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Where do divorce orders come from? Many people are surprised by the answer!

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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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Many people think the court is responsible for creating the court orders relating to divorce and family law matters after the judge has stated them from the bench or the parties have agreed upon them.

This is a mistake often made by pro se litigants and new attorneys in Rhode Island.  It is up to the litigations in the matter to create the court's Order consistent with what the judge has stated from the bench.  If this means that you must obtain the transcript of the hearing or a transcrip exerpt that contains only the judge's Order, then you should do so.  

Remember, the Orders are the documents that the court uses to review the file and determine the travel (i.e. what has happened) in the case.  It is often quoted by judges that a court speaks through it's Orders.  Therefore, without orders for each part of the proceeding, a further review of the file leaves gaps in the timeline.  This leaves judges missing critical peices about what occurred during the court proceedings and as a result the judges are without the appropriate information to make equitable decisions in the case.

Just remember that there are procedures for submitting Orders to the Court, including waiting periods once submitted.  These procedures for those who are unfamiliar with them, can be found in the Rhode island Rules of Domestic Relations Procedure. 

In a Complaint or Complaint or Counterclaim for Divorce in RI what do I ask for?

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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So you are going to file a complaint or counterclaim for divorce in RI, what do you ask for, right?

If you look at the Rhode Island Family Court's standard Complaint for Divorce form there is a "WHEREFORE CLAUSE."  This is where it states that you are asking the court to grant you an absolute divorce and ...   Of course space is left after this clause to allow you to type in whatever it is that you are asking the court for.

The main question people have regarding this clause is "What do I ask for?"  Ultimately, you can ask for things specifically like this and list all the things that you want:

"and . . . the 1989 Chrysler Lebaron SE, half of our dvd video collection, half of all the furniture including the bedroom set, the bank account in my name, my 401k, my coin collection, etc..."

Or, you could ask for things generally in this manner:

"and . . . a fair distribution of the assets and debts from the marriage, appropriate orders regarding health insurance coverage and out-of-pocket expenses, denial of alimony to my spouse, and the resumption of my maiden or former name of "Smith" and whatever else the court finds is fair and just.

Now a few of the questions you might be asking yourself are:

1.  Should I ask for things the specific way or the general way?

2.  Is there any difference between asking the specific way or the general way?

3.  If there is a difference, what is the difference?

4.  If I do things the specific way, what happens if I forget something?

5.  Are there any benefits to doing it the general manner?

6.  Do these examples include everything I should ask for?

These are excellent questions to be sure and they aren't the only questions you would want to ask or have answered.

Since this is a general article and is not about any one couple or case, the answers will vary depending upon the couple.

Should you use the general or specific manner to ask the court for relief?  Well, it all depends upon the circumstances, your style and what you trying to accomplish.  Even divorce lawyers differ regarding the answer to this and several of the other questions.

Obviously there is a difference between using the specific and general manner of telling the court what you want.  One clearly tells the court and the opposing spouse what you want while the other one simply tells the court that you want to do it's job under the law and divide things "equitably" as it is required to by law when asked to.  

Good long-term lawyers who care about their divorce clients would most likely say that the more pertinent questions a person should ask are, "How many differences are there between the specific and general manner?  And what significance does each difference make?  These questions, however, depend substantially on the couple involved and the dynamic of their divorce, including how well they are getting along, whether they have children, how old the children are, and other significant factors that a good lawyer weighs carefully with each case.  Therefore, exact answers to these questions aren't really possible in this article.

Does it matter if you are using the specific manner and you miss something?  The answer is this "it might!"  Does it seem as though I am evading answering the question?  Though it might look that way, I'm not.  The fact is that answers to each question are case specific and depends upon the facts of the case, what it is that might have been missed, and even whether the judge assigned to the case believes in following the letter of the law or believes in following a path of using his or her discretion regarding such matters.

In conclusion, I can answer one question with certainty and clarity.  These examples do not even come close to including everything that might be included in a person's request for relief in a divorce.   In fact, several requests that are common and may be necessary have not been included.

Do you know what those things are?

If you don't, then I will have achieved the point of my article.

