Rhode Island's Notice of Automatic Orders in Divorces and Family Law Cases... E-Filing causes timing issue.
When you file for divorce in Rhode Island, the Notice of Automatic Orders becomes effective the moment the plaintiff (i.e. the filing party) signs the complaint for divorce. In most circumstances, this Order's provisions becomes effective for the defendant (i.e. the party being served with divorce papers) once he or she is served with the divorce documents.
So what is the Notice of Automatic Orders? It is a document printed signed by the Chief Judge of the family court that is included in your Rhode Island divorce documents. More significantly, it is a Rhode Island law.
If you would like to see what it looks like as of the writing of this article you can download it here -> RI_Notice_of_Automatic_Orders
As of the writing of this posting, it is Rhode Island General Laws §15-5-14.1. The plaintiff is must be aware of and abide by the provisions of the Notice of Automatic Orders at the time he or she signs the Complaint for Divorce. The defendant is expected to be aware of (and must abide by) the provisions of the Notice of Automatic Orders at the time he or she is served with the document along with the complaint for divorce and the other service documents.
It is extremely important to note that this Notice of Automatic Orders used to be a document that was prepared and included in the filing party's divorce packet. When it was done in this way it was easy for a plaintiff to be aware of the document. The plaintiff either had to put it in the packet himself or herself or if the plaintiff hired a lawyer then the lawyer would go over the document with the person at the time the divorce complaint was signed.
Today documents are e-filed by lawyers and the court creates both the Summons and Notice of Automatic Orders. If you or your lawyer don't keep this in mind, this new timing issue could cause a problem.
An example illustrates this best.
Daniel is representing himself (i.e. "PRO SE") in his own divorce. He prepares all of the documents himself including the Complaint for Divorce which he signs before a notary public at a local bank. He files his divorce complaint and the other supporting documents that constitute his divorce packet with the court. Two days later Daniel goes to the bank and empties out his joint bank account that he holds with his spouse. At this point Daniel doesn't have the service packet documents which include the Notice of Automatic Orders that the court now prepares for you.
Daniel calls the court a day later and finds that the service packet of documents to be served on his spouse is ready. Daniel picks it up and has it served on his spouse by a local constable.
Daniel's spouse hires a lawyer and immediately re receives a Motion to Adjudge him in Willful Contempt of the Notice of Automatic Orders because Daniel violated the very first provision which prohibits moving or removing assets and went into effect the moment he signed his divorce complaint before a notary.
Daniel thinks it's easy. He goes to court and tells the judge that he didn't know about the provision in the Notice of Automatic Orders so how could he abide by them. He argues that they weren't even prepared by the court until after he had already removed the monies.
The judge is not impressed. The judge orders Daniel to give his spouse 60% of the money he took out and to pay his spouse's lawyer fees and costs of $750 for having to file the motion and appear at court to argue it and pay his spouse for whatever time may have been lost from work.
Daniel is furious. He continues to argue that he doesn't think it's fair that he is held to the requirements of a document that he couldn't have known about because it wasn't created yet by the court at the time when he acted.
The judge's response was simple,
"Perhaps you should have hired a lawyer who knows our divorce laws. The Rhode Island Automatic Orders are in our state's domestic relations laws, our RI Rules of Domestic Relations Procedure, our E-filing Guidelines and the Family Court's Administrative Orders. Ignorance of our laws is never a defense nor an excuse. So do not blame the court. If you are looking for someone to blame here sir, then I suggest you look in a mirror."
Being a good divorce and family law in lawyer in Rhode Island has become more challenging in today's age of technology and everchanging rules. The RI Rules of Domestic Relations Procedure have been rewritten and revised several times over. Formal procedures sometimes differ from what the rules indicate and even as an experienced Rhode Island family lawyer it often becomes a challenge.
When you hire a lawyer, make sure that you are shown the Notice of Automatic Orders and that you read them thoroughly before you sign your complaint for divorce under oath. Don't let any lawyer let you skip it. A good lawyer will take the time to go over the law that you are held to. If a lawyer wants you to skip the Notice of Automatic Orders or just tells you to trust him or her and sign on the dotted line, rethink the lawyer you chose. Every good lawyer should take the time to keep you informed for your protection as a client.