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The Catch 22 of Getting A Rhode Island Divorce Lawyer - Take your Time When Hiring!

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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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If you're getting divorced in Rhode Island you may have considered hiring an attorney rather than just trusting that your spouse will be reasonable and won't ask for anything unreasonable during the course of your divorce proceeding.

This is generally a good thing with one caveat . . . greedy lawyers do exist!  Now, I don't believe myself to be one and I certainly have no intention of attacking or in any way defaming my own profession. The truth is, there are good lawyers out there who will look out for your interests and try to get your case done as economically as possible.  Yet I would be less than helpful if I didn't tell you that there are lawyers out there who would rather blow things out of proportion and run the client's fees up so that they make a reasonable amount of money off you. 

This is not a pot shot at the legal profession.  There are, as many readers can imagine, bad eggs in just about every profession.  It is sad that these bad eggs oftern ruin it for the good ones who give of their time, reduce their fees, take on pro bono cases and devote their time to others.  Yet it is both realistic and also necessary to understand that such people do exist.

I recall two attorneys I had discussions with.  They were in no way associated with each other and I did work for each of them on two different occasions during my 18 years working in law.  One attorney ceased working with me several days after making this statement to me:

Chris, you'll be a real attorney when someone comes in your door and you talk to the person and your first thought is, "How much money can I make off this person?" 

Needless to say, that working relationship ended quickly.  I found the statement personally and morally offensive and I wasn't about to associate myself with a person who held that type of philosophy about people and what being an attorney is all about.

Another conversation was a bit less direct regarding the philosophy of what an attorney should do for clients.  I was, shall we say, in a position junior to the attorney and under the attorney's direction.  It went something like this.

Senior Attorney: Chris, check how much time did we put into Mr. Borsche's case.   He gave us a retainer and I want to bill him. 

[I checked the billing.]

Attorney Pearsall: Mr. Borsche gave us a $1,500 retainer on his civil case.  Mr. Borsche is going to be pretty happy because we negotiated a very quick settlement in the case. Our time comes to less than half of the retainer so he'll get a good portion of his retainer back.

Senior Attorney:  Chris, you MUST have missed some work on the billing sheets.

Attorney Pearsall:  No, I double-checked and every entry is here.

Senior Attorney: Chris,  you are missing my point.  I'm saying that you MUST have missed something on the billing because I am absolutely certain that we have used up that retainer and I've already prepared the client that he shouldn't expect anything back.

Attorney Pearsall: I've looked over all our time.  We did this case in half the time we anticipated and we got a good result for the client.  There aren't any entries missing.  I would know because I did almost all the work on this case and that work you did was when I was present and I have accounted for that.  It's just one of those rare cases where things aren't all long and drawn out and the client didn't exhaust the retainer.

Senior Attorney:  Chris, you've missed time!  Plain and Simple!  I am not going to argue with you.  You WILL find the time and you WILL add it to the client's bill and it WILL be more than the $1,500.  We have used up the client's retainer.  It's inevitable.  It happens all the time.  Do you understand me?  Is that clear enough for you?

Attorney Pearsall:  Absolutely.

Senior Attorney:  Good.  Make sure it's done.

(Names and genders have been changed for purposes of anonymity and confidentiality)

Despite the risk to my employment and my junior relationship to the attorney, I am happy to say that I did not comply with the directions of this attorney.  I billed the client the appropriate amount and arranged with the bookkeeper to send the remainder of the retainer back to the client as should have been done.

The point of sharing this dialogue is simple.  There are attorneys out there who will not care about you or your case.  They will care only about how much money they can make off you.  I have seen firsthand how a very simple divorce is blown so far out of proportion by an attorney who simply wanted to make more and more fees off their client before settling a case.

Think about it!  Seriously... I mean really THINK!

I'm an attorney.  I have a client come in and there are no children, no real estate, no retirement plans, both parties work and there is no reasonable claim for alimony, no assets other than personal property but there is a lot of distrust between my client (say it's the husband) and his wife, because the wife thinks there is another woman, when the truth of the matter is that the fellow just fell out of love and can't stand living with his wife anymore.

Since the wife distrusts her husband she goes to another attorney and explains all of this but also tells the lawyer that she thinks her husband cheated on her.  BINGO!  If you are meeting with an attorney who wants to make some money off you then you have just given the attorney the golden goose.  You have just told the attorney what to focus on to make you angry enough as a jealous wife to give your husband some "payback" for the affair that you think he had. 

The next thing you know, this poor faithful guy is going through the divorce from hell because his wife's attorney is now requesting every record under the sun about bank deposits, hotel receipts, charge card receipts, etc... yet little does the wife know that she is the one suffering for this just like her husband because she has given her attorney the justification for doing work that is only intended to bill her (the wife) hundreds if not thousands of dollars in legal fees.

