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July 2010

RI Divorce Lawyer on Alimony Awards after Trial versus Alimony in a Marital Settlement

Most divorce lawyers in Rhode Island know that divorce settlements are a matter of give and take, offers and compromises.  

Yet as a RI divorce lawyer there are settlement aspects that frankly I wish didn't exist but are a reality of the process.  Alimony as part of a marital settlement when it isn't warranted from a legal perspective is sometimes one of them.

Yet, this is a perfect example of how as a Rhode Island Divorce Lawyer, or even more economically as a Rhode Island Divorce Coach, I could be of tremendous assistance to you.

 * * RI Alimony - A Brief Lesson * *

Rhode Island alimony has been deemed by the Rhode Island Supreme Court to be for rehabilitative purposes.   To give yourself a general idea of what this means you could think of it this way.  If you and your spouse were to get divorced ask yourself these two questions.

1)  Are either you or your spouse in need of financial support from the other spouse to get back on your feet to reasonably support yourself?

2)  Does the spouse who is not in need of financial support have the income, resources, or skills necessary to provide that additional financial support to the needy spouse?   

If a Rhode Island family court judge after hearing the evidence is of the belief that that one spouse is in need of financial support AND that the other spouse is capable of providing that financial support, then an award of alimony to the needy spouse is likely probable.

* * NEEDINESS * * 

Under Rhode Island law there is no set standard for determining when you as a spouse are "in need" of financial support.  A judge at trial considers a wide variety of factors before reaching his or her decision on this subject.

However, there are a few very strong indicators of a spouse "in need."  

1)  If your skills are too outdated in the current job market to earn enough money to reasonably live on; and/or 

2)  If you have been out of the workforce too long to be able to obtain a job with your existing skills that would allow you to reasonably support yourself.


Assume that a trial is heard in this hypothetical Rhode Island Divorce case.  

Trial evidence shows that Cheryl Court and David Court have been married for 28 years.  That there are no minor children that must be cared for.  That both parties have been employed for the last 10 years of the marriage.  That Cheryl earns $32,000 and David earns $78,000 per year.  Cheryl requests alimony.  David argues that alimony be denied.   

The Judge's decision after trial denies Cheryl's request for alimony finding as fact that she has been consistently employed, that makes a sufficient income to support herself, and that she has not demonstrated any need for rehabilitation warranting financial support from David.


Divorce trials can be a huge drain on a person's time, finances, and mental and emotional well-being.

Let's look at the same case from a settlement standpoint.

David filed for the divorce.  Cheryl has enjoyed 28 years where they have lived fairly well, taken several trips per year, and she has not really been limited in what she can buy for herself.  At first Cheryl feels hurt and rejected.  Then Cheryl's hurt turns to anger as she realizes that her lifestyle may have to change.  Yet Cheryl doesn't want it to change and she doesn't believe she should be punished because David wants a divorce so she demands alimony.

David truly wants to settle the case but he becomes angry because now Cheryl is being unreasonable and demanding what the court isn't likely to give her after trial.  Cheryl doesn't care.  Cheryl takes the position that if she doesn't get alimony then she'll go to trial and take her chances.

Keep in mind that the facts are the same as the trial scenario above.  A reasonable legal analysis would lead a divorce lawyer to advise David that Cheryl isn't legally entitled to alimony.  So even though David agrees with just about every proposal when he says "no" to her demand for alimony its a question of whether David or Cheryl is going to give up before they go to trial or force the case to go before the judge for a divorce trial.

Alimony is different in a case like this when it comes to a legal analysis for trial versus trying to settle a case.  It doesn't matter if Cheryl is legally entitled to alimony or not, the fact is that she believes she is entitled to alimony so her emotional state may force a legal battle that is unnecessary if both parties were acting rationally, equitably and amicably with one another.

How could a good divorce lawyer or Rhode Island Divorce Coach help you?  One word..."balancing."  This is what I call it when a professional advises his or her client regarding what scenarios are possible to determine the best course of action based upon numerous factors including financial effects, emotional effects, family effects, practical reasoning, and even one's internal principles.

In the end, though the trial route may simply to be to fight against alimony tooth and nail, a party may decide to pay alimony for reasons far different than whether it is legally warranted or not.  

An analogy for this alimony scenario in a Rhode Island divorce might be considered similar to the cost-benefit analysis that a company might do to determine what action should be taken to address what to do about several hundred defect car parts that are known to exist but may have been installed in any of the millions of cars throughout the United States.

Rhode Island Alimony is not a cut and dry situation.  If you want to go to trial, it may be fairly clear the path to take.  If you want to settle the case, it's about as murky as it gets.  

