The Rhode Island Family Court deals with numerous issues in divorces. There are primary issues that judge's handle on a daily basis that everyone should be aware of.
In understanding these issues it is good to know that the area of Family Law grew out of Contract law. It's fairly easy to see how this occurred. Generally speaking, a man makes an offer to a woman to marry him and be his one and only wife. A woman accepts that offer and promises to marry the man from the offer that he has made her. Traditionally an engagement ring is given to the woman by the man to seal that promise and make it known to others. Later, sometimes with or without a ceremony, formal promises are exchanged between the man and the woman before an officiant. Wedding rings and vows (promises) are exchanged and a marriage certificate is signed by both parties and filed with the State.
It's not hard to see how family law, particularly divorce, grew out of contract law. Though contract law is very diverse and has taken on great depth, it's foundations mirror the marriage process. In a contract there are at least two parties. One party makes an offer. The other party accepts the offer. Usually a document memorializing the promises is signed by both parties, sometimes before witnesses.
Just as there are issues when one of the parties does not live up to their part of a contract. There are also issues that must be addressed when a divorce occurs because it is the division of a marriage contract.
Legal Issues in Rhode Island Divorces
1. Jurisdiction - Jurisdiction is the power of the court to decide a case based on its authority over the subject matter and the person's involved. The court must make a finding that it has the power over a cause of action, in this case a divorce. Subject matter jurisdiction for divorce is defined by statute in Rhode Island, namely that the Rhode Island Family Court has the jurisdiction to hear divorce cases. The court must also make a finding that it has authority over the persons involved in the action. Personal Jurisdiction is also defined by the Rhode Island Statutes in two ways. Assuming that we're dealing with a divorce based on Irreconcilable Differences, the court must find that one of the parties has been a continuously domiciled resident and inhabitant for the period of at least one year immediately prior to the filing of his or her Complaint or Counterclaim for Divorce, Additionally, the non-filing party must be served by a person authorized by law with the Divorce Complaint and any extraneous documents required by law.
2. Legal Custody - Legal custody is the legal right of a parent or guardian to make decisions for a child in major areas of the child's life including health, education, religion, and the child's general welfare. The court must make a finding as to whether the parents of any minor children born of the marriage are fit and proper persons to have legal custody of the minor children. Then the court must make a ruling as to who should be awarded legal custody of the minor child or children.
3. Placement - Placement is the right of a parent or guardian to have a minor child physically living with him or her. The court must make a ruling as to who a child should be placed with/live with. Underlying that court's ruling is the finding that the court's ruling regarding the placement of the minor child(ren) is in the best interests of the minor child(ren).
4. Child Support - Child Support is the right of a child to be supported by his legal parents or guardians. It is calculated using the Gross Incomes of the parents or guardians of the minor child(ren) and applying them to the Rhode Island Child Support Guidelines. The placement parent is typically the recipient of the child support while the non-placement parent is the payer or the child support. The court must determine the number of children, the gross income of the parties and the amount of child support that is due to the children and must be paid by the non-placement parent.
5. Equitable Distribution - Equitable Distribution is the family court's equitable division of the assets of the marriage (marital assets) and who should be entitled to what asset or what portion of an asset; and equitable division of all the debts of the marriage (marital debts) and who should be responsible for which debts or what portion of what debt. When apportioning the marital assets and debts of a couple, the family court looks a various factors, including, but not limited to, the length of the marriage, the contribution of each of the parties, and the conduct of the parties during the course of the marriage, to name a few.
6. Alimony - Alimony is support that one spouse may be ordered to pay to the other spouse. In Rhode Island, alimony is rehabilitative in nature. Alimony is therefore only to be awarded to a person who needs to rehabilitate his or her skills in order to be able to enter or re-enter the workplace at a level of income that can allow him or her to survive. In awarding alimony the court will look at the job history, age, education, skills and the current marketplace to determine if the spouse is in need of rehabilitation. The courts will also look to the contribution of the former spouse to the needs of the person seeking alimony as well as the actual monetary needs of the person seeking alimony and may take into consideration the cost of the rehabilitation.
7. Health Coverage - This issue is self-explanatory. Health coverage is a major issue these days not only for adults but especially for children. If none is made, the Rhode Island Family Court will make inquiry as to who has provided medical coverage for the couple (or family) in the past and endeavor to make provisions for how medical coverage will continue in the future for both spouses, if possible. The court has particular concern for the continued coverage of minor children and is uniquely aware that not all healthcare costs are covered by insurance, and therefore if it is not brought up by the parties during a divorce proceeding then the court will order provisions in its decree for how the uncovered, uninsured or unreimbursed medical expenses of the minor children will be paid. Generally speaking the court will order each parent to pay a portion of each expense incurred.
8. Visitation - Visitation is the right of the non-placement parent to have physical placement of the minor child or children, usually for a specified amount of time, or under specified conditions in more extreme cases, before returning the child(ren) to the non-placement parent. When the family court determines visitation for the non-placement parent, the judge will usually consider the age of the child(ren), the amount of prior involvement of the parent, the suitability of the home environment the child(ren) would be spending their visitation in, and any history of violence or criminal conduct relevant to the children or the other spouse. The court encourages spouses to work together to positively reinforce minor children that their place in the family unit is still in tact, it is simply that the parents could not live together happily anymore. Visitation is encouraged by the court as long as it is conducive to productive behavior and reinforces a healthy attitude in the minor children. However, the court will step in and make appropriate orders if it becomes apparent that the visitation is doing more harm than good.
9. Irreconcilable Differences - This is the basis used by the vast majority of people who file for divorce. The full basis is that there have arisen between the parties irreconcilable differences which have led to the irremediable breakdown of the marriage. This is a fundamental determination made my the court. The court must find, through the testimony, that the parties had differences, that those differences were irreconcilable, that the marriage has broken down, that the cause of the breakdown was these differences, and finally that the marriage is irremediably broken such that the spouses can no longer live as husband and wife. Naturally there are other basis for divorce, however since this is the most frequently used, it is included here for your information.
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