Some people may tell you that the Rhode Island Family Court judges will help you through the divorce proceeding if you've reached an agreement with your spouse. Is it true? Yes.
So the next question is fairly obvious. Since the Judges in the Rhode Island divorce cases do these things all the time, if they are going to help me through the process, why in the world do I need a Rhode island lawyer's help at all.
Hey, it's a Great Question! I have to admit that. Yet here is the big catch. The Rhode Island Family Court judge is NOT on either side and does not give you legal advice. You've got to know your rights and what you are doing before you go through the door or frankly, you may just screw yourself over.
Yes, you read that right. You can screw yourself over in your own divorce proceeding. You see a judge may help you with the proceeding in whatever way that judge feels is appropriate but that is it. Sure, you may feel like the weight of the world is off your shoulders only to find that you just made the biggest mistake of your life because you didn't know your rights and you didn't know what your burden was in the hearing. Even if the judge helps you, that doesn't mean that the judge will help you make sure that everything is done so that you meet your burden or that you do what you need to do to protect your interests.
Here's what people don't realize. Even in the simplest of divorces there are things that you should do to protect yourself. What are they? It depends upon the divorce. There are literally HUNDREDS if not THOUSANDS of things that divorce lawyers help you to look out for. It's one thing if you CHOOSE not to protect yourself. Yet, it's another thing entirely if you think you are being protected because a judge is taking your through the procedure and you don't realize that the procedure is not the same as making sure your rights are protected. Not every judge asks all the important questions that relate to your situation. Why? The judges have a caseload to take care of. The more cases they have, the more they have on their plate that they have to get rid of (adjudicate and close) because they know that new cases are being filed every day and assigned to them.
Some judges are detailed and some cover just the very basics. They aren't even required to help you at all. If they do so it could be out of the goodness of their hearts or it could be because it's YOUR JOB to protect your rights and even though it's YOUR JOB to know the court's procedure, that is one thing that a judge in his or her discretion can help you with to some extent.
Here's a simple example.
Stephen and Debra have a simple divorce. They agree on everything. Stephen is going to buy Debra out of the house for $20,000. Stephen is also going to give Debra all of his 9 IRA'S so he doesn't have to pay alimony because he has taken care of Debra for 14 years and she hasn't worked. They have no children. Stephen agreed to keep Debra covered by health insurance for at least three years.
The judge guides Stephen and Debra through the process with various questions that seem appropriate for their case. They both breathe a sigh of relief as they leave the courtroom. Stephen then prepares the Decision Pending Entry of Final Judgment and later the Final Judgment based upon samples he has been given from the Family Court Clerk's Office.
Six months later Stephen lost his job and had signed papers giving Debra the rights to 100% of his 9 IRAs. Stephen lost his health insurance and told Debra he couldn't cover her anymore because he lost his coverage.
Debra was angry and a friend loaned her money to take Stephen back to court to make him buy health insurance for her for the rest of the 3 years because that's what he had promised to do.
Debra's lawyer ordered the transcript of the divorce/nominal hearing and based upon the judge's and the questions answers as well as what the Decision Pending Entry of Final Judgment and Final Judgment of Divorce, Stephen had to provide Debra with health insurance for three (3) years. It didn't state anything about any changes if Stephen lost his job. It also didn't state that Debra had to pay any portion of the insurance so the court found that Stephen had to use his unemployment earnings to buy health insurance for Debra immediately.
Stephen spoke up and blamed the judge who conducted his hearing. This was far from the best tact to take. Stephen was also ordered to pay Debra's attorney fees otherwise he would be found in willful contempt of court and be fined and sent to the Adult Correctional Institution until he complied with the court's order to get the insurance and at least make arrangements to pay her attorney's fees.
On top of all this, Debra had run into hard straights because Stephen had left Debra without insurance for almost eight (8) months so she had to take hardship disbursement on all nine (9) of the IRA's to pay her medical bills and prescriptions.
Stephen was shocked when he received a 1099-R Statement for all of taxes, expenses, fees and penalties for Debra taking distributions on all the IRA's. You see Stephen did not know to ask the court how to transfer the IRA's so that he wouldn't be responsible for these taxes, expenses, fees and penalties, so when he transferred the IRA's to Debra he did it in such a way that they remained under his social security number and therefore he was responsible for those things.
Sadly it wasn't necessary. Stephen could have spend between $400 and $700 and been fully advised of his rights and what to watch out for. However, he didn't want to spend that money on something he was sure was easy and that lawyers just try to get your money.
So instead, he ended up paying $28,975 in health insurance costs as well as $35,744 in IRA taxes, fees, expenses and penalties, plus another $2,000 for Debra's attorney's fees.
That's a whopping $66,719!
If you don't see from this case why it is NOT a good idea to simply (1) believe you have an easy or simple divorce based on an agreement with your spouse, AND (2) trust the judge to direct you on your specific legal rights when that is not the judge's job, then you have problems already.
Divorce lawyers in Rhode Island exist for a reason. You can spend between $400 and $700 in coaching fees with me and be protected from things such as this. If Stephen had opted for the $400 to $700 then he would have saved himself quite a bit of money.
+ $ 2,000
Stephen would have saved $66,019 simply by spending $700 to know his rights in his simple divorce.
Was it a simple divorce? For a RI lawyer who practices divorce in this state regularly, yes it was. For someone who represents themself and doesn't get any legal help from an experienced professional this WAS NOT a simple divorce. So what was it?
It was a mouse trap waiting for you to go to the hearing and just answer the judge's questions and set it off. SNAP!
If you knew how many of these simple divorces that have personally witnessed backfiring on people every day you would be astounded. I listen to them week after week.
Don't mistake me. I respect the judges who help the litigants, you need to know that judges need to clear their calendar and if you don't know your own rights to insure the judge awards things in accordance with your legal rights as YOU set them out, you can't blame the judge or the court later on for helping you.
Do yourself a favor! Get some help from a qualified profession BEFORE you handle your simple divorce yourself. You'll be glad you did!
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."