So what is the caveat?  Shop carefully for a good attorney and keep in mind that if your attorney states he or she will do some work for you to get you some answers . . . then ask what they are doing and how much it will cost.  As the client you have the power to discuss matters with the attorney and reasonably instruct the attorney as to how your case is handled.  If you want an attorney to do lots of things for you then you aren't likely to get lots of resistance, though you may have a corinary when you get the bill.

Your best bet.  Take your time hiring an attorney.  The attorney makes all the difference!

Can I Settle My Divorce Case without a Lawyer?

Recently, I was at the Providence Family Court waiting in line to file some documents for a client.  I heard two people talking to each other at the counter.  From the gist of the conversation I could tell that they were both filing their own divorces and being helped by separate clerks.

One person seemed very confident about his filing and the other younger man didn't seem so confident.  Rather than asking one of the lawyers who were still standing in line waiting to be helped, the less confident man asked the other one if he could settle his case without a lawyer.  The more confident fellow responded "Absolutely, you just put down what you and your wife agree to on paper and submit it to the judge on the court date."  The less confident man seemed reassured that there wasn't more to it and he went on his way breathing a sigh of relief.

Certainly people can settle their divorce cases without a lawyer.  Heck, I see people do it all the time and I'm sure it's not limited to Rhode Island.  I've seen people do it on the day of their divorce on a single piece of lined notebook paper.  It doesn't look fancy but it works for them.

Yet the interaction between the two men got me thinking.  Do people do it better without lawyers or would it be better if they had a lawyer?

As a lawyer you'd think I'd jump in and say that people can't do it and you need a lawyer and all that stuff and there's much more to it than just what people scribble down on a piece of paper because they don't know the law.

Thankfully I was a philosophy major in college for 5 years and it taught me to think until my head hurt.  It was a good match for law school.  Yet the point of mentioning this is that it taught me not to simply advocate for my profession and more clients but to think of the REAL answer and to give it to people straight with no sugar coating.  In otherwords, for people to hear the truth.  

So what is the truth?  The truth is this.  Yes, you can settle your divorce without a lawyer.  AND, you could do it WITH a lawyer!  It's an easy question to answer.  

Then there's the much harder question to answer,  If you can settle your divorce case without a lawyer should you?

I had to ponder that question for a while and make a few assumptions.  Let's assume that you have enough money at least to have an attorney do the bargaining and drafting of the agreement with your spouse.  

Now ask the same question under those circumstances.  Should you settle your divorce case without a lawyer?

I thought about this for days.  I didn't jump to conclusions.  I considered every angle imaginable just with the assumption that the person had enough money to have an attorney bargain for the settlement with your spouse or your spouse's lawyer and then write it up for you.

Get this.  After all of that here is what I came up with. 

Can you settle your divorce without a lawyer?  Absolutely.  Should you?  If you can't afford a lawyer at all for any part of your proceeding then "Yes."  After all, what are you going to do except do it yourself.

Now add in the assumption that you could pay for a lawyer to do your bargaining and write up the Marital Settlement Agreement for you.  Should you?

Here's my answer.  "Yes and No."

Can the person in that position still settle their divorce case without a lawyer?  Absolutely?  Should they do so even if they have the money for a lawyer to do the bargaining and write up the agreement?  Yes, they should try to settle it.

Now the question is "Why?"  Why would I come to such a conclusion when my job is to protect people's rights?

The answer is quite simple.  People who can communicate together will settle their divorce and generally speaking they will settle it in a manner that is acceptable to each them.  In fact, I would be willing to bet that they will do a much faster job than an attorney who will be focusing on the details from the start as lawyers usually do.  

People want their divorce done and over with and therefore they usually process the most important things quickly and settle them.  They don't focus on the details as lawyers do.  Therefore, the fundamentals of the settlement process will usually be completed much more quickly and much more easily than an attorney will handle it.

Keep in mind that I am talking about the fundamentals and not the entire agreement.  Should a person who has the ability to pay a lawyer to draft a final agreement draft that agreement on their own.  Then my answer is "NO."

Your final Marital Settlement Agreement as submitted to the Family Court as an Exhibit is most likely going to be a contract that is going to bind you and your spouse until all the provisions are complied with.  There are too many details that lawyers DO think of that are very important that people do not think of on their own.  If you miss those details then you might as well plan on returning to court time and time again if their is anything at all of significance in your agreement.

When I mean anything of significance, this includes children, visitation, child support, debts to be paid, assets to be kept or sold, real estate, retirement plans, joint physical custody (i.e. placement), items that each party may buy before the Final Judgment of Divorce but after the court hearing, health insurance, division of retirement accounts, etc....


