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The Rhode Island Bar Association website offers the following generalized question and answer for the public:


Divorce proceedings cannot be initiated unless you or your spouse have resided in Rhode Island for a period of one year.

>- RI Bar Association Website

The Rhode Island residency requirement for initiating a divorce is set forth in Rhode Island General Laws 15-5-12 as follows:

15-5-12 Domicile and residence requirements.

      (a) No complaint for divorce from the bond of marriage shall be granted unless the plaintiff has been a domiciled inhabitant of this state and has resided in this state for a period of one year next before the filing of the complaint; provided, that if the defendant has been a domiciled inhabitant of this state and has resided in this state for the period of one year next before the filing of the complaint, and is actually served with process, the requirement of this subsection as to domicile and residence on the part of the plaintiff is deemed satisfied and fulfilled. The residence and domicile of any person immediately prior to the commencement of his or her active service as a member of the armed forces or of the merchant marine of the United States, or immediately prior to his or her absence from the state in the performance of services in connection with military operations as defined in subsection (c) of this section, shall, for the purposes of this section, continue to be his or her residence and domicile during the time of his or her service and for a period of thirty (30) days after this. Testimony to prove domicile and residence may be received through the ex parte affidavit of one witness.

(b) Every word importing the masculine gender only shall be construed in this section to extend to and include females as well as males.

(c) The term "services in connection with military operations" shall be construed in this section to include persons serving with the American Red Cross, the Society of Friends, the Women's Auxiliary Service Pilots, and the United Service Organizations.

Looking at the Rhode Island Statute, the divorce residency requirement is typically met in Rhode Island is achieved when either the Plaintiff or the Defendant has been a domiciled inhabitant of Rhode Island AND has resided in Rhode Island for the period one year next before filing the Complaint. 

Without addressing the divorce exceptions under Rhode Island Law for those in military service, the residency requirement under Rhode Island law breaks down into these three (3) segments,

1)  That you or your spouse be a domiciled inhabitant of Rhode Island, and

2)  That you or your spouse have resided in Rhode Island, and

3)  That both of the above requirements must have occurred within one year next before the divorce complaint was filed (i.e. the year immediately before the divorce complaint was filed).

So let's start with criteria number 1.  What does it mean to be a domiciled inhabitant?  

To answer this question we need to look back at an old Rhode Island case.  In the case of McCarthy v. McCarthy, 45 R.I. 367, 369, 122 A. 529, 531 (1923), the Rhode Island Supreme Court cleared up the issue of what constitutes a domiciled inhabitant for purposes of divorce residency.

In McCarthy, the Rhode Island Supreme Court stated,

"To establish a domicile and become a domiciled inhabitant there must be an actual abode in the state with the intention in good faith to live here permanently and without any present intention of changing the home in the future. Actual residence without such intention does not suffice."

The answer, then, to the first requirement (generally speaking) is that:

"Either you or your spouse must be have place to live in the State of Rhode Island that is considered your "home" and you must intend to live their permanently with no plans of changing that home in the near future."

The second criteria of jurisdiction for Rhode Island Divorce purposes, is merely a variation of of the domicile standard without the permanency requirement.  Thus, a person may have only one domicile . . . namely a place where the person intends to live on a permanent basis, but the same person may have more than one residence, since a residence is merely a place where a person might live or stay without the intention to live in the place permanently.   Thus, a domicile is a home where you intend to live permanently while a residence is a place where a person may stay for any period of time but there is no intention of returning to that place as a home.  It is the intention of the person that distinguishes between whether a person has been domiciled in Rhode Island and also resided in Rhode Island.

Lastly, the criteria of Rhode Island General Laws 15-5-12(a) provides that either you or your spouse must be a domiciled inhabitant AND resident of the State of Rhode Island for the year occurring immediately before the divorce complaint was filed.  If all of these three criteria are met then you are able to meet the residency requirement to allow the Rhode Island Family Court to grant your divorce Complaint.

Please note that this brief article in no way addresses persons in military service as set forth in Rhode Island General Laws 15-5-12(a-c) and is merely a more detailed expansion of the general information provided to the public on the Rhode Island Bar Association's Website regarding Divorce Residency requirements.

Disclaimer:  As with all the other content on this website, this article is merely informational. This article in no way constitutes legal advice and it is not a substitute for legal advice provided by a competent licensed legal practitioner after being informed about all the facts and circumstances surrounding your case.  You should always seek professional legal assistance before acting on any information found on the internet, no matter how reliable it may seem.

Authored By:

Christopher A. Pearsall, Attorney-at-Law

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