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February 2016

The Hidden Power Social Media Can Provide in Rhode Island Divorce Cases.

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Atty Chris Pearsall

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

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Today everyone from adults to pre-teenagers has cellular phones, tablets, iPods, laptops and every other kind of hand-held or desktop device known to man within their reach.  Communication is now fast and easy and it is all too easy to post something in the blink of an eye without even thinking to Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Linkedin, Instagram and any other social media platform or app that exists out there.  Yet with all this great speed of communication and information come the corresponding challenges that people don't even think about before pressing the send key and making a post or sending a communication.

Social media has become a virtual playground for attorneys and pro-se litigants in divorces to find the ammunition they may need to present as evidence before the courts, or in the very least gain leverage against their spouse.

There's a great deal of truth in the notion that once you put something out on the internet you can never truly get rid of it.  Even if you post something on Facebook or in Google Text Chat and later delete it, is it really gone?  The answer might surprise you.  These days social media companies that provide these wonderful communications tools and apps don't want their services and their servers to go down so they back up frequently.  Even if you think you've deleted something permanently on a social media platform the truth is that it's probably not gone and with the right savvy and sometimes a carefully worded subpoena to the company a person can resurrect that little trinket that could help them in a divorce.

Consider this scenario.

Your spouse has been distant for quite some time and is constantly on Facebook.  Your accounts are connected and you don't see anything out of the ordinary for your spouse's posts but your spouse is on Facebook for long periods of time.  Something doesn't feel right to you.  Suddenly you are served with a divorce action and your spouse deletes their Facebook account. 

You decide to get a divorce lawyer and you tell the lawyer your suspicions.  The lawyer ultimately checks the Facebook pages of a few of the people your spouse knows at work and suddenly conversations of other people talking about how much time your spouse is spending with "so and so" and what might be going on.  The lawyer checks to find a Facebook page for "so and so" and there are posts about how much time the person has been spending with your spouse and how wonderful a relationship they have.  The lawyer notices that the dates are more than two years old and finds comments by your spouse that were probably once in your spouse's Facebook account.  The lawyer digitally copies every page and reference and may even make a screen capture movie to preserve what is written online in case anything else is deleted or made "private" to prevent it from being seen in the future.  The lawyer then prints out all the pages with the dates.  Your lawyer calls you in to let you know what has been found and explain to you what affect it might have in your divorce proceeding. You want more information so your divorce lawyer starts drafting up subpoenas for people and Facebook to produce documents and digital information.

People make social media posts, send texts, chat and email without even thinking.  In past days you could control information if it were contained on paper.  You could know where the original was and who might have copies.  Today, the digital age has shown us that for the techno-savvy person or attorney, virtually nothing comes with out a trail, and nothing is truly deleted.  The question is whether you can find it.


My divorce is almost finished. When can I introduce the person I'm dating to my children?

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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QUESTION:  I filed for divorce from my spouse and it was granted.  About 10 days after my Rhode Island divorce hearing I met someone and we have been seeing each other frequently for the last month.  When can I introduce this new friend to my children?


ANSWER:  If you're looking for a basic legal answer then my advice would be that you should stop seeing this person until your divorce is done.  This is not because I don't believe you have a right to be happy.  If you do not have a Final Judgment in your divorce case then it is not prudent for you to date another person because you are still married and your spouse and/or your spouse's lawyer can delay you from getting a Final Judgment of Divorce from issuing for an extensive amount of time. 

Now you might wonder, what would my spouse have to do?  Only two things 1) be upset at you, and 2) file a motion of any kind.  Of course you know your spouse better than I do.  However, in my history as a lawyer I have seen things that you could not make up in your wildest nightmares happen from presumably reasonable and respectful parties in a divorce.

It is very, very easy for a spouse to be upset that you have moved on from your marriage before it is even over.  Many spouses, both men and women, find that the other spouse dating before their marriage is even over to be insulting, degrading, hurtful and angering to say the least.  All it takes is a little bit of anger for your spouse to file a motion in the family court.  What kind of motion?  Any kind of motion!  All it takes is a pending motion before the court filed sometime near the date when the Final Judgment can be signed in order to prevent the court from finalizing your divorce.  Suddenly a divorce that you thought was almost over may now go on for month after month and possibly motion after motion so that you are still married to your spouse.  If your spouse knows or even suspects that you are dating someone then it is very easy to file a motion to restrain and enjoin you from having the children around anyone you may be dating as long as the divorce is still going on.  If that motion is granted and your spouse is still angry, hurt or in the least bit upset, it is very easy for your spouse to want to keep the divorce going as long as possible so that you can't have the children around the person you are dating.  Frankly, it isn't worth it.  Better be safe than sorry.  In the scope of a lifetime it is better to wait a few months than to suffer for another year or more.

