode Island Child Support, health insurance for the children, his share of the children's medical expenses and extracurricular activities, and a small apartment with minimal expenses for utilities. 

Sandy and Bill with the help of their attorneys reach an agreement that Bill will be solely responsible to pay the mortgage on the home until their youngest child reaches the age of 18 in lieu of paying child support and they will ask the court to leave child support open.

At their divorce hearing with the help of their attorneys, they provide their agreement and explain through their testimony that they are requesting that the court approve their agreement and leave child support open for now.  In short, the request to leave child support open is because even though the three (3) children will continue living with Sandy, Bill will be paying the house mortgage, until the youngest child reaches 18 at which time they will sell their home and split the equitable proceeds 50/50.  They point out that the house mortgage is considerably more than what Bill's child support would be and that the children's stability by staying in their own home through high school is in their best interests physically, mentally, socially and educationally. 

The court finds that the circumstances warrant leaving child support open as long as Bill continues to pay the mortgage on the home.

There are many different circumstances that may qualify for leaving child support open and they are not limited to divorce situations.

Many times it is a matter of whether leaving child support open is fair and in the best interests of the children.  More often than not it is your lawyer's approach when making the request to leave child support open that is the greatest factor as to whether the court accepts or rejects the request.

Can I Sue a Guardian Ad Litem in my Rhode Island Family Court Case?

A Guardian Ad Litem ("GAL") is typically a lawyer that is appointed by the court in a Rhode Island Family Court proceeding to protect the best interests of the minor child or children.  After an investigation into the issues before the court, the GAL typically provides a written report that contains his or her investigation, findings, and recommendations for the court to consider. The GAL's report is typically given substantial weight before the court in the case because the court has appointed the GAL to assist the court by performing this investigation and making unbiased recommendations. The GAL's fees are often paid by one or both parties in the action. 

A third-party asked if I would answer this question but there is truly no way to answer it the way it may have been intended so I will answer it as it was posed. 

Yes, you can file a lawsuit against a GAL.  In fact, nothing prevents you from filing a lawsuit against anyone for any reason whatsoever.  However, whether that lawsuit will prevail or whether it might be dismissed is another issue entirely.  Over the years I have seen people make up fraudulent facts and then file lawsuits based on those facts purely to harass someone, even if they have to legal basis.  

The challenge in answering this question is that there are lawsuits are supposed to be based on facts applied to a "valid cause of action" that is recognized by law in order to have any chance of prevailing at all.  A lawsuit that is unsupported by the facts or for which there is no legally recognized cause of action typically will fail and will either be dismissed by the court or the court will enter a judgment in favor of the opposing party.

In the case of a lawsuit against a GAL, you will want to consider several things, 

1.  If you file a lawsuit against the GAL what do you expect to accomplish?

2.  Will filing the suit against the GAL make your position in the family court case worse?

3.  What are the facts that cause you to want to file suit against the GAL?

4.  What causes of action, if any, exist that could be filed against a GAL with the facts that you have?

5.  Did you challenge the GAL's report findings and recommendations in the Rhode Island Family Court before filing your lawsuit?  The family court is your first level of recourse if you do not approve of the investigation and/or recommendations.

6.  What defenses could a GAL assert in his or her defense that might cause your case to be dismissed or diminished?

Without knowing the facts that cause you to want to file your lawsuit, no attorney could determine whether or not you have a recognized cause of action against a GAL or whether those facts support any cause of action against the GAL. 

One legal factor to keep in mind and research before filing any action against a GAL is the concept of "judicial immunity."  Generally speaking, judicial immunity is the legal principle that judges, magistrates and others acting on behalf of a court should be (and often are) exempt from civil lawsuits if they are acting within the scope of their judicial duties. This principle exists because those acting in a judicial capacity could not theoretically do their jobs impartially and without undue influence from a party if they can be sued in civil court.

It is possible that a GAL by being appointed by a judge to assist the family court with an investigation and recommendations for the Court in best interests of a minor child or children may be considered as acting in a judicial or quasi-judicial capacity and he or she may be protected from civil suits by law.

Ultimately, be sure you understand all the consequences, repercussions and aspects of filing a civil suit against a GAL before you do so.  It could do considerably more harm than good.