I've always been an advocate of people exercising their right to represent themselves, especially in Rhode Island divorce proceedings. However, I am only an advocate of it when people obtain guidance from an experienced lawyer who regularly practices divorce law in Rhode Island.
Today the dangers are greater than ever as I see most of the judges walking people through the divorce process.
Many people think that legal advice isn't necessary if the judge helps them through the process. If you are one of those people, I'm sorry to rain on your parade but the dangers are greater than ever.
Let me give you several examples I have seen in the past month.
1. The first couple I saw didn't get any advice from anyone for their divorce. Then went before the RI Family Court judge who lead then through their divorce. In 5 minutes they were done and they were thrilled that the process was over. They left the courtroom with a few nasty words to each other and it was clear that they thought it was done.
Here was the problem. The judge expected them to know what to do from there. They had already been helped through the hearing. They were on their own for the rest. I'm sure neither one of them knew that they have to prepare and Interlocutory Decision Pending Entry of the Final Judgment to be approved by a Rhode Island Family Court Judge usually within thirty (30) days of that hearing and then present a Final Judgment in the same manner within 91 to 121 days thereafter. If they don't do those things, they will remain married indefinitely.
2. Here's another example. Another couple I noticed went through the process and answered whatever questions the judge asked of them. The wife made hardly any money at all and had a child on state assistance. The husband made a very decent income by comparison. During the questioning, the husband waived alimony from the wife but the wife was never asked if she waived alimony from the husband and it was never stated by the judge on the record. Sometimes the judges are very busy and I understand that this could happen, therefore I must be on the look out for it when I am protecting the clients I represent. This means I must make sure that these things are included in the judge's decision and in the testimony to make sure everything is covered correctly. Since neither the judge nor the husband caught the issue, this fellow may have a problem in the future. Since this man's wife didn't waive alimony then she can return to court at any time and ask for it. Some legal advice from an experienced lawyer could have prevented this.
3. In another situation, a judge lead a couple through the proceeding and in about 10 minutes they were done. Was there a problem in their divorce? I believe so. I noticed that in the court's decision regarding the divorce that the judge "left child support open" because the husband said that he and his wife agreed that he was taking care of his children so a child support order wasn't necessary. The wife didn't say a word about this in her testimony even though the judge asked her if she agreed with her husband's testimony and she said "yes".
The woman was very quiet and meek and so the judge continued with the questions and 9 minutes later the judge made the decision and child support was left open.
Out in the hallway the husband laughed at his wife. Apparently he wasn't taking care of the children at all and there were four (4) of them! He put his arm around another woman and walked down the hall and got into the elevator. The wife just sat down in the hallway and cried.
Too many people are making the mistake of believing that they do not need to know their legal rights or obtain some legal advice because a judge might help them through the divorce process.
It is your obligation to know your own rights and it is your obligation to protect your rights and to protect the rights of your children. It is not the obligation of the judges to protect you, your children, your house, your income, etc... The judge conducts the proceeding and expects you to know what you are doing. The judge must presume that you know your rights and what you are doing because you have come into a court of law.
Everyone's case is different. Everyone's life is different. Everyone has different factors that must be considered. It is up to you to make sure the court knows all these things. It is not up to the judge to ask you the right questions or even all the questions that relate to your particular marriage or family.
If a mistake is made or something is forgotten, it is not the judge's fault. You can't blame the judge. You can't sue the judge. You can't sue the state. You're on your own because you walked into a bear trap with jagged steel clamps and set it off knowing full well that it was right there and you were stepping into it.
A tremendous number of people are making the mistake of representing themselves and believing they are protected when a judge is nice enough to try to help them through a divorce proceeding with a generic set of questions that applies to many divorces but certainly not all divorces.
A judge is not your protector! You must protect yourself!
I offer affordable coaching and advice and I'm here to help.
All My Best to You on Your Journey Through The RI Family Court,
Attorney Christopher A. Pearsall - "The Rhode Island Divorce Coach"™