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November 2011

Rhode Islanders, Representing Yourself in an Uncontested RI Divorce is Getting Tougher!


More people are filing and undertaking their own uncontested divorces in Rhode Island.  Last week two lawyers mentioned to me how shocked they were with all the people representing themselves in family court.  

One Rhode Island lawyer who practices a substantial amount of divorce commented that,

"They [People who represent themselves] are going to bog down the court calendar so badly that eventually lawyers aren't going to be given preference anymore on the court calendar and we are going to have to wait longer to be heard."

Another RI Attorney who practices a reasonable amount to family law commented that,

"I used to count on about 70 easy uncontested cases a year.  This year I'll be lucky if I get 30 cases total and the advertising costs have gone up and it's just not worth it.  I have been counting on that every year and it just isn't there anymore.  The economy has hit people so bad that they are taking the time to learn how to do it on their own.  I'm telling you. I'm worried and we all should be.  It's going to ruin income for family law practitioners.  Mark my words, it's going to get worse.  What do you think about . . . oops there's my elevator, we'll talk more about this later."

I wonder what reaction I would have received if he had realized that I have been promoting Rhode Island Pro Se representation in Uncontested Divorce for more than three and one half (3) 1/2 years for those who have appropriate coaching and get the proper legal advice.  Perhaps I should call that last attorney back and offer him the opportunity to learn the extent, content and process of my coaching program.  I suppose it is possible that he may be an attorney who is interested in learning about appropriate Rhode Island Divorce Coaching.  Who knows?  Every other attorney who I've spoken to directly has rejected the idea because he or she "Doesn't make enough money."  However, in the end, Rhode Island lawyers participating in the Rhode Island Divorce Coaching need to have the right state of mind.  Lawyers who are against people representing themselves because it hurts their practice or their income may not fit the bill.  It's not about the attorney.  It's about the need of the coaching client.

Just the same, the point is that more people are representing themselves in their own divorces, sometimes believing they are uncontested, easy divorces and sometimes just hoping to save money.  

Ultimately, things are changing not only for long-time lawyers but particularly for people who choose to represent themselves.

Here's something to think about.  I've been a Rhode Island lawyer practicing divorce and family law exclusive for the past twelve years.  During that time I've been developing a coaching program for 5 1/2 years for people to get coaching to represent themselves in uncontested divorces and just when I thought the program was nearly perfected, the program is now being revamped.

Why?  For the same reasons I tell people that they shouldn't even attempt representing themselves in a Rhode Island uncontested divorce without competent divorce coaching, because it can be made simpler but it is NOT easy!  A coach may help to boil it down to it's primary elements but law is not easy, even in an uncontested divorce.

My program is being revamped because legal standards are substantially changing in Rhode Island due to new and advancing changes in Rhode Island case law and several key statutes.  Additionally, new domestic relations forms have been, are still being created and mandated by the family court.  Also, new Administrative Orders about the manner in which timeframes will occur in family court cases due to the shortage of staff and budget cuts and make things easier for the court and the parties.

What does this mean?  It's a whole new ballgame folks.  Even when coaching clients with uncontested RI divorces and other family law cases if as a professional practicing exclusively in this field I need to change my coaching for my clients then that means there is more chance than ever that without enough proper coaching from a legal professional who is used to coaching people then if you try to do this all on your own you have a greater chance than ever to mess up your uncontested divorce and cause it to shift onto the Contested Track and you're in a whole new set of rules there.

So, all these changes are going to make representing yourself in an Uncontested RI Divorce at least 50% tougher than it did before.

You can still do it though and I'm an advocate of your right to represent yourself.  However, you've got to do it right.  If you screw it up then you may require a lawyer and twice as much time to fix things before the year is done.  

Do yourself a HUGE favor and don't screw things up!  You may have only one chance to get it done and get it done RIGHT!  The fact is, even in the easiest uncontested RI divorce you need sufficient coaching from an experienced, Rhode Island family law practitioner to have the best chance for success.

Do yourself a favor!  Accept the fact that you are NOT a licensed legal professional.  

Realize that walking into a courtroom and knowing Rhode Island's divorce laws and caselaw, the RI Rules of Domestic Relations Procedure, the Rhode Island Rules of Procedure, the Rhode Island Rules of Evidence, the Rules of Practice, and the Administrative Rules of the Rhode Island Family Court.

