RI Family Court has begun virtual hearings for non-emergency/non-essential cases. Should I file my uncontested divorce now or wait?

The Covid-19 pandemic had widespread repercussions, including the suspension of the Rhode Island Family Courts daily court calendars and appointments other than hearing emergency matters.  Emergency/essential matters in the family court were essentially limited to restraining order hearings, emergency motions, ex parte motions, probable cause hearings and drug screening appointments.

It was not until June 8, 2020 that a comprehensive system was in place whereby family court judges could regularly conduct pretrial conferences and address other non-emergency/ non-essential matters via the Webex virtual meeting platform.  However, people were concerned about making filings during the shutdown of the court's normal calendar due to the case backlog that the pandemic was likely to cause on the family court's system.  People who called me with uncontested divorces and other non-emergency/nonessential matters during the courts "shut down" period were most concerned about whether it was worthwhile to file their action because might be months before they would ever be heard.

The public's concern about the case backlog and whether to file continues to be an issue for today's filings.  So the question remains, if you have an uncontested divorce matter (0r other non-emergency matter) should you file it now or wait for the case backlog to be addressed.

If you want to make the filing, it's best to make is sooner rather than later.  Realistically, there is and will be a backlog until the court is able to address it.  This may be months or even years from now.  Unless a lawyer who has been advised of all your circumstances advises you to wait because of your factual circumstances or to properly position yourself for the divorce (or other nonessential matter) then waiting does not help you.  Waiting to file your case without a specific benefit to you does not make sense.  Practically speaking, the sooner you get yourself in the court's schedule the sooner you will be heard.  By waiting you are merely allowing those who are ready and willing to file will only put you in line behind those people and delay your matter from being heard by the court.

With that said, keep in mind that every case is fact specific and relates to both circumstances of your case as well as your life.  There may well be instances when you would not want to file but that is best left for a competent Rhode Island family law attorney to advise you about after he or she has been fully advised of your circumstances.


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.