All of the things that I mention above involve details that the layperson and even a well-informed person is typically not aware of. Without a lawyer to look over an agreement and find the holes you may have missed with your spouse.  Remember that this agreement is not to intimidate your spouse or scare him or her, but rather it is to make sure important issues that are evident to lawyers experienced in family law are not overlooked by the layperson.

So if you can resolve your divorce with your spouse.  Great!  But have a lawyer look it over, then advise you of your rights regardless of what you may have agreed to and then fill in the holes so that everything is covered between you and your spouse.

Remember, you won't get a chance to do this agreement right.  So get it right the first time.

I'm Affordable and I'm here to help when you need me.

All My Best to You on Your Journey Through The RI Family Court,
Attorney Christopher A. Pearsall - "The Rhode Island Divorce Coach"™ 

Why Do I Need a lawyer for my Divorce?

There you are.  You're at the counter for the Domestic Relations counter at the Rhode Island Family Court for Providence County. You ask for a divorce packet from the court clerk.  Suddenly you're given about 19 pages of paper with no instructions.

Well, there's a pretty good reason for you to need a divorce lawyer right there in those 19 pages.  Do you know what to fill out and where?  Most people don't and for those people whose packets MAY (and I emphasize that word) be accepted by the court, do they have it right?  Who knows?

Should you care what's on those pages?

You'd better because they do considerably more than just start your divorce.  Those pages could well spell out what your rights are and which ones you may have waived.

Yes, if you fill out the paperwork wrong you could possibly waive valuable rights that you might have been entitled to.

But you have one of those "no brainer" divorces where everything is agreed to, right?  Did you know that almost everyone describes their divorce like that?   People do that especially when they want the best price possible.  Some people say "everything is agreed to" so you practically have to do nothing to the prospective lawyer.

Sorry folks, even uncontested divorces take work.  Any lawyer in any case from beginning to end is most likely going to put in 10 hours of work to get you from beginning to the end of the case.  It's not nothing.

These 10 hours at a minimum are spent using our expertise to protect your rights with our knowledge, schooling and continuing education.

Am I saying that you need representation?  No, but I AM saying that if you don't at least get good solid advice on each step of the process (including the initial paperwork) then you are making a mistake or you are being foolhardy.

Recently I had a call from someone who paid a service to prepare the initial documents for filing for them.  The first time, the clerk told the person the paperwork was all old and outdated.  The client was upset of course and went back to the service.  The person at the service was given the current paperwork and filled it out for the client again.  The person again got the paperwork and tried again.  The paperwork was rejected by the court yet again because it was filled out incorrectly by the service.  The client was upset and frustrated.  The client went back to the service and demanded a refund.  

The person called me and I explained my divorce coaching approach but that I would not simply prepare the paperwork because when the client doesn't understand the process, their legal rights, and why you do what you do for each step of the process then not only do I do the client a disservice but I would be helping the client to commit their own personal brand of malpractice.

There is a reason for each step of the process in a divorce proceeding.  It is not just procedural or lacking legal significance.  If you don't understand the "law" of it and the reasoning behind it, then you don't know what you are doing other than filling in some papers.

Regrettably, everyone is so engrained in the fast food america that we want everything fast and easy.  Well, I'm not one to sugar coat things to get clients or for any other reason.  I believe in truth.  The truth of it is that divorce is what it is and the process can't be short cut and if you don't know what you are doing you can screw things up royally.  Not for me.  Not for the judge.  For You!

It's better to be smart and get some coaching from a lawyer like me who has been practicing family law for more than a dozen years then to make mistakes even in those crucial first pages that you file with the court.  

I don't want you to waive important rights that you have any more than I'm sure you don't want to waive them.

Yes, it's easy to get married and much harder and time consuming to get divorced.  Accept it.  Deal with it.  Spend what you may need to spend to get it done right and move on with your life.  

We all spend money on computers, food, furniture, cars and trucks, christmas presents for our children, pets and their vet bills, etc.... but when it comes to something as important as protecting our legal rights we can't find the money.  It really says something about how poor our priorities have dropped on the totem pole in America.  Our rights are everything!  We only have all of these other things because of our legal rights and what came before us by our forefathers and the battles they fought.

Lawyers aren't all bad and they aren't as bad as they (as we) are protrayed.  There are those of us who do care because we've been through it.  You're not a paycheck.  You're a person and you have real issues and we (I) want to help you get through it without a lot of aggravation and expense.

I'm here when you need me.  Affordable.  Caring.  Friendly.  Helpful.

All My Best to You on Your Journey Through The RI Family Court,
Attorney Christopher A. Pearsall - "The Rhode Island Divorce Coach"™ 

Rhode Island Divorce Coach - Am I Bound to my Divorce Lawyer's Decision?