Yes, this is what we are expected to know as Rhode Island lawyers when we practice in the RI Family Court.  It's okay to realize that you need help and that it may cost you a little bit of money.  Say it cost you a total of $800 to get from beginning to end instead of $3,000, wouldn't that be smart on your part?

I am The Rhode Island Divorce Coach and I'm here to help.

Call me Now at 401-632-6976 and find out how affordable Rhode Island divorce coaching can be!


The New Rhode Island Divorce DR-6 Form: Is it a RI Lawyer's Friend or Foe?


Rhode Island and its divorce lawyers as well as those who intend to represent themselves in Rhode Island’s Family Court are being pulled into the mainstream of modern divorce law. 

Is it my intention as a Rhode Island Family Law lawyer * to confuse you?  Absolutely not.  It’s my intention to call your attention some very important changes that have occurred in the Rhode Island Family Court System that were bound to occur at some point in time.  After all, Rhode Island could not remain the old fashioned, unchanging state it has been for an unlimited duration of time. 

 Effective October 1, 2011, a new DR-6 Statement of Current Assets, Liabilities, Income and Expenses has been created.  Pursuant to Rhode Island Administrative Court Orders 1987-2, 2011-4, and 2011-5, the RI Family Court’s new DR-6 is required at the time of filing Rhode Island divorces, Motions for Temporary Support, Motions for Custody, and Motions for Counsel Fees.

This form is also required from a party who opposes a divorce filing, a Motion for Temporary Support, a Motion for custody, a motion for attorneys’ fees.  The RI Family Court’s new DR-6 form must also be updated and completed in full, signed under oath, and filed with the Court by the filing party or the opposing party if either of them has a financial change of circumstances. 

To be on the safe side you may want to take the position that I have that the degree of significance of the financial change need not need be sizeable.  If you have an addition to or subtraction to your assets, an increase or decrease in your expenses, an increase or decrease in your income, or an increase or decrease in your liabilities, AND that change amounts to even as little as $100, then it is best to be safe and to fill out a new DR-6 Form and update the court on the status of your financial situation.

The purpose of Rhode Island’s new DR-6 Form in the Family Court System provides for substantially more “upfront” disclosure of finances between the parties in a cases where finances are at issue.  This financial form provides both for detailed disclosure of finances for the benefit of both parties but also for the benefit of the Family Court judges involved in the case so they will have access to fundamental information regarding the finances of each party without having to compel a partys’ compliance with additional orders under the threat of contempt. 

The new DR-6 form is shown below.  As you can see it requires extensive voluntary disclosures of your assets, debts, income and liabilities.  These disclosures which go well beyond the DR-6 form previously used by the family court.

Is this a good change?  The answer is clearly debatable.

Why?  Well, it depends upon your perspective.

Let’s assume that Mr. Trump, a very old-fashioned 82 year old Rhode Island gentleman who has amassed significant assets wants to divorce his wife. According to the RI Family Court’s Administrative Orders Mr. Trump must file this new DR-6.  To his shock, Mr. Trump is told by his attorney that he is required to disclose every aspect of his gross income, his expenses, his assets, his business interests, his liabilities, his bank accounts, his investments, his rental incomes and essentially every aspect of his financial life. 

Mr. Trump doesn’t want to provide the information but his attorney explains to him that is required by the Court to file for divorce.  Mr. Trump begins having the information provided to the attorney believing it will only be available to the court. 

Prior to signing the DR-6 under oath Mr. Trump is informed by his divorce lawyer that his financial information will not only be available to the Court but also to his wife and to anyone who reviews his divorce file, including the general public. Mr. Trump refuses to sign the DR-6.  The attorney informs Mr. Trump that without this form the divorce cannot be filed.  Mr. Trump is furious. 

Why does personal and private financial information that would not otherwise be known to the public have to be disclosed to the public in a divorce? 

Mr. Trump is not happy.  He does not understand why he should have to make his private and personal financial information available to the public in order to divorce his wife.  The only thing his lawyer can tell Mr. Trump is that it is a required form for filing a divorce and he can either complete the form or dismiss the idea of filing for divorce.

Do you consider your finances and income private? 

Would you be upset if you were in Mr. Trump’s shoes?

