Equity or fairness and justice are not the same as Rhode Island Law. If you see them as one and the same, then you need to clear your mind of this image. While there certainly may have been an effort by law makers to establish Rhode Island Laws that provide for fundamental fairness and embody justice, it is a mistake to to equate them. This maximum applies to much more than just Rhode Island Divorce Lawyers or Rhode Island Family Laws.
However, since the focus of my practice is Rhode Island divorce and family law, I will use a family law example to insure this blog stays "on topic" with what my readers expect.
* * * Rhode Island Family Law Example * * *
Tammy and Bill are young kids who live in the State of Washington. They don't take precautions against pregnancy in their sexual activity Tammy becomes pregnant. Tammy is shocked. She has just completed high school and things aren't very supportive at home. Tammy's parents aren't that supportive. Tammy's aunt offers her a place to stay in Rhode Island. However, Tammy tells Bill that she needs some time to herself and is going to spend time with her aunt in Rhode Island. Suddenly two months becomes four and the next thing you know Bill is traveling to Rhode Island to be supportive to Tammy during the pregnancy. Bill is taking the pregnancy and his role as a "soon to be father" very seriously.
Tammy tells Bill that she intends to return to Washington. Tammy gets along well with Bill's parents and as a result Bill's parents offer Tammy and the baby a place to live with free room and board, help with child care, and all the space she needs for herself and the baby with no strings attached.
Tammy tells Bill that she will return home to Washington and stay with them. She texts Bill and let's him know that she will be coming back as soon as the baby is reasonably old enough to fly. When that time comes, Bill's parents buy the ticket, but at the very last minute Tammy calls and says she isn't coming. Shockingly Tammy then tells Bill she is not coming back to Washington at all and she files a family law action in Rhode Island to remain there and get child support from Bill even though she knows Bill is in college and doesn't have a job. Tammy also doesn't have a job and between the two of them Tammy knows it is going to be very difficult for Bill to see his son without rather expensive air travel and hotel reservations.
Bill is beside himself. He has a new daughter named Jacqueline. He wants to be part of her life. Yet the mother has essentially hi-jacked his daughter half-way across the United States making it very hard for Bill to be able to afford the round trip airfaire and hotel. Ultimately, unless he does something, if he sees his daughter Jacqueline occasionally he will be lucky. Plus, Bill is now faced with the lawsuit Tammy filed half-way across the country at additional cost to him.
Bill consults a lawyer and finds out that the State of Washington might have just as much right to decide Jacqueline's custody as the Rhode Island court. Bill hires a local lawyer to file suit in the State of Washington and hires a Rhode Island lawyer to help him defend against the lawsuit in Rhode Island by taking the position that the matter should be heard in the Washington Courts.
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Law and equity sometimes clash when justice is sought.
Equity is, in essence, the level of fairness with which a situation is handled based upon the the facts when applied to the law.
Justice is considered the resulting decision based upon the correct application of the law to the particular set of facts that relate to the law. Yet the result is not always "just" because the law itself is not always just. The goal is that the lawmakers should fundamentally take into consideration how equitable the result will be for different people when the facts are applied to the law. Yet can you imagine lawmakers trying to anticipate every type of situation that might occur? The truth is, it's almost impossible for lawmakers to think of every possible set of circumstances. That is precisely why Rhode Island Divorce and Family lawyers exist and why the courts are present to interpret the laws until they can be changed, if necessary.
If a law is written well, then justice results when you apply all the various kinds of facts and situations to the existing law. Thus, you end up with an equitable (i.e. fair) result in almost every case based upon the existing facts.
Yet what is "equitable" and constitutes "justice" in just this situation?
Consider these facts and/or questions.
1. Assume both Washington and Rhode Island have laws that say they have the power to decide this matter. Is it more fair and just that the State of Washington decide this matter or that it be left to the courts in the State of Rhode Island?
2. Should the State which decides the answer depend upon where the baby was conceived when the parties were together or where the baby was actually born?
3. Assume that the custody action was filed first in the State of Rhode Island Family Court and then two weeks later one was filed in the State of Washington. Should the date of filing be the deciding factor?
4. Bill and Tammy resided together in the State of Washington together before Tammy took her little vacation to Rhode Island which turned out to be permanent (as Bill found out all too late). Should the State of Washington have jurisdiction over the family law custody matter for Bill and Tammy's child based upon the fact that Tammy claims she is now a resident of Rhode Island?
5. Assume for a moment that there are laws in the State of Rhode Island that say it depends upon the state where the baby was born but the laws in the State of Washington says that its states courts are proper if the baby was conceived there. Which state's laws should apply? Is it fairer for Bill to have to defend in Rhode Island or that Tammy have to return and defend in the State of Washington?
6. Do the courts use the laws which seem most just? Or might they use the laws which seem the fairest? Should the states communicate between each other and try to determine between them which laws should be used?
Confusing isn't it? Consider this . . . . This is just deciding which court has the right to handle the matter. Now assume that the Rhode Island law on the subject is written very poorly. Yet the State of Washington's laws are written carefully so that equality is observed and the applications of the facts to the law more often end up in a just result. Does that have any bearing on which state's laws should be used in hearing this Child Custody Matter?
What if you learned that the laws about the use of the correct family court were to tell you that the State with the poorly written laws were required to be used. Would it help to know that you would be using state laws that are more likely to result in an unjust decision?
Though i could use examples of specific conflicting laws between states, or even laws within the State of Rhode Island of problematic laws, the example and questions are sufficient to demonstrate for you that Equity, Justice and Rhode Island Law are not always identical to one another.
The point is this. If you believe that justice, Equity and Rhode Island law are interchangeable, it might be time for you to question your beliefs. If they were the same, then virtually identical facts presented on the same day in the same court, would yield the same result but this is not necessarily so.
Ultimately, justice and equity are both subjective by their very nature and Rhode Island Law is what it is at the time it is used. It may be equitable. It may be just. It may be both equitable and just. Or it may be neither. Rhode Island law simply is what it is. None of the three are the same unless they are subjectively viewed as the same by the same person in the same set of circumstances and reach the same result, an occasion which I believe is more likely to be a rarity than it is an actual fact.
Awareness of this difference will prepare you for disappointment when it is unexpected just as it may develop a feeling of surprise when it creates an unexpectedly positive result. Just keep in mind that the three are not the same and that your lawyer may argue his or her best on your behalf by using these tools, it is ultimately the language of the law, the facts of the circumstances and the interpretation of the the judge in your particular matter that will determine whether the the three will correspond to each other or not.
Christopher A. Pearsall, Attorney-at-Law
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