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Rhode Island Divorce Judges - Won't the RI Judge just rubber stamp our Marital Settlement Agreement?

What?!?  The Rhode Island Divorce judge won't just rubber stamp our marital settlement agreement?  

In one word, "No."

One man called and wanted my price for a "completely uncontested Rhode Island divorce."

I told the gentleman I don't provide quotes for divorce matters over the phone and that with all due respect, his case may or may not be a completely uncontested divorce.

The man became very angry and told me he didn't like being jerked around.  I explained to him that I have been through this process myself before I even became a lawyer and I had no intention of jerking him around and was not trying to do so.  

The man then rattled off that he and his wife had discussed and agree to everything regarding the house, the kids, the other assets and debts, the health insurance, and even alimony.  

I praised the man for having mentioned the major issues he should be talking to his spouse about.  Here is how the conversation went.

MAN:  I have worked everything out for an attorney in advance so you should just be able to tell m how much time it takes to just push the paperwork through and what that costs.

ATTORNEY PEARSALL:  It sounds like you have done great.  Yetlet me ask you one question.  What happens if the judge won't allow your agreement?

MAN:  Well no judge has any business telling me what I can agree to with my wife and what I can't.

ATTORNEY PEARSALL:  Many people feel that way.

MAN:  Well that sounds absurd.  They are our kids, our property, our lives, it all has to do with us.  No judge is going to go sticking his nose in our business and telling us how to live our lives or what to do.

ATTORNEY PEARSALL:  Sir, calm down please.  All I am doing is telling you realistically that if the court finds something that isn't acceptable in your agreement or about how it was entered into that the Judge has the power to decide not to approve the agreement.

MAN:  I don't think that ever happens.

ATTORNEY PEARSALL:  No, it doesn't happen often, but it does happen.  I've seen it in several cases for different reasons.

MAN:  Listen, I'm not going to pay you or any other attorney to bring this through court if you are telling me that the Rhode Island divorce judge we get can just refuse to approve our agreement.  It's none of the judge's damn business.

ATTORNEY PEARSALL:  Sir, I'm just being realistic with you.  A judge can and will exercise their right not to approve your agreement and your divorce if they have good reason to do so.

MAN:  Well that is stupid.  No other lawyer has told me that.  They've just either given me a price when I called or asked me to come in first.

ATTORNEY PEARSALL:  Whether it's stupid or not, they can do it.  That is why I will not give quotes over the phone until I sit down and talk with you.  And if I'm going to sit down and talk with you then I'm going to make sure you are well advised about any problems you might encounter with your agreement.

MAN:  So I have to waste my time coming to sit with you to tell you about the agreement I worked out and about my marriage when I've done all of the work for you.  I should just be able to get a small quote over the phone and decide who I want to hire.

ATTORNEY PEARSALL:  Sir, do you work for nothing or do you get paid when you go to work?

MAN:  That's a dumb question!  I get paid, of course!  That's another thing!  I'd have to lose time from work to meet with you.

ATTORNEY PEARSALL:  But aren't you the one who needs a divorce attorney's help?

MAN:  Yes.

ATTORNEY PEARSALL:  And that's because you don't know how a Rhode Island divorce works, right?

MAN:  Yes.

ATTORNEY PEARSALL:  Well, I'm just like you.  When I go to work I expect to be paid.  And what I do is I give people legal advice whether I represent them or not.  If I have a tax problem I have to take time out of my day to meet with a certified public accountant and when I'm done with the accountant and I've received the accountant's advice or help then I have to pay the accountant.

That's the way business works.  Divorce is a service business and it's harder than most because we're dealing not just with laws but with people, emotions and equitable principles that the RI court upholds by the judge's discretion based upon what is presented.  So when I meet with people I take no less than 1 hour.  We're talking about people's lives, parents, children, homes, retirements, child support, visitation, out-of-pocket health care costs and many other issues.

MAN:  So I have to take a whole hour out of work just to tell you all the work I've done for you and then you do the easy part.

[At this point I have to admit that even with a tremendous amount of patience I was getting a little annoyed because this man had a very angry and disrespectful tone and clearly did not want to do anything except vent at me.  Of course since every minute I waste arguing with him could be spent helping one of my clients or someone who does want my services.]

ATTORNEY PEARSALL:  And I charge only $145 for that initial hour.

MAN:  No way!  You're nuts!

ATTORNEY PEARSALL:  Okay sir, well I wish you luck and I hope you have a nice day.

MAN:  Well, wait a minute . . . what might a judge reject my agreement for?

ATTORNEY PEARSALL:  Sir, now it sounds as if you are asking for me to work for free.  Is that what you are doing?

MAN:  No!  But could you please just give me a generic example?

ATTORNEY PEARSALL:  Assume you have a disabled wife and she isn't getting tons of assets from your Marital Settlement Agreement and that her only income is social security disability.  A RI Family Court judge might refuse to allow the Marital Settlement Agreement and let divorce go through if the wife has agreed to waive alimony if it doesn't appear that she has enough to live on.  

MAN:  Do you know who I am?  

ATTORNEY PEARSALL:  No.  Should I?  You didn't state your name. It only says your number on my caller ID?

MAN:  Okay. I was just wondering how you knew the exact situation in our Marital Settlement Agreement.

ATTORNEY PEARSALL:  That is just one of the red flags off the top of my head that I've seen a RI judge use to reject an agreement and not process a divorce.

MAN:  [Silent.]

ATTORNEY PEARSALL:  Would you like to set up an appointment?

MAN:  No, I'll think about what you've said and call you back if I want to.

[The Man hung up.]

Rule of Thumb: Don't expect the RI Family Court Judge simply to rubber stamp whatever Marital Settlement Agreement that you and your spouse put together.  The Rhode Island Family Court still has equitable guiding principles of fairness and protection for the minor children and the parties in a divorce that influence how a judge may rule.  It is always better to seek the advice of a licensed RI Attorney who has sufficient experience practicing before the Rhode Island Family Courts before proceeding before the court with your Marital Settlement Agreement.  Not every Marital Settlement Agreement is approved.

All my Best to All Who Go Before the Rhode Island Family Court,

I am Attorney Christopher A. Pearsall and I am "The Rhode Island Divorce Coach."