If Mr. and Mrs. Trump signed a pre-marital agreement and they have both already agreed how they are going to resolve their divorce, should Mr. Trump still be required to make such an extensive public disclosure of his finances?

Now let’s change the situation and look at the requirement from a different perspective.

Mr. Johnson has moderate income and he and his wife have fairly well over their 23 year marriage as a result of Mr. Johnson’s self-employment as a subcontractor.  Mr. Johnson is a very shrewd man and he takes care of all the bills and has had complete control of the finances.  Mrs. Johnson hasn’t worked in 18 years and she is very scared about how she is going to survive.  Mr. Johnson files for divorce.

Can you imagine how Mrs. Johnson and her attorney might feel about the new DR-6 form when Mrs. Johnson knows nothing about the finances at all and Mr. Johnson had to fill that form out at the time of filing?  The word “thrilled” might just about summarize it, or in the very least Mrs. Johnson probably feels a little bit relieved when she can see what the financial picture is from Mr. Johnson’s DR-6 form.

As I said, it’s a matter of perspective. 

One thing that certainly needs to be considered is today’s technology.  Would you have concerns about your financial information being a matter of public record?

Is identity theft a concern that you have?  You aren’t the only one.

It’s a concern every person in a divorce should have right now!

However, that’s an article for another day.

I am The Rhode Island Divorce Coach and I’m here to help you!

Give me a call to set up your affordable legal advice or divorce coaching session Now at 401-632-6976.


The RI Divorce Coach Speaks on Keeping Your Marriage Together!

It's sad to see so many spouses divorcing on a weekly basis.  Many RI Divorce cases contain spouses who are bitter, unyielding and unwilling to come to any kind of compromise even when there may be minor children involved.  All too often I see the minor children in such situations victimized and hurt because one or the other parent can't control his or her animosity and the tension, anger, and stress carry over to the children.  That is why I have made it a major goal of my Rhode Island family law practice to try to bring divorces to an amicable resolution before tensions can rise and families can be torn apart.

Ultimately, the truth is that many marriages can be saved and spouse's can keep their marriages together whether they have children or not.  Naturally it all takes work not just one day a week but every day.  The way to make it easier is to turn what is at first "work" into an enjoyable exercise that keeps the love and communication alive in your family.

Personally, I recommend reading John Gray's books that started with "Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus" as a good start.  Ultimately I have come to realize that men and women do, in fact, think and act differently from one another.  This, of course, makes a big difference in how each spouse perceives what the other spouse has said or done in a particular situation.

As I write this I can give you a specific example.

A husband is tired and has just finished a household project that has taken him two days to complete and he sits down to rest and have a bowl of ice cream as his reward.  His wife is sitting nearby.  

His wife likes to sew, perform embroidery and make small quilts but she's has been sick off and on for the past year and she has been somewhat limited in what she can do and she has found it discouraging. She has a nice sewing room which was the first room in the house to be recarpeted and in which she has acquired 6 or 7 sewing machines, embroidery machines and sergers to do the things she enjoys.

WIFE:  I'm looking forward to when we can get new furniture.

The husband suddenly becomes angry, defensive and snaps at his wife.  He feels tired and unappreciated for the work he just did.  Even if she told him "Thank you." or tells him "You did a great job.  That probably isn't going to help if she talks about furniture the same day. The appreciation is going to be forgotten because he now thinks it isn't good enough that he spent the last two days she has to have the furniture right away too.  In a nutshell, the husband is most likely going to feel that he isn't appreciated.  

HUSBAND: "It just doesn't matter how much I do or how much I make.  You'd just rather that I work forever till I die for all the money we need to get all this stuff when you know I hate my job.  There's just no pleasing you." 

The wife is quiet a moment.

WIFE:  Well, we were talking about getting new furniture, weren't we?   I keep having to wait to get things done when I would like them to get done but because I can't do it myself and I don't make the money that is needed then I have to wait till you feel like it.

The husband becomes angrier and even more defensive.  

HUSBAND:  I don't remember talking about going to get new furniture right away.  This all takes money you know.

WIFE:  Oh, I know!  It's just like that $25 per week you said I could have for an allowance each week.  That's the same amount of money my ex-husband used to give me . . . 20 years ago.  

