The Court's Role in a Rhode Island Divorce!
Rhode Island Lawyers . Divorce or otherwise . . do they deserve the black eye?

Costs in a Rhode Island Divorce Case? What costs and expenses should your Rhode Island lawyer make you aware of?

To file a Rhode Island Divorce Complaint you need to pay to the State of Rhode Island a standard filing fee of $145.32 for the opening and administration costs of your divorce case and technology fee.

To serve a divorce complaint you must obtain (or rather retain) a county sheriff or constable who is authorized to make service upon parties in family court matters and have the complaint and any attachments served upon your spouse if you are the party filing for divorce.  Constables typically charge $45.00 for a standard service of a complaint and it's attachments.  The county sheriff may charge anywhere from $45 to $55 in Rhode Island for the same service depending upon the number of attempts the sheriff's office needs to make in order to serve the person.

You should note that either the constable or the county sheriff may charge additional fees for service of process that requires numerous attempts, requires extensive travel or requires the service of additional documents that are not part of each and every divorce proceeding.

During your divorce it may be necessary to obtain documents by use of a subpoena.  The service costs of a subpoena are similar to those for the divorce complaint mentioned above except that the witness being subpoenaed will have to be paid a statutory fee for attendance as well as round-trip mileage costs for his, her or its attendance at court.  Because Rhode Island is a small state you can plan that the subpoena fees (exclusive of the constable or sheriff's fees) will not exceed $15.00 for a single day's attendance.

If documents are required from a business establishment, usually a bank, then the bank is allowed to charge a reasonable fee for the copying and research of account documents that are required to be produced.  This bill from the bank can range from $0 to hundreds if not thousands of dollars if you have a multi-million dollar marital estate and neither party can provide a clear financial picture of what is going on.  Clients are best to anticipate that a comprehensive bank subpoena for documents may run as high as $500.00 or more depending on the length of time and extent of the records requested.

If an expert is needed for tax issues, home valuations or business valuations, do not expect to get the expertise of these professionals for free even if they have done work for you after being paid a fee.  Unless specifically stated in your agreement with any expert, his or her professional expertise and time is not paid for if he has to go to court.  Experts attending court or preparing for a court proceeding are entitled to be compensated for their services.  These  experts generally cost from $2,000 on the lower end to tens of thousands on the high end for extensive work.  Generally speaking most divorces that involve a house as a marital asset will require an appraisal at current rates (currently about $400 to $500).  Testimony at court by the appraiser will generally run about $1,500 per day for a decent appraiser with sufficient skills and experience to qualify as an expert before the court.

Clients should also expect that if matters need to be handled in an expedited fashion or if voluminous documents need to be copied or produced to someone that these are costs the client will be expected to pay for.  These things are, unfortunately, case specific and therefore there is no way to approximate them.

Lastly, if there is a pension or retirement plan that needs to be divided by virtue of a Qualified Domestic Relations Order, the client should expect that most divorce attorneys will engage a specialist attorney to prepare this document.  Qualified Domestic Relations Orders are a document that divides a pension or retirement between the parties either as agreed to or as determined by a judge after trial. However, these Orders must not only comport with state and federal law but must also be acceptable to and approved by the benefits coordinator for the administrator of the pension and/or retirement vehicle and in accordance with the rules, regulations and documents governing the plan. 

Combine the foregoing factors with a client's long-term tax and retirement planning and you end up with a very technical and rather intricate document that people will be relying upon in the future for the benefits they are entitled to.  The Order, therefore, must be so specialized as to fall within the parameters of all of these various guidelines, rules and statutes and take into account the Client's future needs and desires.  This being the case it is not hard to understand why this is not a task that some divorce attorneys choose to undertake.

There are several attorneys whose practices are focused almost exclusively on the creation of these Qualified Domestic Relations Orders (QDROs).  QDROs are a specialty item and are generally prepared by attorneys who specialize in such orders.  Absent express agreement with your attorney that the cost of one or more QDRO's will be included in the monies you provide to the attorney for a retainer and expenses in your divorce, you should NOT expect that your divorce lawyer will be arranging your QDRO for free. 

QDRO preparation is an additional expense that every client dealing with a pension or retirement plan that may have to be split in their divorce should expect. A decent attorney will prepare a QDRO for between $450 to $600 and insure it is approved by the pension and/or retirement plan administrator.

Absent other significant aspects such as a business valuation, the foregoing are the consistent costs that most lawyers will make you aware of in your Rhode Island Divorce and/or family law proceeding and they are foreseeable although not always predictable at the outset of any case.

The challenge?  Be aware of these costs but be knowledgeable that they do not exist in every case but could still occur in yours.  An attorney's expectation and/or prediction about what you may reasonably expect in the way of costs and expenses in your case should NEVER be taken as a guarantee that your costs and/or expenses will be limited to those representations.  Unless your attorney makes a written guarantee about the amount of expenses and/or costs you will have to bear, you should hope for the best but plan for the worst financially.

A good attorney will try to avoid unnecessary costs if at all possible but not at the risk of your legal rights or at the risk that you might claim that he or she committed malpractice by not insisting that an expense be made.  Those of us who try to resolve matters without the additional costs and puffery of attorneys who prefer to bill their client for "unnecessaries" to get a few thousand dollars in fees before the case ends continue to combat those who needlessly bill clients, but keep in mind there aren't as many of us out there who are truly fighting for the clients.  We're hard to find but you'll see us if you take your time and look closely.

I invite you to consider having a low cost consultation with me to discuss your divorce and/or family law matter.  If nothing else, I can guarantee that you will understand your rights and the family court process much better by the time we are done our meeting so that you can make an informed choice about what can and perhaps will happen in your divorce situation.