Do you have a Rhode Island Alimony predicament?  

Feel Free to Call Me for a low-cost Coaching Session!

Attorney Christopher A. Pearsall - Phone: (401) 632-6976

Article Copyright 2010 to present - Christopher A. Pearsall and The Rhode Island Divorce and Coaching Institute (All Rights Reserved.)

A Lawyer who Hates Lawyers? What is this RI Divorce Lawyer Really Saying?

Today, I am a Rhode Island lawyer focusing my practice on divorce and divorce coaching.  Looking back decades ago I remember another lawyer who had been practicing in another state for some 40+ years who said something that perplexed me.

* * * Remembering the Lawyer who Hated Lawyers! * * *

The lawyer was about as true, honorable, and generous a gentleman as I have ever met.  He had all the qualities I envisioned a good lawyer would have.  He truly cared about each of his clients.  He fought for each one within the bounds of the law, within his professional code of ethics, and with a high degree of morality. The lawyer knew that I greatly admired him as both a person and as a lawyer.

One extremely hot summer afternoon this lawyer returned to his office after losing a district court hearing.  He plopped himself down in the chair at the opposite end of the short conference room table I was sitting at in his office law library.  His secretary nervously brought him a lemonade and napkin then quickly skirted out of the room.  There was an endless silence.  

Finally, I spoke, 

Chris:  "I'm considering becoming a lawyer."

The lawyer lifted his head, wiped his brow with a napkin, grabbed a nearby law book and flung it across his law library breaking the law book's spine.

It was one of the first times I had ever seen this man so upset.

I was quiet until the lawyer spoke.


This time the pause was endless yet I was just too puzzled not to speak.

Chris:  "I don't understand!?!  You ARE a lawyer."

The lawyer was quiet again, so I asked it as a question.

Chris:  "How can you hate lawyers when you ARE one? 

The lawyer waited quite awhile before speaking.

Lawyer:  Chris, if you're anything like me, you'll understand when you get there. 

The conversation ended.

* * * 20 Years Later We Agree * * *

I've been working in the legal field now for more than 20 years since that conversation.  

As a Rhode Island lawyer, I am bound by a Professional Code of Ethical Conduct among other things.  There are things that I shouldn't say or do and there are things that I can't say or do despite the right to Free Speech guaranteed to all of us by the United States Constitution.  The layperson would be amazed. 

* * * A Message for Roger * * *

For a point of reference only, the lawyer's name was Roger.

Hopefully he's still alive and hopefully he is in tune enough with today's "internet" that he reads this article.

First, to this great lawyer.

Roger, I was like you.  I understand!

* * * A Message for Readers * * *

Now, to my readers I offer this.

You may not understand this statement until you meet with me.

If you like lawyers, you probably won't like me.

With that said, I can tell you that as a Rhode Island Lawyer who has focused my practice exclusively in the area of divorce and family law, I cannot make your problems go away.  No lawyer can!  Yet some lawyers may tell you they can to get you as a client.

Lawyers can't make your problems go away because fundamentally they are your problems.  Only you can take responsibility for those challenges in your life.  Only you truly have the power to resolve those challenges by your decisions.

However, I can tell you that I can help you understand and get through your Rhode Island divorce or family law challenges by working with you either as your Coach or as your Representative.

* * *  Your Divorce Coaching Program * * *

Roger's words were invaluable.  Today, they are the powerful force motivating the continued growth of your Family Law Coaching program.  

I call it Your Program because it is designed specifically for you.  It is designed to teach you, train you, advise you, inform you, and save you time and money in the areas of divorce and family law.

As Your Coaching Program continues to evolve, it will continue to work faster for you, become more economical for you, and become more helpful for you.

Whatever you choose to believe, there is one thing you can know with certainty. I am one lawyer trying to make a difference for YOU with a new and innovative way of practice designed by hard work, my belief that you can do more than you believe you can at this moment, and your willingness to be open to something new that works. 

What can Your Coaching Program help you with?  Here is a brief list . . .

Rhode Island Divorces & Legal Separations, Rhode Island Child Support Establishment, Modifications, Collections and Terminations, Rhode Island Child Custody Matters and Child Custody Modifications, Rhode Island Petitions to Enforced Marital Settlement Agreements and Property Settlement Agreements, Preparing Pre-Nuptual Agreements and Ante-Nuptual Agreements in Rhode Island, RI Petitions to Move Out of State with Minor Children, Petitions to Establish Paternity in Rhode Island, Rhode Island Motions to Adjudge In Contempt and Defense of those Contempt Motions, Protection from Abuse Petitions and Defense Against Such Petitions, Rhode Island Motions and Petitions to Establish, Modify or Terminate Visitation, RI Common Law Divorces and their Defense, Rhode Island Legal Rights, Rhode Island Family Court Procedures, 2nd Opinions about your Attorney on Rhode Island Divorce Cases, Pro Se Representation (i.e. Representing Yourself Appropriately in Family Court), and many more . . . 