I realize this is not the crux of your question, but it was worth stating it because it goes hand in hand with the more important answer.  Introducing your children to someone you are dating is no small matter.  Legally, until you are prohibited from doing so you could introduce the children to the person you are dating anytime you want.  The question is whether or not that is truly best for your children.  Many children have a hard time dealing with the divorce of their parents, especially if they are five years of age or more when they start making the identification of their parents as a couple. 

The parents are typically the foundation that keeps the children consistent because the child knows they can rely on their parents as a team to keep their world together because they can depend on them to be there.  While divorce is a reality for many married couples in the psyche of a child a divorce can often signify the destruction of their stability.  Each child is different.  Each child's feelings and age should be considered.  The amount of time you have been separated should be factored in.  The children need to get used to the idea that the parents will no longer be living under the same roof.  The children need to be supported by both parents so that the children realize that their stability in having two parents is still present after the parents are no longer living together with them in the same household. 

Once the children have adjusted to the idea that their parents will still provide them with stability even if they are not in the same household, it is my humble opinion that then you might slowly introduce a person that you have been dating to the children so long as that person has been a stabilizing factor in your life.  Remember, that any new person you introduce to your children needs to be a stabilizing factor for them.  If you haven't been with this person long enough to establish a solid, strong, stable and loving relationship with the person, then how can you expect this person to be safe to introduce to your children who are in a much more fragile emotional and mental state?

Most certainly this last part sounds more like counseling advice and is more appropriate to come from a counselor who deals with children of divorce.  However, my comments are from direct experience in my own life and in the lives of hundreds of clients over the years.

Personally, I was divorcing before I became a lawyer.  I made virtually every mistake that I mention here and I paid a price that no parent should ever have to bear.  I wish I had known today what I know now and I regret deeply when a client of mine pays the price because they choose to ignore my advice.

So if you are to remember anything, I ask you to remember one thing.  Your relationship with your children is fragile.  One poor decision on your part and you might never see your child(ren) again.

You Don't Need a RI Divorce Lawyer Because the Court Gives You the Questions?

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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If you've been over to any one of the Rhode Island Family Courts and picked up a divorce packet you will find that the packet now includes a set of questions that you should know the answer to if your represent yourself in an uncontested divorce.

Believe it or not, the questions for some of the packets have been created by the court.  So why should you need a lawyer if you've supposedly agreed upon everything with your spouse and the court supplies you questions that have been written up by an actual judge, right?

The answer is actually simple and yet it's significance is so important that it would be easy for you to overlook.  It's this simple.  A divorce is about your legal rights and protecting those rights in the divorce process.  However, it is not the role of the list of questions in your packet or even the judge in the courtroom on the day of your hearing to protect your rights.  So you may be wondering, who protects my rights?  If you go in representing yourself, then YOU DO!  So the question is, do you know your rights and do you know how to protect them.  The fact is that most people don't know their legal rights and they don't know how to protect them when the need arises.

So why do they give you sample hearing questions at all in your divorce packet, right?  Well, you have the constitutional right to represent yourself.  Unfortunately too many people are going into court because they don't want to hire a lawyer or even go get legal advice and guidance to protect their rights.  Yet when people don't know what they are doing they screw up the court's calendar with the time they spend floundering around trying to figure out what to do.  So, they give you sample questions to make it easier for you so that you're less likely to waste the court's time and thus this helps them get another case off the judge's docket.

So in a nutshell, the court gives you questions as a guide only.  Yet those questions don't tell you your legal rights and the court isn't responsible for telling you your legal rights.  The questions are generic and they do not address every thing you may have rights to in your case.