Fortunately, the Wife realizes it's best not to say anything more to hurt their relationship and she decides to calmly leave the room before either of them says something they'll regret.

WIFE:  I need some alone time.  I'm going to our bedroom for a while to calm down.

This is a typical exchange between a husband and a wife.  Now granted it seems like a regular type of disagreement that spouses may have, but clearly there are feelings and perhaps misunderstandings that may be hidden in the conversation which left unaddressed are only going to grow, become bottled up and may possibly destroy the trust and communication between this couple.

So what happened here.  The man has been working on a home project that has taken time during two days out of his life.  While he may or may not be happy with the end result of this project, he may have spent money, time, energy and his own frustration to get this project done.  If it's a home project then it's very likely that this was a project that his wife wanted done as well for one reason or another.  Maybe it provided more spacing in a closet or closed off an unsightly wall or some ugly wiring.  If this is the case, the man may be proud that he did something for his wife and for his house.  From his statements he put some money into it and thought both he and his wife benefitted from what he had just done.  

So, we have a tired man who believes that this may have been a pretty good project to move things along at the house and to help his wife be happier with their home.  Now, whether she knows it or not a man needs to be proud of what he has done and hopefully have others be proud of it too, especially his wife if he was doing it to make his wife happy too.  For a man, I've learned myself that this period of time is usually a few days.  A man in this position usually doesn't want to hear about another project that involves either more time or money on the very day he's completed one project.  What this says to the husband is that the time, money and effort really weren't appreciated that much so let's get on to things that really make a difference.  In the end, mentioning another project or purchase right after one was just finished makes the husband feel as though his accomplishment is meager and that the appreciation wasn't genuine at all.

Now let's assume that this husband is a man who likes to please his wife and that when he hadn't done too much around the house for some time he started talking with her about new carpeting, doing some painting and getting some new furniture.

So what has happened here.  The wife is likely to be very excited about these things.  In fact, noone could blame her if she couldn't wait to get them all done.  Now here the husband has given the wife the impression, belief or hope that these things can be done.  She's excited and there's nothing wrong with that!  So now the wife has an expectation that her husband is going to follow through on the other things he talked about with her.  Now, here husband has told her that one thing is done and she's told him it looks great and thanks him.  Now, in the wife's mind it's okay to move on at least to talking about the next thing and so on.  The husband may have been referring to all these things in the long term or maybe over a period of six months but if he didn't specify any timeframe at all then how is his Wife to know that?  The fact is .... she can't!  She certainly isn't a mind reader.  When his wife gets excited when one thing is done by her husband.  Suddenly all the things her talked about seem possible.  The end result is that she gets more excited and so she naturally thinks its just fine to talk about one of the other things because her husband had been the one to mention them.  After all, if he mentioned them then it should be a safe topic for her to talk about, right?  It makes sense, doesn't it?

What the husband and wife need to understand here is that each of them processes things differently and they each have different inherent expectations about some things that they expect the other spouse to know about.  The husband got defensive and upset because he needed to have some time off between projects and he probably even needed time for himself to appreciate what he had done so he could regain momentum for something else he had mentioned to his wife.  The wife didn't know this because she didn't realize that her husband thinks this way and so she began talking about what was really a taboo subject right after the completion of one project.  

How can we know things like this?

How are wives supposed to know that their husbands most likely think like this and understand their responses and reactions?  And by the same token how are husbands supposed to understand that they may be the one that caused the wife to bring up the taboo subject in the first place?

The answer is as close as your local bookstore or library or even the internet.  Though there are many writers who write on the interactions between men and women.  It has become more important in today's age to understand the very fact that husbands and wives see, feel, understand, and experience things differently and therefore we process things differently.  As a result of these things, what we say, mean and expect may be very different.  We need to understand that we are opposite sexes not just by our anatomy but also in the very way our brain functions and how we interpret things.  

Men speak one language and Women speak another language.  When we learn to understand the language of the opposite sex then we can insure that we clear up these misunderstandings in communications and restore love and trust in the marriage relationship.

In this particular instance, the husband and wife would both be best left to calm down and approach each other with cool heads remembering the best things they love about their spouse and then try to come to terms with how they each felt about each of the things they each said and why they said them.  By sharing this particular dynamic honestly with each other, they will strengthen their marriage, their bond of trust and their understanding of each other to prevent possible future misunderstandings along the same lines.

