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November 2013

Served in an RI Divorce? What do you do next if you can't afford a lawyer?

Picture of Attorney Christopher Pearsall
Atty Chris Pearsall

Authored By:  Christopher Pearsall, RI Divorce Attorney
a.k.a.  " The Rhode Island Divorce Coach ℠ "

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You find yourself served with divorce papers for a Rhode Island divorce and you don't have the money or don't want to hire a lawyer.  What do you do next?

The next step is to follow exactly what the Summons that you were served with tells you to do.  It advises you that you have twenty (20) days within which to answer the Plaintiff's Complaint otherwise you may be defaulted and the Court may grant the relief that has been requested by the the Plaintiff.

Many laypeople don't know what that means.  

1)  Does that mean you have to file something with the court within twenty (20) days?  

2)  Does it mean that you need to get a lawyer within twenty (20) days?  

3)  Does it mean you have to just tell the Plaintiff that you received the documents or send him or her a letter to let the person know the documents were received?

4)  Does it mean that you have to mail something to the Plaintiff within twenty (20) days?

Or does it mean something entirely different.

We won't go into detail about what it means to be defaulted here.  Suffice it to say, most people don't want to be defaulted.  In fact, you would only "not mind" being defaulted if you have 100% trust in your spouse and everything that he or she might ask for in the divorce if you weren't present.

So what should you do?  

Most family law attorneys would submit an Answer and a Counterclaim for Divorce.  This is common since Answers and Counterclaims must be submitted simultaneously and usually they are included in the same document.

So what does the Answer portion contain.  The top part looks like most court filing.  It is the portion some attorneys call the "Header."  It has the caption of the case.  The first line of the page would generally contain in capital letters the words "STATE OF RHODE ISLAND" flush against the left margin and the words "FAMILY COURT" flush against right margin.  On the next line flush against the left margin in capital letters the county the matter is being heard in would be typed followed by "SC."  Therefore, it would be "PROVIDENCE, SC. for Providence County Family Court.  The "SC." stands for "Sheriff's County."

Under this "Header" is the caption of the case.  The caption of the case consists of the name of the plaintiff in all capital letters flush against the left margin.  Two lines down is typically the capital letters "VS." for versus flush against the left margin as well.  On the exact same line flush against the right margin in capital letters is "C.A. NO.:  P2013-0182."  C.A. NO.: means "Civil Action Number."  The letter and number represent the first letter for the county of the case followed by the year in which the case was started.  The number after the dash is the identifying number for the case.  It is also the number of the case filed as a Civil Action in that County in that particular year.  Two lines down flush with the left margin is the Defendant's name in capital letters. 

Two lines down, centered is the word "ANSWER" in capital letters.

The remainder of the ANSWER is very straight forward.  Look at the Complaint for Divorce.  Each numered paragraph in the complaint except for the paragraph requesting the divorce and other relief should state a fact.  For each numbered paragraph just write the number and whether you say "admit" if it is true and "deny" if it is false.

Then several lines down create a signature line that is flush with the right margin.  Under it you should type your name, address, and telephone number. 

To complete the Answer you would simply sign it.

The second portion of the document, the Counterclaim typically comes immediately thereafter and it is usually avisable to file one.  Essentially it looks just like the Plaintiff's Complaint for Divorce but you reference your own residency.  Just like a Plaintiff's Complaint for Divorce the Counterclaim must state what you are seeking in the divorce and must be signed under oath before a Clerk of the Court or a Notary Public.

Lastly, you would provide a written certification at the bottom of the page which states something to the effect that " I certify that on November ____, 2013 that I served a copy of this document by first class mail to JANE SMITH, at [address of the Plaintiff].