Look for the Testimonials Section about Your Coaching Program which is coming soon.  Feel Free to Call Me for a low-cost Coaching Session!

Attorney Christopher A. Pearsall - Phone: (401) 632-6976

RI Common Law Divorce - Does the Rhode Island Divorce Lawyer Ask Enough Questions?

Being a dedicated Rhode Island Divorce Lawyer involves more than just an advertisement in the Yellow Pages touting that you handle divorce cases.  It also means much more than just having a placard outside your door indicating that you handle divorce cases that has been sitting there for the past twenty (20) years.  It means staying abreast of legal developments in divorce and family law at least on major issues.

Consider this family lawyer scenario.

A prospective divorce client is referred by a friend to a person referred as a "good divorce lawyer."  So the prospective client makes an appointment and meets with the lawyer.  The prospective client hands the papers received from the constable to the divorce lawyer.  The lawyer quickly reads the papers.  The brief meeting goes something like this.

DIVORCE LAWYER:  Well, these papers claim that you are a spouse in a "common law" marriage that was created by Rhode Island Law, that your marriage has broken down, and now your spouse wants a divorce. These are your divorce papers.

PROSPECTIVE DIVORCE CLIENT:  What marriage?!  We never got married.  She's my girlfriend and I might consider marrying her when I'm ready but we sure as hell aren't married right now.

DIVORCE LAWYER:  Depending on the facts, Rhode Island law allows a judge to declare that you are married and may have been married for some time.

PROSPECTIVE DIVORCE CLIENT:  Well how the heck would I know?

DIVORCE LAWYER:  Let me ask you a few questions.


DIVORCE LAWYER:  Now you said you never got married, but how long did the two of you live together?

PROSPECTIVE DIVORCE CLIENT:  Pretty long now . . .almost 13 years.

DIVORCE LAWYER:   Do you own any property together?

PROSPECTIVE DIVORCE CLIENT:  Just the house we're living in right now.

DIVORCE LAWYER:   How do you file your taxes?

PROSPECTIVE DIVORCE CLIENT:  Well, the past 3 years we filed jointly.

DIVORCE LAWYER:  There's no point fighting it.  A judge is going to find a common law marriage here.  You tax filings make it a virtual certainty.

PROSPECTIVE DIVORCE CLIENT:  But we never got married I tell you and I've got . . [interrupted by the Divorce Lawyer]

DIVORCE LAWYER:  I'm sure I can get you a good settlement despite what these papers are looking for. Now the papers were served on you almost 20 days ago so we need to answer this Complaint in the next few days or you could get defaulted.  

Now my secretary will take some information from you on the way out and she'll have you sign a copy of my retainer agreement and give you a copy along with a questionaire.  Before we end for today I'll need a check payable to me for $3,500 so I can answer this complaint before you get defaulted so while you do that. . . [interrupted by the Prospective Divorce Client]

PROSPECTIVE DIVORCE CLIENT: I'd like to thank you for your time but I need to process this and I have an appointment scheduled with another attorney I'd like to meet with.

DIVORCE LAWYER:  But you don't have very much time and . . .

PROSPECTIVE DIVORCE CLIENT: I understand.  You've told me that.  I'll call you if I want to proceed further.  I'll show myself out.  

The Prospective Divorce Client left this particular divorce lawyer's office.

Okay, let's snap back to you as the reader sitting there reading and considering this little exchange.  Now imagine that you are the one seeking to hire a lawyer and you are expected by this divorce lawyer to plunk down $3,500 of your hard earned money for this lawyer to represent you.  

What are we talking about here?  We are talking about a lawyer who gave advice to a prospective client that opposing the Complaint for a Common Law divorce is not worth it even when the client insists there was no marriage. Clearly that isn't what the prospective client would like to hear. Yet there are times when a client has to realize the truth now matter how difficult it may be to swallow.  But is this the truth?  

The divorce lawyer asked only three (3) questions before making the determination, and even more important the divorce lawyer didn't even bother to ask the prospective divorce client about any of the facts and circumstances surrounding the prospective client's life, relationship, and lifestyle with this person who alleges they are married.