Keeping these things bottled up is always detrimental to the relationship.  Bottled up emotions often cause anger, jealousy, unappreciation, and other negative emotions to fester and may cause spouses to relive or repeatedly bring up old incidents that simply exist because they were left unresolved by one or both spouses.  Communication and understanding is the key to any effect marriage in which love truly resides.

Make no mistake about it, I am no advocate for divorce.  However, if a divorce must take place and the parties need to go their separate ways, it is always my goal to bring the parties to a resolution without the destruction of either spouse, children involved in the relationship, or the family unit as a whole.

I am here to help and I am . . . The Rhode Island Divorce Coach!


Rhode Island Divorce Lawyer Coaching Tip - Keep an Eye Out for New RI Forms and Requirements

Change is the new word for Rhode Island's Family Court System.  With the herald of new Chief Judge Haiganush Bedrosian taking her position as the new Chief Judge, changes have been happening in the Domestic Relations Court System at an unprecedented pace, at least during my time as a Rhode Island lawyer.

As a lawyer who tries to remain informed about the newer requirements of the court and changes in the law I am frequently "bothering" for lack of a better term the already overworked clerks, assistant clerks and administrative support staff who strive to keep our courts running by asking them about new forms, administrative orders or other things that I should be aware of as a family law practitioner.

At first I was informed by one person that five (5) Administrative Orders had been issued by our new Chief Judge.  Then I was informed that there were only three (3) such orders and the missing numbers in the sequence of the Administrative Orders meant nothing.  Then I was told again that there were, in fact, five (5) such orders but only three (3) of them could be found in print form as of the time of my request.  To the date of this brief update, I am uncertain if there are 3, 5 or even more orders than are known to practitioners.

To say the least, it can become confusing, especially when the Administrative Orders are extremely important to the practice of law in the family court and yet there is no central form of distribution so that attorneys practicing in the area of domestic relations can know of their existence.  

The same is true for new forms.  The Rhode Island DR-6 Statement of Assets and Liabilities which has been a long disputed form between attorneys regarding how it is to be filled out and the court's intended use for it has now undergone such change that it has gone from a 2 page form on the front and back page of one peice of paper to a 9 page document which is now in it's third revision (or perhaps more) since its release to attorneys and to the public without notice.  The document lacks instructions which makes it substantially more confusing than the prior 2 page form and the mandate that it must now be on green paper or it will be rejected has left several practitioners holding the bag and missing some court deadlines.

Thankfully Rhode Island lawyers who are more courteous in their understanding of these changes in the Rhode Island Family Court are more accommodating and pick up the shortfall for lack of any notice of the form, its changes or lack of instructions by working civilly with other practitioners who find themselves caught unaware by changes that often go without notice.  The fundamental point for Rhode Island Divorce and Family Law Practitioners as well as those who attempt to represent themselves in a divorce or other family court proceeding is to do whatever you can to keep abreast of the court's Administrative Orders and the Newest Forms by contacting the Providence Family Court Clerk's Office.  It is not wise to presume that you are up to date either on the Orders or the form.

Why?

Here is a true to life example that occurred within the last hour.  I had helped a client to complete the new Green DR-6 Statement of Assets and Liabilities Form for a new case.  Surprisingly but gladly, I had been added to an email list from the court when I had asked to have the new form emailed to me.  The email was brief and to the point.  It instructed me to destroy the prior form I had received and to use the newly revised form that had just been emailed out.  While some time was wasted and more will be spent transposing the information to the new form, it is better to have been advised of this information than not to know about it at all.

Hopefully, there will eventually be put into place a better way of communicating with RI Family Law Practitioners and the public at large regarding these changes as they arise in the near future.  One can only hope that such a process will be part of the plan.

In the meantime, change is something we all need to adapt to and these new Administrative Orders and Forms are no exception.  Hopefully, Chief Judge Bedrosian will help us all to come together in a more unified manner to better understand what is being undertaken and why such changes are being made since this too is part of the proper and informed practice of family law.



The Rhode Island Child Support Law for Severely Impaired Children has Changed!



