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Rhode Island's Notice of Automatic Orders in Divorces and Family Law Cases... E-Filing causes timing issue.

Screen Shot 2016-10-08 at 6.15.03 PMBy:  Christopher A. Pearsall, Rhode Island Divorce Lawyer

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.

Yesterday, I was a Rhode Island lawyer whose book was judged by the cover and a prospective Divorce Client took the loss!

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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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Yesterday I had an appointment scheduled with a man who had already rescheduled his appointment once.  Just before his appointment for his divorce advice session I saw him pull into the driveway. 


The prospective client hesitated in his car in the parking area.  He had been advised in the confirmation email that he would be coming to a residential area and that my office is located in the lower level of the split level house to save my client's money by eliminating expenses and lowering my fees and making a more comfortable, homelike environment so people could feel comfortable with their divorce lawyer.

The propective client looked around from the driveway at the raised ranch that houses my law practice.  Then he drove away.  No call that he wanted to cancel his appointment.  No courtesy call to let know he wanted to reschedule.  No call to explain why he chose to cancel.

For sixteen (16) years, I have dedicated my every effort to try to help the people of this state in our Rhode Island Family Courts, including mothers, fathers, children and even the court itself.

So yesterday, this prospective client judged a book by it's cover.  He looked at the house and he didn't see a fancy law office on the outside.  He didn't see a big sign with impressive lettering.  He didn't see a BMW or a Jaguar in the driveway.  So without seeing everything he expected to see in a traditional law firm he drove away without so much as a courtesy call to me as the lawyer inside.  So I continued on with my work day.

Yet it was this prospective client's loss that he doesn't realize.  What he didn't see was the lawyer in a business suit suit prepared to meet him inside behind an antique oak desk.  What he didn't see was 16 years of experience waiting to inform him of his legal rights and answer his questions.

What the man didn't realize is that lawyers with a fancy law office must charge you more to pay for that law office.  What the man didn't realize is that a fancy sign really means nothing. It simply costs more and tries to make you look more impressive.  What he didn't realize was that a lawyer's BMW or Jaguar doesn't go into court for you.  When all is said and done what is crucial is that you remember that the value you get is in the lawyer you hire.  Your lawyer goes to court for you.  Your lawyer argues your case.  Your lawyer makes the difference.  When you are impressed by desks, offices, secretaries, support staff, huge copiers, paralegals, etc... and you believe that gets you a better law firm, you're fooling yourself.  When all is said and done it is your lawyer that makes the difference.

So the man yesterday drove away to his loss.  What if he learned that he was getting a $250 per hour lawyer for $150 per hour.  How would he feel after the fact realizing he could have obtained a lawyer with the same experience as the fancy looking law firm for $100 per hour LESS. 

Focus is crucial when selecting a lawyer and appearances can be deceiving.  It you have all the money in the world, then by all mean just pick the most expensive lawyer you can and hope you get a good one.  If not, remember... don't judge a book by it's cover... you could be making a tremendously impractical mistake.


The Problem Some RI Divorce Attorneys Cause in Uncontested Divorce Cases!

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Atty Chris Pearsall

Authored By:  Christopher Pearsall
a.k.a.  The Rhode Island Divorce Coach℠

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I can't do anything but put it bluntly.  The problem some lawyers cause when a client has an uncontested divorce case is that the attorney is greedy.  I hate actually hate to say that.  Why?  Because I'm in this profession and many people think all attorneys are the same. 

Let me tell you, we're not.  So what happens when an attorney is greedy and takes in an uncontested divorce case?  Usually the attorney hasn't billed enough for the case, or at least not as much as the attorney wants to make so the next best thing is this "cause controversy and make it a contested case." 

Wouldn't a client see that though?  Unfortunately, they don't see how skillful these unscrupulous lawyers are.  Some lawyers can turn an easy uncontested case into a contested case and make it look like it's the judge's fault or the other attorney's fault or even the other party's fault.  Anyone's fault but the attorneys.

This type of action by lawyers disgusts me.  It plays on the emotions of the parties, spends their monies needlessly, sometimes destroys family relationships, and takes away time from people's lives that they otherwise could have spent happily. 

There are things you want to look for when researching, meeting with, and hiring a lawyer.  They may seem lofty or great in a speech but they still exist and as long as we continue to promote them in life.  I live my life by them and I run my practice by them.  What are they?  They are embodied in words such as Honor . . . Decency . . . Caring . . . Respect . . . Manners . . . Integrity . . . Fortitude . . . Perseverance . . . Honesty . . .  and the list goes on.