Ask yourself, does it make sense that Rhode Island law forms a marriage right out of thin air without signed documents, without a marriage certificate, and without any document telling either party not only that they are married to one anyone but "WHEN" that marriage occurred.

Okay, well these are only three things.  Let's assume that it could be and still cover these three things.  but there must be more, right?  Doesn't it boggle your mind?  I mean, do you have to be a lawyer to feel a bit unnerved and a bit shocked that such a powerful thing with so many legal benefits and obligations as marriage . . . could be formed so easily?  If it doesn't make you wonder... then it should.

Divorce lawyer or not, if you were Spiderman, then your "Spidey Senses" would be tingling like crazy, or as a prospective female divorce client your women's intuition should be sending a signal throughout your body telling you that it doesn't make sense that a divorce lawyer could have you answer three (3) simple questions and essentially tell you to 1) agree that you are married when you haven't "officially married" the person and 2) not to oppose the divorce papers!

Think about it divorce laws themselves.  Doesn't it even defy common sense to think that people who never got married and didn't think of themselves that way are, in fact, married?

The divorce lawyer has not shown you as the prospective divorce client a single stitch of anything that says if you give those particular answers to those particular questions that you are "in fact" married under Rhode Island Common Law.  Based simply upon a referral, or even may appear to you to be a phenomenal reputation the lawyer may have as a "good divorce lawyer", . . . I urge you to consider using your wits and let your wisdom and common sense guide you.

Being a good Rhode Island Divorce Lawyer does not necessarily mean that the lawyer is good at determining who is married under Rhode Island Common Law.

Wouldn't you be inclined to look deeper than that?  Perhaps you would demand a clearer explanation as to where it can be found that you are considered "married" under those circumstances.  More specifically, wouldn't you want to know precisely where in the law it says that your answers prove that you are definitely married under common law.

I will suggest to you that if such a scenario were to occur, and I can assure you it has by more than a few lawyers, that in the very least you keep your head on straight and ask yourself this simple question, Did the Lawyer Ask Me Enough Questions?  

Why?  Because the divorce lawyer in this scenario, in my professional opinion has missed at least a dozen questions that need to be asked for a thorough examination of a Rhode Island Common Law Marriage matter.   

So what happens if the divorce lawyer doesn't ask enough questions?  Well, the advice is, in the very least flawed.  More likely, the legal advice is simply wrong and the lawyer is doing you a disservice.  The end result?  You are not properly represented and you are unable to exercise the options and alternatives you may have access to simply because the divorce lawyer didn't do a proper analysis of the common law marriage in the first place.

We will address both what this lack of knowledge and thoroughness could do to you by discussing some of the factors regarding the formation of Common Law Marriages in Rhode Island in another article.  The damages that could be caused to you as the prospective divorce client by an improper evaluation can be astronomical depending upon the circumstances.

For now, I will close with this thought.  Common law marriages are far more complex than typical marriages and the same goes for common law divorce proceedings because they are filled with even more questions that must be answered.  Common law marriages may be argued and it is one of the few cases where a divorce may be denied simply because a marriage did not exist.  

Common law marriages in Rhode Island are not as easily formed and they are certainly not as easily dissolved.  Therefore, if you are faced with a boyfriend, girlfriend, or domestic partner of any kind who claims you are married, and you are not, you need the help of a skilled divorce and family law lawyer who knows the law and knows the court system.  

To find your divorce lawyer, you will need to remain sharper than the average person when seeking a divorce lawyer.  As a lawyer dealing with marriages and their dissolution (divorces) almost exclusively for more than a decade, I will offer you this rule of thumb.  If the RI divorce lawyers you are interviewing to represent you, or to give you advice do not ask you to explain your relationship and you are not asked at least a dozen questions, then you should consider another divorce lawyer.  

The fewer questions you are asked, the greater indicator that the "divorce lawyer" simply isn't up to speed on his or her common law marriage doctrines or the current cases on the subject (something necessary for the divorce or matrimonial lawyer you will want to hire).

So remember this question, Is this divorce lawyer I am considering asking me enough questions before giving me any determination as to whether I am more likely or less likely to be considered married under Rhode Island Law?   Less questions generally equate to less knowledge, less accuracy, less options and less left for you to continue your life within in the end.

For today, this is your Rhode Island Divorce Coach reminding you that awareness is the key.

Authored By:

Christopher A. Pearsall, Attorney-at-Law

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* The Rhode Island Supreme Court licenses all attorneys in the general practice of law.  The court does not license or certify any lawyer as an expert or specialist in any particular field of practice.

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