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.
By: Christopher A. Pearsall, RI Divorce and Family Court Lawyer* a.k.a. The Rhode Island Divorce Coach ℠
I realized 10 years ago that not everyone could afford a lawyer to represent them in court. Sure, there were some organizations that provided volunteer lawyers or lawyers who would take on a Pro Bono case in Rhode Island. The trouble was that they were quickly saturated with people who wanted a free lawyer for their case. Yet there wasn't a service that I could find that offered help to individuals so they could represent themselves properly in their own divorces. So in 2006 I became the Rhode Island Divorce Coach to do just that less than the cost of typical representation.
Recently I was reminded of a few lessons I give people in courtroom decorum. As lawyers I suppose we treat these things as commonplace or perhaps even common sense. They aren't common sense to everyone though. Sometimes, they aren't followed by long time practicing attorneys.
I've always thought stories are the best teachers so let me give you an example. Keep in mind that " . . . " means that someone was trying to continue talking.
The Divorce of Todd McFadden vs. Sarah Jacobsen
Todd McFadden and his wife Sarah Jacobsen were getting divorced. Todd was the filing party ("Plaintiff"). Sarah was the party served with the initial Rhode Island divorce complaint ("Defendant"). Todd's lawyer filed a Motion for Temporary Orders. Sarah's lawyer objected to that motion.. Here is how the dialogue went in the courtroom.
JUDGE: So we're here on Plaintiff's Motion for Temporary Orders, correct counsel?
Todd's Lawyer: Yes, your Honor.
JUDGE: Okay counsel, I'll hear from you first. Then I'll hear from Defendant's counsel.
Todd's Lawyer: Your honor we are moving for Orders allowing only the Plaintiff to be the one to bring the two minor children to their soccer practices and games.
JUDGE: Reasoning counsel?
Todd's Lawyer: The Defendant mother already has a boyfriend only 4 weeks into this divorce. She has been exposing these minor children to this boyfriend. She and the boyfriend pick up and drop off the children to their soccer practices and games. It's our position and hopefully the court's that to prevent confusion or irreparable damage to the children at this delicate time in this family's life that it's in the best interests of the children that the Plaintiff be the one who drops off and/or picks up the children.
JUDGE: Okay, defendant's counsel may I hear your objection.
Sarah's Lawyer: Thank you. My client's objection is that she has always brought the children to their soccer practices and games and to change their routine would be detrimental to the children's routine during the divorce.
JUDGE: But counsel I'm sure you understand that exposing the minor children to her boyfriend before this case is finished is poor judgment and could damage the children and . . .
Sarah: He's not my boyfriend. He . . .
Todd: Judge, he is too her boyfriend! C'mon Sarah, I've had an investigator following you since before I filed for divorce.
JUDGE: Counsel, kindly get your client's under control. They should be aware how we do things in a court of law.
Both Lawyers: Yes, Judge.
[Each lawyer whispers to their client.]
Judge: So, we have mom who's always been bringing the children to soccer practices and games routinely but now she's bringing them with an alleged boyfriend who supposedly the Plaintiff can verify with a private detective who has been following them. So I'd . . .
Sarah's Lawyer: Judge we don't think he's been having her followed at all and . . .
Judge: [Facial Expression at Sarah's lawyer) As I was saying, I'm be inclined to want to keep mom bringing the children for consistency since she's always done it [Todd whispers to his lawyer] yet because of this boyfriend issue . . .
Todd: What? But she hasn't....
Todd's Lawyer:[Putting his hand on Todd's shoulder to silence him.] But judge mom hasn't been routinely . . .
Judge: [To Todd's Lawyer]: Counsel, was I speaking? I believe I was and ....
Todd's Lawyer: Yes Judge, but...
Judge: That's enough. I've heard you both. Plaintiff's Motion is denied. I'm ordering that the Defendant mother shall continue to bring the minor children to and from their soccer practices and games but she is prohibited from bringing any unrelated person of the opposite sex with her on pickups and drop offs.
Todd's Lawyer: But . . .
Todd's Lawyer: Judge please note my exception to your decision for the record.
Judge: So noted.
You would be amazed how big some things that seem so small can be so big. Hopefully you were able to identify the three (3) big lessons in courtroom etiquette that can be learned from this simple little exchange. After you look at them, see if you can figure out which things made the biggest difference.