Ultimately, it's up to you if you choose to represent yourself and play games with your rights.  The judges must hear about certain things in order to make their decisions.  The questions cover those things.  However, even in simple divorces many people have issues that are outside the questions the court provides.  The thing to remember is this.  When you go to court and represent yourself in your own divorce, you are playing lawyer as if you knew your rights and knew how to protect them.  If you miss something or screw up a right that you might have had, then that's your problem.  You may or may not have the opportunity to go back and correct it later, if you know how and you do it in time.  There are some rights that people don't realize that they only get one shot at.  If you blow it, you have no one to blame except yourself.

A qualified divorce and family law lawyer protects your legal rights when they represent you.  In the very least you should go to such a lawyer to get advice about your divorce, your rights and how to proceed.  Yet if you don't do that you can't come back to the court later and blame the judge, or the clerk or the people who hand out the packets with the questions in them.

Personally, I think putting the questions in divorce packets is a bad idea.  This is not because I believe lawyers should get more business.  It is because people now are of the belief that because they have questions from the court that the questions are all they need and that these questions along with the judge protect their rights.  That is absolutely incorrect!  Neither the questions nor the judge do anything to protect your rights.

Do yourself a favor!  If you and your spouse have children, assets or debts then go see a qualified divorce lawyer if you are going to go through a divorce proceeding.  I hear people represent themselves and make mistakes in their own divorce every month that were preventable.  Don't allow yourself to be a victim of the system. 

Equality and Father's Rights: The Rhode Island Family Court Needs to Catch Up!

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Atty Chris Pearsall

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

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It's supposed to be a world of equality where men and women are treated equally under the same circumstances.  Yet, unless you reach an agreement with your spouse in a divorce that both parents will enjoy shared placement and equal time with the Minor Children, typically the result is anything but fair for the father.  The vast majority of the time the mother becomes the placement parent either because the court makes that decision after trial or the father may choose that it is not in his children's best interests to go through a custody battle where heightened tensions between the parents which spill over to the children.  It's extremely rare that the father ends up as the placement parent even if he is the best qualified parent to end up with placement of the children. 

Why?  There still exists this underlying notion that a mother of children has a special bond with children because she carried the child within her, or because mothers are presumed by their very nature to be more nurturing than men.  Thus a conclusion is too often made that children should be with a mother because she is the nurturer.  This reasoning of course has no basis in fact but rather comes about because of societal notions of the man as the "bread winner" and the woman as the one who "cares for the household and the children."  It is an antiquated notion to say the least in today's society.

Equality for fathers in the Rhode Island family court system is sorely lacking when it comes to placement of children when faced with antiquated concepts such as "giving birth to the child"  and the presumption of "superior maternal nurturing."  After practicing exclusively in the family courts for 16 years I have seen fathers relegated to an "extra" whose rights as a parent are relegated to a part-time babysitter.  Fathers who during a marriage were an integral part of their children's lives are now typically given "every other weekend" and "one evening during the week" to exercise as their "parenting time."   This is true even though these father's once spent every weekend and sometimes every evening with their children.  In family court mediation fathers are often told, "father's typically get every other weekend and one night a week" which is sometimes used to justify that a father should be happy if he gets an extra evening conceded to by the mother of the children.  In one case I recall a client walking out of mediation only to breakdown and cry on me in the parking lot.  When I inquired about it he said that he told the mediator that he spent more time with the children than the mother but when he told the mediator he wouldn't settle for anything less than equal time with their children he was told by the mediator "It's never going to happen."

Regardless of whether a mother be awarded placement of the children or not, the family court is seldom the place where fathers get the equity they deserve.   While equitable does not mean equal, it begs the question as to why men who as fathers in an intact family have equal rights with the mother, yet when there is a divorce they are denied the time with their children that they previously had regardless of who filed for or who caused the breakdown of the divorce.  

How is it that in severing the marital contract fathers rights are somehow reduced to less than the time they had with their children?  Most assuredly in many cases this is not only penalizing the father but the children as well.  Most certainly the court does not take the position that in a divorce a party who makes a claim or counterclaim for divorce is also divorcing the children and yet the reduction in a father's rights in our courts seems to give evidence that a father who is not a placement parent is, in fact, divorcing himself to some degree from his children. 

Yet admittedly there are many cases that are settled by agreement of the parties.  In these cases, surely the court should bear no fault for fathers having reduced time with their children if these men agree to that arrangement. This was something I have pondered at length and it is something that deserves response if only to understand why our legal system needs to change.

