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Filing a Rhode Island Complaint for Divorce isn't Easy or Simple!

The Rhode Island Divorce process and procedure would be a bit easier if there were some road map to tell you what forms are required and why.  Then again, perhaps someone can explain to the public why the Congressional Record is devoted to publishing information about members of Congress proposing to do such things as saving money by cutting in half the number of staplers used by office assistants.

My point here is that whether it's Rhode Island or Congress, some things go without explanation and without any delineated reason. 

In the realm of Rhode Island Divorce lawyers and family law practitioners you will find that very few attorneys want to handle a case "piecemeal".  In other words, attorneys don't want to handle only the part of a case you don't understand, charge you for that piece of work and then let you do the rest.

An attorney's reasons for this in a Rhode Island divorce are fairly justifiable.  Attorneys have liability for what they do.  If they do only part of a case and it relates to another part that is handled by the client "pro se" then the attorney may open himself or herself up to a liability claim if the "pro se" individual makes a costly mistake in the divorce because he or she lacks the understanding of how the piece the attorney did relates to their whole case.   If the "pro se" individual blames the attorney rather than himself or herself for the consequences the attorney may have to defend a wrongful claim.  Even if a claim or lawsuit by the pro se individual has no merit, it can still cost the attorney additional malpractice premiums or force the attorney to address a lawsuit which could cost the attorney time and money. 

Even a disciplinary complaint can be time consuming and cause considerable anxiety for an attorney who must now spend his or her time defending himself or herself even if he or she has done nothing wrong except try to help someone who didn't have the money to retain the full services necessary to hire the attorney to take the divorce from beginning to end.

Yet the first step in a Rhode Island Divorce is to get the paperwork drafted and properly filed.  It's not as easy as many would like to think.

Here's a story that may help explain why I say that.

I was at the Providence County Family Court one day and a man came up to the counter and said to one of the female assistant clerks "I want to get divorced."  The clerk was pleasant, reached under the counter and placed a packet of documents in front of the man.  He didn't say anything and flipped through the documents rather quickly. The nice woman asked him if there was anything else she could help him with.  He said "Yeah, you forgot the instructions."  The woman politely told the man, "There aren't any instructions sir."  The man paused a moment.  "Okay", he said, "So I just fill all these out and give them back to you right."  The woman took a moment to think about the question before responding.  "Most of the time.", she answered.  The man looked at all the papers again.  "Sir", she said, "have you spoken with an attorney?" 

The man looked up at her and was obviously frustrated.  "I don't want an attorney.  I just want to get divorced.  I shouldn't have to get an attorney to get divorced."   The man's tone was harsh but the nice woman tried to brush it aside and she called out that she could help the next person in line.

"Wait a minute.  You're not done helping me yet.  Please show me which forms I'm supposed to fill out to get divorced."  This was the first time the man had said "please" throughout the whole conversation.  The woman answered, "I'm sorry sir but we're not allowed to do that."

"What?", the man bellowed out, now getting visibly angry.  "I want to talk to your supervisor."  The woman brought another gentleman up to the counter.

"Yes, may I help you sir?"  The man calmed down a bit.  "I want to file my own divorce and this woman won't help me."  The man behind the counter looked at the assistant clerk and then back at the man. 

The nice female assistant clerk said to her superior and said, "He wants the instructions that go with the divorce documents."   "Oh." The man said thoughtfully and then turned back to the man who wanted to file his own divorce.  "Sir, it's not that she doesn't want to help you . . it's that she can't help you."

The man who wanted to get divorced was clearly dumbfounded.  "I just want the instructions.  How hard can that be?"  The supervising clerk behind the counter kept his cool. 

What he told the man was excellent and professional and I've written it here as best I can remember it.

"Sir, the instructions you are looking for are found in Rhode Island's laws and Rules of Domestic Relations Procedure.  Those things are matters for attorneys to know and to help you with.  If you don't want an attorney and you want to do this yourself then you have to know where to look in the law books or in the domestic relations rules in order to know what documents you need to file for your particular situation. These laws and rules will also tell you what other documents you may need to provide in order to file your divorce properly.  This nice woman who has been trying to help you is an assistant clerk.  She is here to help you but she is limited to giving you, to the best of her ability, the general forms that we provide for the most common divorces. 

You have been given a generic divorce package.  Some divorces require different documents.  However, this woman is not an attorney and is not licensed to give out legal advice.  By law, she is not allowed to tell you which forms you need, or how to fill them out.  As it stands we already are doing a great service to the public by providing a generic divorce packet free of charge to people who say they want to get divorced.  From there, you need to know what you are doing."

Now the man was angry.  "You people just can't do your damn jobs.  That doesn't make any sense.  State workers aren't worth a darn.  You just want to help the attorneys make more money."  The man was shouting at this point.

At this point I couldn't keep my mouth shut anymore.

[Exerpt]  To read the full article go to


Authored By:

  Christopher A. Pearsall, Esquire
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West Warwick, RI 02893

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