Let me explain.  Right now I guesstimate that about 75% of people are filing their own divorces in the RI Providence County Family Court alone.  Yet here we are asking about just one single paragraph on the standard court form for the Complaint for Divorce and/or the closely eqivalent request for relief in a Counterclaim for Divorce.

This ONE paragraph that makes a HUGE difference in your divorce whether you file the Complaint for Divorce or a Counterclaim for Divorce.  It has to do with what you want to ask the court to award in the divorce.

Now if 75% of people filing in Providence County's family court are doing this on their own and they don't know all the answers to the questions in this short article then I'd be willing to bet that unless they are lawyers that 74% of them are GETTING THIS IMPORTANT PART WRONG!

Why is this significant?  Here's the kicker!  If you go through your own divorce without the help and coaching of an attorney and you missed something in this crucial paragraph, then some people are going to make errors that are going to be permanent that even the best divorce attorney in Rhode Island is never going to be able to undo!

Whether you are in an uncontested or contested divorce, the risks are still there!  If you don't see the need for either a divorce lawyer or some divorce coaching from a Rhode Island lawyer by this short article, then my very best to you and good luck.  

There's a reason I only practice divorce and family law in our state. The complexities and significance of what needs to be done and considered in a divorce are enough to take up more than one lifetime.  I felt that was enough... and after more than a dozen years doing this.. I know I was right.





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

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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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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].

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"™ 

Represent Yourself in Your RI Divorce and Plan on Paying for a Good Lawyer Later!

I'm not sure if many people see the trend that is happening in the Rhode Island Family Court today.  If I were to take a good guess I'd say at least 65-75% of people are representing themselves in their own divorces.

That's huge folks.  They are doing everything from filling out the papers to going to the hearing and trying to get through it by getting a judge who is going to help them through it by having them answer a few basic questions or at least what the judge might be able to figure out are the issues between the parties when they are in his or her court.  Then the people get the fill in the blank forms from the clerk's office and they fill them in very simply because they aren't really concerned about the future because it's all over with, right?

Sorry folks, that's the wrong approach.  Out of those 65-75% of people doing their own divorces I'd be willing to stake my license on that fact that 5% or less of those people will even get it 1/2 way right so they don't have a mess in the future.

Remember, if you're married, you get one shot at this divorce thing and resolving your issues.  If you screw it up, don't think that it's going to be easy to undo it later or that the judge is going to help you after the divorce is over.

Once you've made you're bed you're going to have to lie in it.  Using some pretty good guesswork here I'm almost certain that at least 50% of these people are going to be back in court later on in life trying to fix something from this divorce they did now by taking the easy way out.

What's the easy way out?  You take the easy way out when you do it yourself and you get no advice throughout the process from a lawyer who practices divorce law in Rhode Island.  

The judge isn't there to help either party.  A judge does just that... they judge.  They make decisions.

Did you know that if that judge doesn't include something and you don't stop him or her and say "Judge, we need to include something about my health insurance ...." or whatever your issue may be, then you are now trying to tread water in cement shoes.  You've just blown it.

Folks, not getting the advice of a lawyer for your divorce from someone who knows what they are doing and doesn't cost all that much or want thousands up front is foolish.  It's like taking out money from a high priced loan shark who means business and then just expecting that if you disappear into the woodwork that there won't be any payback.  

Things may look easy now and you may be thinking you are getting through your divorce just fine, but there are literally thousands of issues in divorces and 50% of these people are going to be back and filling up the the courthouse with Post-Judgment Issues galore.

I've made it easier and more affordable for people to be informed and make sure they handle their divorces right the first time!  While no attorney can guarantee that any divorce result will be perfect so your ex-spouse doesn't try to take you back to court later, the chances are one heck of a lot less than these poor 50% who just want to save a few dollars and have heard that a judge will help them through the hearing.

Perhaps people will get the picture if I take time in my next attempt to list just some of the hundreds and even thousands of legal issues that arise in divorce and perhaps people will see the concern that I do for these people who go forward without any legal advice at all.

All My Best to You on Your Journey Through The RI Family Court,

Attorney Christopher A. Pearsall - "The Rhode Island Divorce Coach"™ 

 Affordable, Experienced, Caring and here to help you when you need me.

Call me for your reduced-cost advice session at (401) 632-6976.