In many agreed upon cases before the court, through public or private mediation, or by virtue of the assistance of attorneys, it is the too often the repeated standard to fathers that they will usually only receive "every other weekend and one evening per week" that becomes the crux of the problem.  This is because it is this very unwritten standard that causes the injustice.  This unwritten standard is the responsibility not simply of the Family Court, but of the entire judiciary.  

Where this standard came from and why it has been used and in existence for the entirety of my 16 year divorce practice is beyond comprehension.  Yet simply put, if there is to be any standard at all it should be the presumption that each parent is entitled to equal time with the children and any reduction for either party should be addressed from there.  Without setting this as the beginning point, this unwritten standard continues to devalue fathers and wrongfully remove them from their children's lives when they may well have been active participants in their children's daily lives.  To do anything less is to deprive fathers of not only their rights but serves to punish the children of the relationship and create too great an opportunity for the ever growing problem of parental alienation which threatens to destroy the family unit.

As a father, I was subject to this "every other weekend and one evening per week" standard 18 years ago before I was an attorney.  If there is to be true justice and equality on the issues in the family court at all father's rights need to be recognized before this court not by some amorphous standard that has no basis in law or in fact, but with the understanding that without fathers the child would not exist and that without the father in the life of the child both the father and child are denied the enrichment that is necessary to provide a balanced life, especially for the children.

Fathers need to know that they do not have to simply accept the trademark unwritten standard for a father's parenting time, but rather they should be aware that they have the right to fight for equal time with their children either by placement or through extensive parenting schedules. 

Frequently Asked Rhode Island Divorce Questions

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Atty Chris Pearsall


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

1.  What is the residency requirement that must be met in the State of Rhode Island before you can file for divorce?

Answer:  To file for divorce in Rhode Island you or your spouse must me a resident and continuously domiciled inhabitant of the state for at least one year before you file your complaint for divorce.

2. Do I have to be married for any particular length of time before I can file for a divorce in Rhode Island?

Answer:  No.  You can be married for any length of time and still file for divorce as long as you meet the state's residency requirement.

3.  Do I file for divorce in Rhode Island if that is the state that I got married in?

Answer:  No, not necessarily.  You can only do so if you or your spouse have met the residency requirement for filing a divorce in Rhode Island.

4.  How long does it take to get divorced in Rhode Island?

Answer:  Typically an uncontested divorce can be completed in Rhode Island in about 5 1/2 months.

5.  Is there any way a person can get a divorce faster than 5 1/2 months in Rhode Island?

Answer:  Yes, if the spouses have been living separate and apart for a period of at least 3 years then a divorce can be completed in about 3 1/2 months.

6.  Am I required to have a lawyer to get divorced?

Answer:  No.  You have the legal right to represent yourself.  However, it is always advisable to get legal advice from a lawyer who regularly practices divorce in Rhode Island so that you are fully aware of your legal rights, options and alternatives.

7.  What is the Rhode Island Family Court Filing fee for a divorce?

Answer:  The filing fee as of February 6, 2016 is $140.75 plus a technology surcharge if you pay using the court's computerized system of $4.57.

8.  How much does a divorce cost?

Answer:  There is no set fee for how much a divorce will cost.  The fees for divorces vary from attorney to attorney and case to case. The only set cost is the court's filing fee and technology surcharge.

9.  Why do the fees for divorces vary so much?

Answer:  Every attorney is different just as every case is different. The more experienced an attorney is the more likely it is that the attorney may charge more for his or her services.  The more complicated the case is or the more difficult your spouse is, the more time and effort it may take on your attorney's part and therefore it could cost more.

10.  What is an Uncontested Divorce?

Answer:  Generally, many lawyers consider an uncontested divorce one in which the parties have already reached a fundamental agreement that resolves all aspects of the dissolution of their marriage before the divorce filing takes place.  It is typically a divorce in which neither party files any motions or sends out any documents known as "discovery."

11.  What is Discovery?

Answer:  The law provides for different legal tools that can be used in a case to essentially "discover" the important aspects of the case before it goes to trial or in order to evaluate settlement offers from an informed position.  The primary legal tools are interrogatories, requests for production of documents and things, requests for admissions, depositions and subpoenas.