Notice of Automatic Orders Feed

How do I start a Rhode Island divorce proceeding?

Divorce_womanQUESTION:  How do I start a Rhode Island Divorce?

ANSWER:  First, let me say that personally and professionally that with what I have learned in almost two decades practicing divorce in Rhode Island, I do not recommend filing or putting through your own divorce. In the very least, you should get legal coaching/advice from a lawyer who regularly practices Rhode Island divorce before you fill out and file the paperwork.  Every divorce is not the same, no matter how simple you may think it is.  The court clerk's office will provide you fill in the blank forms and they may give you samples of how other family court litigants might fill them out.  They may even give you general questions to give you an idea of what a judge might be interested in knowing at the time of your divorce hearing.  However, every (and I do mean "every") divorce is different and no form is a substitute for legal advice. The forms provided by the courts are intended to follow the minimal guidelines provided by law.  They are not intended to protect your rights nor should you expect to receive instructions on what to fill in to make sure your rights are protected.  It is the obligation of each person or their attorney to protect your rights by filling in the form or even by modifying the form if necessary with the correct legal terms so that your rights are properly protected.

To start a divorce proceeding you need to get what I call a "divorce filing packet" from the Rhode Island family court.  You can get the documents that comprise this packet at the domestic clerk's office. This packet consists of the following documents.

1.  Civil Case Cover Sheet;

2.  Complaint for Divorce/Complaint for Divorce from Bed and Board;

3.  Statement Listing Children;

4.  DR-6 Financial Statement of Assets, Liabilities, Income, and Expenses; and

5.  Four (4) Language Notices - English, Portuguese, Spanish, and Cambodian

To start your divorce, you fill out the foregoing documents and file them with the Domestic Relations Clerk's Office in the Rhode Island family court in the county where the Defendant resides within the state. If the Defendant does not reside in Rhode Island, then you file in the family court in the county where you reside, provided you have been a resident and continuously domiciled inhabitant of the State of Rhode Island for at least one year before you file.

When these documents are filed correctly with the family court you will pay a mandatory court filing fee which may include a technology surcharge which currently amounts to $145.32 as of March 11, 2019.

Upon filing, you must check back with the court to find out if your filing has been accepted.  Once accepted, the court generates a Summons with Proof of Service and Notice of Automatic Orders.  You then must arrange to make proper due process service on the Defendant pursuant to Rhode Island law and the Rhode Island Rules of Domestic Relations Procedure. Service requirements vary depending upon whether the defendant is within Rhode Island, in another state, in another country or in the military.

Generally speaking, this is how a divorce proceeding or a legal separation proceeding is started in Rhode Island as of March 11, 2019.

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.

Today's Divorce Tip: Act Before You File!

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

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For Plaintiff's, the Notice of Automatic Orders goes into effect at the moment the Plaintiff signs the Complaint for Divorce under oath.

What does that mean?  It means that if you have filed your Complaint for Divorce and you take any action that is in violation of the provisions of the Notice of Automatic Orders that you may be technically or even willfully in contempt of court.

So what do you do?  If you have to take any actions regarding insurances or any assets, etc... that are in any way addressed or impacted by the Rhode Island Family Court's Notice of Automatic Orders then you must do so before you sign that Complaint for divorce if you are the Plaintiff.

Keep in mind that this does not necessarily mean that you need to initiate a change before the Automatic Orders go into effect but rather that you should make sure that whatever action you take is completed before you sign that Complaint for Divorce as the Plaintiff otherwise you risk a contempt order being issued against you by the court.

Readers, please note that this does not relate to Defendants.  Defendants are bound by the rule that they are bound by the Automatic Orders once they are served with the Complaint for Divorce by the Automatic Orders of the Court.  There is an exception to this rule though. If the court has reason to believe that you had actual notice of the divorce action and that the papers were being served and you knew of the Automatic Orders and you acted contrary to those orders, then the court may still find that you had what is known as "constructive notice or constructive service" of the papers and therefore the Defendant was bound by those Orders at the time he or she had notice according to the Court.

The situation becomes slightly more precarious for the Defendant than it does for the Plaintiff.  Yet there is one thing that both parties need to remember.

The Rhode Island Family court is a a court of equity and no matter what you may have done which may or may not have been in violation of the Automatic Orders, even if you completed the action before the papers were signed, the judge may still have the power to reverse what you have done or make orders that restore the equity of the situation.

This is one small component of any divorce, be it contested or uncontested.  Did you know this?  If not, think about that.  There are hundreds if not thousands of these little tidbits of knowledge that competent family law attorneys know that helps them get their clients through the court system.  Can you really afford not to be without that information and help?

Rhode Island Divorce Lawyer: Orders to Heed - Part 1

One tip your Rhode Island Divorce Lawyer may overlook is advising you in advance of filing a complaint for divorce is explaining to you the Rhode Island Family Court's Automatic Orders.

Automatic Orders - What are they?

Automatic Orders are just that, Orders of the Court carrying the full authority of law that apply to every divorce case filed in the Rhode Island Family Courts. The Automatic Orders are contained in an official form called, not surprisingly, Automatic Orders, that must be served upon the Defendant with the Plaintiff's Rhode Island Divorce Complaint, Summons and other accompanying documents that depend upon the factual circumstances of your specific case.

Who is bound by the Automatic Orders in a Rhode Island Divorce case?

Both the plaintiff and defendant (thus, both spouses) in a Rhode Island Divorce are bound by the Rhode Island Family Court's Automatic Orders.

What is the purpose of the Automatic Orders in a Rhode Island Divorce case?

There is no specifically stated purpose for the Automatic Orders of the Rhode Island Family court that anyone could direct you to and Rhode Island attorneys practicing in the area of divorce and family law may differ slightly about the phrasing of the purpose of the Automatic Orders, yet I believe the general principle can be summed up as "status quo".

The Automatic Orders substantially prohibit any significant changes in financial circumstances by either party, at least to the extent that such changes are in the party's control.  For example, neither party may change beneficiaries on life insurance policies or transfer or encumber property that is owned either individually or jointly.

The consistent statement and argument that I have heard used most both by Rhode Island divorce and family law attorneys is that the purpose of the court's Automatic Orders is generally to preserve the status quo between the parties.

Ultimately, the court doesn't want the parties playing games with the finances or items such as insurances, etc... that may adversely affect the other spouse during the divorce proceeding and therefore, unless the Automatic Orders are specifically modified by a motion presented to, and granted by the family court, the best rule of thumb is to continue managing all financial, asset and debt matters as it had been the parties' practice to do during the course of the marriage.