Dear Rhode Island Divorce Coach,

Financially I'm doing pretty bad since I got laid off after 15 years.  I've made good money but now unemployment is going to run out and I don't even know how I'm going to afford food or rent.  She just want's child support again for my son again and she says it's my problem.

My ex and I have been divorced for almost 9 years.  We had two kids together.  My daughter is 19 years old and she's going to Rhode Island Community College and doing great.  My son a great kid.  He is somewhat learning disabled and I've been told he has the mental age of 13 even though he's almost 21 years old.  

The Rhode Island family court terminated my child support for my daughter just shortly after she turned 18 and again for my son at age 19.

My ex-wife is taking me back into court to get child support for my son.  She says she'll get it because he is learning disabled and is still living at home with her.

The court can't make me pay Rhode Island Child Support again, right?  I mean, once the court tells me I don' t have to pay anymore I'm done, right?

J from Pawtucket.



The Rhode Island Divorce Coach's Answer:
      
     J.  I certainly can't give you an exact answer because lawyers don't make the decisions, it's the Judge's who do that.  It is all based upon all the circumstances presented to the judge, what laws they use and how the position is argued on your behalf.  I can never be sure if you've given me all the circumstances or how a judge might view your circumstances depending upon what things are presented in court, how they are presented, and who they are presented too.

     I can tell you that effective July 9, 2011 the law regarding this subject changed.  Specifically, RI General Laws 15-5-16.2(b) which provides the fundamental considerations the court must consider when determining the child support for children who have a severe physical or mental impairment and are still living with or under the care of a parent even beyond the child's emancipation date as set forth in the statute (deemed to be 19 years old at the latest) has been modified.

The Rhode Island Family court already had the power to issue child support orders for the severely physically or mentally disabled child beyond the age of 19 in its discretion provided the court found that continued child support was warranted under the circumstances as set forth in RI General Laws 15-5-16.2.

Now, in your case you have told me that before the law was changed your child support obligation for your son was terminated by the family court.  You don't mention anything about whether the court determined if your son with physically or mentally impaired, or if your son was living with either you or your ex-wive at the time your child support obligation for him was terminated, so I will address the change in the law.  You should then apply what the change in the law states to your situation since it would be improper for me to speculate on your situation without asking you further questions during a paid coaching session.

Rhode Island General Laws 15.5-16.2(b) which provides the factors a court must consider when deciding to expand child support beyond a child's 19th birthday.  That law has been amended.  Effective July 9, 2011, the following addition was inserted after the factors the court must consider in Rhode Island General Laws 15-5-16.2 in subsection (b).

"If a child support order for a child with a severe physical or mental impairment has been terminated, suspended or expired, the court shall consider the factors in this paragraph and has the discretion to order child support for this child prospectively based upon established child support guidelines."

Essentially this law seems to give the Rhode Island Family Court the power to award child support on a "going forward basis" even after a child's 19th birthday if the child has or had * a "severe physical or mental impairment" and a child support order for that child was terminated, suspended, or expired.  

However, in a nut shell it now makes it possible for your ex-wife to at least petition the court for a continuation of child support if the court determines that your son's condition constitutes a severe physical or mental impairment.

Based upon the change to this law, it IS possible that your ex-wife could take you back to court and she (or rather the child technically) be awarded child support on a going forward basis even if your child support was previously terminated.  That is, of course, provided the court finds that your son's condition meets all the criteria required by that law.

You will want to look at cases determining what constitutes a severe physical or mental impairment under other Rhode Island cases.

I'm sorry that the answer isn't as simple as you might like it.  However, the law can get very complex and often rests on different interpretations and arguments that can be made.  That's why it is always important, in the very least, to seek the advice of an experienced divorce and family law practitioner on matters such as these.
[*Important Note on Bolded Text:  It is unclear from this addition in Rhode Island General Laws 15-5-16.2(b) whether the child had to have the severe physical or mental impairment (a) At the time the previous Rhode Island child support order was issued, (b) At the time the previous Rhode Island child support order was terminated, or (c) whether the child acquired the severe physical or mental impairment at any time after the date the child support order that was terminated was made by the court. ]
I hope you found this of help to you.  Should you need any further assistance, please contact me for an affordable legal advice or Rhode Island Family Law Coaching session from an experienced Rhode Island Divorce and Family Law and Divorce Lawyer and Coach.

My best of luck to you J.