1. Let Counsel Speak for You: If you've hired a lawyer, then you've hired him or her for a reason. Lawyers are hired for their expertise in a particular area of law including the manner in which the court should be addressed. In this case it was divorce and the family court system. So let the lawyer do what you hired him or her to do. When you have a lawyer a client who jumps in and speaks directly to the judge without being asked to do so directly by the judge or their lawyer is considered being rude and shows a lack of respect for the court. Whatever your good intentions may be, keep your mouth shut until your lawyer or the judge ask you to address the court, otherwise you are most likely going to hurt your case. If you look back in the dialogue above, you will see that both Todd and Sarah addressed the judge directly and the judge actually scolded their attorneys and told them to get their client's under control. They both hurt their cases by not having their attorneys address what needed to be said instead of speaking out of turn without the court's permission.
2. Don't Speak to the Other Party: Unless the court has requested that there be direct discussion between the two parties while in a court hearing, don't do it! , then do not directly talk to the other party. If you were going to directly talk to the other party in the first instance you should not be in court at all and you should have been able to resolve the matter without even being in court. Once again, this is considered rude and disrespectful to the court, especially when you have hired a lawyer who is responsible for presenting your case to the court. In this case look at the testimony. Todd directly addressed Sarah and while the tone isn't evident the wording leads us to believe that he was using a condescending tone. Todd hurt his case with the judge here and started sending his own motion on a downward spiral.
3. Don't Interrupt the Judge: When the judge is talking, even if what the judge is saying seems wrong, you do not interrupt the judge. That is not only rude but it is one of the biggest offenses to a judge and with good reason. You are before the court asking for something. If the judge is speaking and you interrupt, then you have now offended the very person that you are asking to give you some relief. If you were going to ask someone for a short term loan and before you gave them the loan you did something that was a slap in the face to the person, you just decreased the chances of getting that loan by more than 50%. The same is true for court. It is a place of respect. You disrespect the person running your hearing in that court and it's just like a slap in the fact. Here, after Sarah interrupted the judge, Todd continued the interruption. Why is that significant? Because Todd should have had enough time and common sense to mentally process that Sarah had done something wrong that he should not do, namely interrupt the judge. Yet he not only continued the interruption of the judge, making it longer and wasting the court's time but he also interrupted Sarah and spoke directly to her, neither of which he should have done. Todd compounded the problem. If Todd had looked at the judge he might well have caught a cue from the judge's facial expressions or mannerisms that he/she was not happy about it.
Which way to do you think the judge would have ruled if Todd had interrupted the judge and spoke directly to Sarah? If he had asked his attorney to address the issue and the attorney had done so correctly, what to you thing the result would have been then?
Can you see that the judge seemed to be going in Todd's direction until he and the lawyer opened their mouths in a disrespectful manner to the court?
Do you think Todd's lawyer could have salvaged this motion and won it?
When you are represented by a lawyer in a Rhode Island divorce case or otherwise, take your cues from the lawyer. It is all too easy to let your emotions get the better of you and make grievous mistakes in etiquette that end up losing you a motion or your entire case.
In my professional opinion, this motion was not lost in this case based on the law, facts or evidence. Todd's motion was lost in this court hearing solely due to disrespect of the court and the presiding judge.
*Note: Any resemblance to any real persons or situations currently before the court is merely coincidental and/or accidental.
There is a huge PRO SE movement going forward in the Rhode island Family Courts. The court schedules have people representing themselves in their own cases every day. Beside each listing for those people it says "PRO SE." The listings used to be few and far between on the Rhode Island divorce and family court calendars but today they are everywhere.
I started wondering why this newer "PRO SE" movement had grown so large when your legal rights relating to your family law matters are so very important such that even one mistake can cause irreparable harm.
So months ago I began listening to people more intently at court, in my office, and in public commentaries in print and online. For my result I focused on three (3) questions that might help understand this PRO SE trend on the family court calendars.
1) Is it that all divorce lawyers are viewed as being too expensive?
2) Is it that people simply don't have the money to hire a divorce lawyer in any capacity?
3) Or could it be that the Rhode Island family court is making divorces easier and people don't see the perils of representing themselves?
The answer related not to one or two of the questions but to all three (3).
The vast majority of people I listened to and considered related mostly to Rhode Island divorces but still I kept my ears open about comments by people talking about lawyers, their consultations with other lawyers, editorials and other materials. I found that the vast majority of people in the middle class viewed lawyers as being drastically overpaid, expensive and not worth the monies they would be paid and so they would rather go PRO SE and save themselves expensive attorney's fees.
A good many people also believed that representation in a divorce or family law matter was the only option available to them and therefore concluded that since they simply didn't have the money to hire a lawyer to represent them to protect their rights that they were forced to go forward PRO SE and represent themselves.
Lastly, there were quite a few people who didn't want to spend any money on getting divorced and heard through a friend or relative that not only was the court giving out the questions that they should be prepared to answer at the hearing but that the judge's were, in fact, leading them through the divorce and therefore a lawyer was unnecessary.