During my divorce my Rhode Island Divorce Lawyer entered into an agreement with my spouse's attorney in a stipulation without my approval.  Is the court going to hold me to what my lawyer agreed to?  He didn't have my permission.



Usually, "Yes."  When you hire a divorce lawyer, that lawyer represents you and acts as your agent.  It's very similar to a power of attorney.  If your lawyer bound you to something, you are going to be held to it by the court and by the other party.  If your attorney did it without your approvable, it may be because the attorney misunderstood some instructions you provided to him or her.  Or, the lawyer may have reasonably thought that it was a decision that is or was well within his or her discretion.  

Remember that when you hire a divorce lawyer you hire him or her for the expertise in the area of divorce and family law.  Your lawyer does have discretion in making various decisions that are in your best interests.  Otherwise, it would be pointless to hire an attorney for his or her expertise yet expect that the lawyer can't make any decisions at all without your say so.  That would nullify the whole reason why the lawyer was hired. 

Authored By:

Christopher A. Pearsall, Attorney-at-Law

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Note: If this article contains a case scenario with names, dates or amounts, any resemblance any connection to any person or situation now or previously existing is purely accidental, unintentional, and is merely a mistaken creation in the mind of the reader.

* The Rhode Island Supreme Court licenses all attorneys in the general practice of law.  The court does not license or certify any lawyer as an expert or specialist in any particular field of practice.

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What Results Can You Expect from a Seasoned Rhode Island Divorce Attorney?

During the course of my practice as a family law attorney I have represented a considerable number of people in a post-judgment capacity. In several cases I had the opportunity to review divorce judgments by other attorneys. When reviewing the divorce judgments both for background and for the sake of substantive arguments I noted several provisions that were clearly contrary to the client's interests. The provisions also had a substantial affect on the client's rights and what he or she was entitled to at the time of the divorce.

In four (4) separate instances I took time to question the client or prospective client how and why several particularly adverse clauses and orders were included in the divorce judgment. In three (3) of the cases the client or prospective client told me that the attorney he or she had hired had told the person that this was the best they were going to do even if they went to trial, or that this is the way it has to be, or this is the way it is done.

The fourth person indicated that he or she was so upset that he/she didn't care what happened and that the attorney didn't bother to explain to him or her what was going to happen.

The purpose of this page entry is to inform Rhode Island and the public that no family law attorney should be giving you a guarantee of any kind whatsoever regarding a divorce, separation or family law matter regarding the RESULT of any proceeding.

I will tell you that most Rhode Island Family Law Attorneys might disagree with me because it is a virtual certainty that if a person wants a divorce, they are virtually assured of getting one absent some procedural or jurisdictional issue that prevents the divorce.

When it comes to the RESULTS of family court matters, attorneys are not decision makers. We are advocates. It is either parties or judicial authorities like judges and magistrates that make the decisions.

People should be very wary of attorneys in divorce matters who allow a client to decline legal custody or to abandon any portion of the marital assets.

One case in point sticks in my mind from a case I read:

Bill was a primary caregiver of his three sons. He was a Mister Mom and took care of the children full-time for five (5) years while the mom built a career in the corporate world making over $100,000 per year. The parties divorced. They had a house, a joint bank account, and retirement accounts. After Bill's attorney made his recommendations, Bill had no legal custody, received nothing from the joint bank account, received nothing from the equity of the house and signed over the house to his wife, and received nothing from the retirement accounts. Bill received visitation every other weekend but had to drive three (3) hours each way to exercise his visitation with no provision that his wife had to do any of the driving. Perhaps most significantly, Bill was advised simply to waive alimony because men never get alimony. Bill did get his personal clothing and a payment of $10,000 to move out of the marital home.

Bill's attorney apparently told Bill that this was the best he could do.

As I've written about in other articles, if you have a divorce, hire a family law attorney who regularly practices in the family courts throughout Rhode Island.

My humble opinion?  Bill got shafted.  Bill didn't hire a family law attorney.



Authored by:

Christopher A. Pearsall, Esquire
571 Pontiac Avenue
Cranston, RI  02910
Phone:  (401) 354-2369

Attorney Pearsall's practice is focused almost exclusively in the areas of Divorce and Family law.

NOTE:  The postings on this website are NOT legal advice, DO NOT create an attorney/client relationship and are NOT a substitute for a detailed consultation with an attorney experienced in the state where you have your legal issue.  This site is based on Rhode Island and is presented for the convenience of the internet public.

* The Rhode Island Supreme Court licenses all lawyers in the general practice of law and has no procedure for recognition of specialty in any area of law.