I've wanted to give up so many times in the practice of family law because I run into some bad lawyers and sometimes they win because it's hard to beat a lawyer who doesn't play by the rules and is willing to do whatever it takes to make the money they want to make.

Yet I don't quit.  I persevere for those good people that I can help.  I keep going so that when people need a lawyer who will tell a person his or her rights and yet not cause trouble when they want to settle a case that may give away 95% of what the law says they should get.  We as lawyers are advisors and guides.  We are not here to make the decision for the client or to create situations that end up having clients make decisions that are based upon incorrect information because the attorney has caused controversy between the parties.

We're here to help people.  We're here to help them get through to a better and hopefully brighter tomorrow without being one of the factors that makes their lives worse.  That's my philosophy and no amount of money will change it.  Years ago I realized I could make hundreds of thousands of dollars if I just agreed to put my principles to one side and create controversy in every divorce I was involved in rather than helping the parties come reach an amicable resolution quickly.  Not once have I done it, nor will I ever do so.

Clients, you are the best one to look out for your own interests.  Remember, sometimes that may include as it relates to policing your own attorney too. 

Can my Attorney Move to Withdraw if I am unable to pay my Divorce Bill?

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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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Attorney Pearsall, my name is Hector.  I hired a divorce lawyer for Rhode Island family court to get me through all this legal stuff.  Right now we are a month away from the trial date the judge specified.  My attorney had been sending me some bills and I told him that I was good for them and that I always pay my bills.  He told me that lawyers don't work that way and that he's had tons of people just skip out on him over the years without paying their bills.  The bill really doesn't seem to be that much to me.  Right now it's a bit over $4,500.00.

The attorney asked me to come in and talk to him about the bill but I told him I wouldn't because he would just bill me more for that meeting.  Now he is telling me that I need to pay the outstanding balance and advance him monies for trial preparation otherwise he is going to withdraw on my case.

Just so you know, I went to another attorney and she told me that my attorney can't withdraw on me like that.  She said that it's up to the judge as to whether my attorney is let out and with a trial date set it is not very likely that the judge will do it.  She said that all I have to do is object.

What do you think?  Can he withdraw just because I haven't paid my divorce bill so far?



Hector, I'm not sure what you are trying to do.  Are you trying to get away without paying your bill?  Or are you trying to get as many opinions as you can and then whichever legal opinion you get the most of is the right one?

Whatever your motives are I can suggest to you several things.  

First, look at the written agreement you have with your attorney?  Does it say that if you don't pay your bill that he can withdraw from the case?  If so, some judges are going to take that into consideration.

Second, it is correct that your lawyer can't get out of the case without the judge allowing it.

Third, yes a judge can allow it for non-payment of your divorce bill even if there is a trial date set.

Not too long ago in 2009 there was a case that was right on point on this issue.  It was the case of King v. NAIAD Inflatables of Newport, Inc.   King was a Superior Court Case.  In that case the Defendant's owed their attorneys about $50,000.  The case was set for trial.  The Defendant's attorney moved to withdraw because they hadn't been paid and that it was unreasonable that they as attorneys should be burdened with the time necessary for preparation and for trial.  The judge denied the motion.  Essentially the Judge thought it would be better for the court to flow more smoothly if the attorneys remained in the case.

The attorneys for NAIAD appealed the judge's decision denying their Motion to Withdraw.  The Rhode Island Supreme Court stated that the judge didn't give enough consideration to the fact that attorneys need to be paid and that to keep the attorneys in further when they already hadn't been paid $50,000 or so dollars was unfair because it made them involuntary servants working for no wages.  The Rhode Island Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court Judge's ruling allowing the Defendant's attorneys to withdraw.

The case can be downloaded by clicking on this link -> King v. NAIAD Inflatables of Newport, Inc. 

In a nutshell, though the cases can be differentiated your answer is provided by the Rhode Island Supreme Court's decision in King.  

An attorney must have the permission of the court in order to withdraw from a case but an attorney may certainly file a motion to withdraw if you have not paid your bill and the court has the power to grant it even if there is a trial date pending.

My suggestion.  Pay your attorney or you will just end up trying to get another one who may have to charge you more just to get up to speed quickly depending upon the amount of time, if any, that the court gives you if your attorney's motion is granted.

In the end, ask yourself this.  When you work a whole week after being told you'd be paid, don't you expect to be paid?