The reasoning used by most of the people who were part of my private study was interesting but flawed for two reasons.
First, people need to understand that representation is not the only form of legal assistance available in the Rhode Island legal community. Coaching in divorce and other areas of law has been around for years. This is legal assistance that lawyers provide to clients on an "as desired basis" or "as affordable basis" to clients who cannot afford full-service "in court" representation but who must represent themselves due to the cost but still need to know their rights and the proper procedure for asserting those rights.
The challenge of finding one of these "Coaching" attorneys is that many of them still focus on full-service in-court representations and they do not openly promote their "coaching services" which brings in a small amount of income and a greater level of liability exposure for what they are paid. As you can imagine then, this is not the focus of many practitioners and this option is often only revealed when a prospective client discloses that he or she cannot afford the full-service representation. Yet coaching has become a substantial way to exercise your constitutional right to represent yourself, save a considerable amount of money compared to full representation and yet still have access to an experienced lawyer to learn about your legal rights as well as the procedure you can use to press those rights before the court.
Yet coaching and it's affordability doesn't come cheap. It's price? It can take substantial time and effort to find an attorney who offers coaching in the area of law that you need assistance with (family law or otherwise) and therefore if you want the affordability it comes at a sacrifice of your time and effort to find such an attorney.
Second, people need to understand that the questions provided by the court in the divorce papers are merely general questions that can relate to many divorces. They were not created necessarily to help the public but to help the judges by providing a guide that PRO SE people could follow, regardless of whether it was right or not for your divorce. However, that particular determination is yours to make because you are acting as your own lawyer and the protector of your own rights when you are PRO SE. The judges may even ask you the questions on that sample sheet. Litigants look at this as kindly helping them through the process just as they should be going through it. This presumption is dead wrong. The judge asks you questions that the judge knows apply to most divorces because the judge needs to make findings of fact and a decision affecting the parties' rights at the end of the hearing. Without specific content the judge can't make the required findings of fact and the decisions in the case. The judge's job is to give you your day in court and to clear his or her docket properly and legally of the cases on it. It is your job to protect your own rights. The sample questions you are given DO NOT protect your legal rights. If the judge asks you the sample questions or other questions during the divorce proceeding, this is not designed to protect your legal rights.
It is YOUR JOB and ONLY YOUR JOB to know your rights and to protect them during any divorce or family law proceeding in the Rhode Island Courts. So, if you represent yourself, PRO SE, and you miss something, forget something, mis-state something, or misunderstand something then you should understand that you should not expect that you should or even can sue the State of Rhode Island or the Judge who presided over your proceeding.
If you want a cheaper or more affordable divorce and you feel up to representing yourself, then by all means you have the constitutional right to do so but you should most assuredly get some coaching from an experienced family law practitioner who offers coaching and can inform you about your rights, the procedures, etc... Naturally your level of protection and safety in the proceeding relates to the amount of coaching and advice you are willing to engage the attorney for, but it is better than thinking that you know as much as a lawyer who has been doing this for many years and has read the law, or than thinking that the court is already protecting you so you don't need a lawyer at all.
If you don't know your legal rights in a divorce and how to protect them, you might as well not have them.
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"™
Per the Rhode Island Family Court's Chief Judge, Amended Administrative Order 2011-5 has been released regarding the Statement of Assets, Liabilities, Income and Expenses effective October 5, 2011. This form is now the DR-6 (Revised October 2011) with it's latest revision (to my knowledge) updated as of October 28, 2011.
This Amended Administrative Order of the RI Family Court states as follows:
RHODE ISLAND FAMILY COURT
AMENDED ADMINISTRATIVE ORDER 2011-5
STATEMENT OF ASSETS, LIABILITIES, INCOME AND EXPENSES
DR-6 [REVISED OCTOBER 2011]
The DR-6 [Revised October 2011] shall be filed in accordance with Administrative Order 2011-4. For example: Domestic Relations Case Flow system requires that "Motions for temporary support, custody or counsel fees shall be accompanied by a supporting affidavit containing a statement of the applicants current assets, liabilities, income and expenses (DR-6 Form Revised 2011)."
The DR-6 shall be submitted on green colored paper. Failure to submit the DR-6 on green colored paper will result in the Clerk's Office returning an improperly submitted DR-6 to the attorney of record.
This order becomes effective October 5, 2011, and shall apply only to those cases filed on or after October 5, 2011.
10-5-11 Bedrosian, CJ Date Haiganush R. Bedrosian, Chief Judge
* Discussion and Commentary on the DR-6 Revised October 2011 in future Rhode Island Divorce Tips postings from The Rhode Island Divorce Coach.