Sure, you can do your own Rhode Island divorce all by yourself. You have the right to represent yourself. You know your assets, debts and children better than anyone else so why not, right? That's what Rhody D. Vorce thought.
Was his Rhode Island divorce successful? What is your opinion of his divorce after I give you my professional thoughts?
Rhody was married to Brenda for 27 years. They have two children over the age of 18, Charles and John and one daughter, Sarah who is just about to turn 18 and graduate high school. Rhody moved out of the marital home while Brenda, John and Sarah continued to live at the house. Their house was almost paid off. The house was assessed for tax purposes at $320,000 with only $6,820 to pay on it (about 9 months of payments) Both Rhody and Brenda have worked all of their lives. Rhody has a 401k Retirement Plan with his employer and about $684,000 accumulated. Brenda has a pension plan accumulated through her employer but its value is unknown.
Rhody feels badly because he is the one who wants the divorce. He simply doesn't have the same feelings for Brenda anymore and he wants to move to California. Brenda doesn't want the divorce and she is very upset. Rhody tells her he's going to make sure she is fine.
Brenda is worried about John and Sarah. John wasn't the greatest student. He didn't want to do anything after high school and he has no practical skills for work. He knows how to play XBox 360 games well and he delivers pizza during the summer and shovel's snow during the winter for spending money. He doesn't make enough money to support himself and Brenda believes that she and her husband owe it to John to help him out until he gets on his feet. Rhody feels differently about this because John is almost 23 and had the chance to go to college and trade school and didn't want to take advantage of either of them.
Sarah is doing well in high school and wants to go to Eastman College. She has already been accepted. Sarah excels in nature and portrait photography because of her unique eye and understanding of both film and digital cameras. Sarah has been working at a photography studio for two years and makes enough money part-time to continue her photography on mountain climbing excursions which she pays for herself. Sarah is particularly excited about college but has not received any scholarships yet.
Rhody gets a lot of pressure from Brenda to give her the house, leave her pension alone, and give her 20% of his 401k so she can maintain the house and fund Sarah's college and get John on the right track.
In return for just asking for 20% of Rhody's 401k in the divorce, Brenda tells Rhody she needs a little help so asks him to consent to $100 per week in alimony for four years so Brenda can accomplish all this until Sarah is done college. Rhody doesn't want to agree to the alimony.
Brenda tells Rhody that since he can deduct the alimony on his taxes and since she has to report the alimony as income that it comes out to much less than the 30% of Rhody's 401k that she will leave untouched. Rhody agrees.
Rhody settles the case himself as his guilt gets the better of him and he signs over the house to Brenda and draws up the papers exactly as he discussed with Brenda.
Rhody and Brenda plan on going to the Rhode Island Divorce hearing themselves and get it over with just by following sample questions they picked up for the proceeding.
At the friendly Rhode Island divorce hearing (called a "Nominal Hearing") Rhody testifies that he has agreed that Brenda will receive the alimony for four (4) years at $100 per week and that it is in their agreement. Brenda agrees that Rhody testified correctly and that Rhody has already signed over the house to her and she will refinance immediately to get Rhody off the mortgage. They ask the court that no child support be set for Sarah because she is almost 18 years old.
The temporary order known as the Decision Pending Entry of Final Judgment is prepared by Rhody and approved by the court. Just after Sarah graduates from high school the Rhode Island Family Court Judge signs Final Judgment of Divorce and Rhody breathes a sigh of relief.
Thirteen (13) months later Rhody finds out that Brenda has been in a very serious accident. She is right handed and will never be able to work again because she has lost the use of her right arm and hand.
Rhody is upset for Brenda but he is even more upset when two months after the accident, he is served with Rhode Island family papers. Brenda is seeking that the alimony she is paid be increased to $700 per week and be extended for at least 6 years.
Rhody is in shock. He tries to call Brenda about their divorce agreement but she won't take his calls. Rhody shows up at the hearing. The Rhode Island family court judge calls the case and Brenda is sitting their slumped to one side as her lawyer explains that she will be make a case for additional extended alimony.
Rhody interrupts Brenda's family court lawyer and explains to the judge that she can't do this because their divorce agreement prohibits it. The judge is patient and allows Rhody to hand her the agreement. After looking at the agreement for a few minutes the Judge offers to give Rhody time to engage a lawyer about the agreement and to give him a reasonable defense. Brenda's lawyer objects but the Judge states that she will be giving Rhody an opportunity to get a lawyer under these circumstances.
Rhody is concerned that something is wrong with the agreement he drew up for his divorce so he tells the judge that he would like time to get a divorce and family law lawyer. The matter is continued for three weeks.
Rhody meets with several lawyers only to discover that he made several grave mistakes in the agreement and during the hearing and now it is very clear that he needs a lawyer.
The parties end up settling the alimony action with a compromise in which Rhody agrees to give Brenda another 10% of his current 401k amount but his lawyer works it out so that it is to be considered alimony so Rhody can deduct it on his taxes and Brenda will have to report it as income. Rhody is not happy and Brenda is especially unhappy because Rhody has taken loans on his 401k to start his own business and the amount is not nearly the amount she had wanted.
What were the grave mistakes? One of them is apparent from this scenario? Do you know where you would find the other two mistakes?
If you are considering doing your Rhode Island Divorce Yourself, without receiving legal advice from a lawyer who knows your situation, you take risks! Sometimes those risks are huge and you don't even see them.
All it takes is one or two wrong or missing words that many attorneys are well aware of when it comes to alimony.
If you have a short term marriage where both parties are working and there are no children, no assets and no debts between the husband and wife, then you have a good chance of a successful divorce proceeding if you get some proper legal advice or coaching from a licensed divorce and family law professional in Rhode Island.
If your marriage goes beyond that, and you have a children, a home, a spouse who has not worked or is injured, retirement plans, a long-term marriage, addictions or any other number of factors that affect your life significantly, then you need to know the problems and pitfalls you may be faced with.
Don't be caught unaware. Without proper legal advice from a fully informed and licensed and experienced Rhode Island divorce and family law professional, your hearing may seem to go perfectly fine, your agreement may have been accepted by your spouse and the court, and the documents you draft for Orders and Judgments may be accepted by the court, but they may all be a time bomb waiting to blow up in your face.
Get some professional coaching and legal advice from a Rhode Island Divorce and Family Law Lawyer or Attorney. Don't be like Rhody and just cross your fingers and think you saved some money by not hiring a lawyer. Too many people think, "It will never happen to me." Until it happens to them and it's just too late.
Christopher A. Pearsall, Attorney-at-Law
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