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Divorcing parties often feel they are drowning

How to Get Yourself Divorced in RI

In a recent blog entry I magnanimously agreed to get one lucky, sweet couple divorced for free in honor of Valentine’s Day.  Because even when I’m nice I’m a jerk.  But I am only doing one of those, and there are many more people to help get divorced than my rare, random good moods can possibly assist.

In RI parties are free to get themselves divorced without attorneys so long as they avoid all the landmines.  This blog entry is here to help you do just that.

Exactly what to do to get divorced without an attorney in RI:

First, come to a complete agreement on everything.  Easy, right?

Who will the children live with after you two are divorced?  If they are going to live with Wife then exactly when will Husband visit?  What about holidays?  Do you want to share major holidays (Husband will have Thanksgiving until whatever time, then Wife can have the child for the balance of the day, etc.) or are you going to alternate major holidays (Husband can have the entire Thanksgiving Day in odd years, etc.)  Special occasions (think dance recitals and graduations)?  Both should go.  You can suck it up and get along okay for an afternoon.  Or you can both drink enough Riesling to get through it.  Choose whichever one of your kids is the most mature and have them be the D.D. for the evening.  Bobby always wanted to drive your Land Rover.

Next, file the divorce after you come to the agreement.  One of you has to file the Complaint for Divorce and all the fun secondary pleadings that come with it: Entry of Appearance, Cover Sheet, Statement Listing Children, DR-6 financial disclosure form, and marriage certificate.  Serve your better half by constable or sheriff.

The constable or sheriff will mail you a document proving your spouse was served.  You paid them $45 for this piece of paper!  Stick it in your pants and BRING IT TO YOUR COURT DATE WITH YOU.

On your court date you will each have to go through a recitation or script of all the major points of the marriage, its failing, and how you plan to handle parenting time, how to divide all of your assets, debts, things, what the health insurance situation is, and whether anyone needs alimony.

Before you get into all of that you need to get some introductory stuff out of the way first.  Whichever one of you filed the Complaint for Divorce is the Plaintiff, and the Plaintiff goes first.

Plaintiff should tell the judge his or her address and state how long they have lived in R.I.  To get divorced, at least one of the two parties to the action must have lived in R.I. for at least a full year before filing the divorce.  {This is different from a separation, which a party can file here in R.I. after being here for just one day!  Come to RI to break-up!}  The judge needs your address and duration of time you lived here to ensure she has jurisdiction (the right state) and venue (the right county).

Now tell the judge the date you were married and the date you separated from your spouse.

Note: if you and your spouse are still living under the same roof on the date you go to court be sure to do two things:  1).  Tell the judge the concrete plans to separate, and give her a firm date by when this will be done.  “We are currently still living together, but my lazy ass husband has agreed that he will move out of our apartment permanently within the next thirty days.”  Something to this effect.  2).  Tell the judge that, despite the fact that you are your spouse live under the same roof, you “have not lived together as husband and wife in a while.”  Whatever that while is.  This is judge-speak for sex.  If you filed a divorce based on irreconcilable differences, and you are still sleeping with your spouse without any plan to move out your judge will likely tell you that is not a divorce and that you have a happier marriage than most and they may toss your case out or make you come back another day!  In other words, you don’t have to keep it in your pants, you just can’t sleep with your spouse!  Family court!

Now tell the judge that you (Plaintiff still, you’re still up there) filed a “Complaint for an Absolute Divorce alleging as grounds the fact that you and your spouse have suffered irreconcilable differences leading to the irremediable breakdown of the marriage.”  If these were your grounds.  I am assuming that if you and your spouse are doing this on your own without attorneys you are somewhat civil, and if you are civil chances are you aren’t divorcing because, say, your ex is worshiping Satan.  Or is forever high on opiates.  Or whatever.  So you get this mouthful out then tell your judge that you and Spouse have different circles of friends, different goals, approaches to life, different preferences for finances, and, generally speaking, you two no longer get along.  The marriage can not be saved.

If either of you testifies under oath that the marriage CAN be saved or reconciled you CAN NOT get divorced!  I’ve seen it!  Have this super fun and super awful convo on the drive in while sipping your Dunks.

That’s it for the introduction.  By now the judge is asleep and the clerk is playing Words with Friends.  When you have bored the Court you know you are really on a roll!

Next move on to the kiddies.  If you don’t have any children together skip the next eight paragraphs or so.  First,  state how many children you two have together, their full names, and birthdays.  Tell the judge who the children will live with (in RI we call this placement).  If Wife is Plaintiff, and the kids are to live primarily with her, then Wife has sole placement.  If Wife is only going to visit, then Husband has sole placement.  If the parties are truly going to have the child / children one-half of the time then you are sharing placement.

After placement make clear to the judge who has custody.  In RI almost all divorces end in “joint custody” which has nada to do with where the kids live.  Your kids could live on Saturn and you could have custody.  Family Court!

Custody is the right to be informed as to your child’s major life decisions prior to their occurrence.  Usually these decisions fall into the following buckets: social life, religious upbringing, medical decisions, education, and general well-being.  This means that BOTH parents have to inform the OTHER parent of a decision they are considering making for the child before it is made.  It does not give the parent being informed a veto!  If the parties have joint custody, and Wife wants Child to become Methodist, she has to tell Husband before … well, whatever Methodists do to become Methodist.  She can’t have Child baptized (or what have you) and then tell Husband.  Also, Husband can not just say “no” without any good reason and expect the child to remain agnostic.  Joint custody is the Court’s way of forcing parents to parent.  Put the hot dog down and have a real conversation.

If one of you is going to have sole custody then be sure to explain why that is to your judge – and expect that the parent who is giving up custody can articulate that he or she knows damn well what they are giving up.  Otherwise, you guessed it, you ain’t getting divorced.

Next is child support.  The R.I. Family Court has a child support guideline that can be calculated relatively easily.  There are instructions online to address questions.  Before sitting down to calculate, know the gross incomes of both parents, the cost of the health insurance premium to cover the child only, and the cost of the child’s daycare, if any.  You can probably get yourselves down to row six with this information, but to insert the basic child support obligation from your data, you will have to ask the clerk to borrow the “child support table.”  Ask nicely and bride your clerk with snacks.  If one party is paying too much and the other party isn’t getting enough you know you have hit the sweet spot.

There is a different way to calculate child support if you are truly sharing placement; do not use the sole placement child support figure for a shared placement system.  If you do, one of you is overpaying, and that does not necessarily benefit the children.  Finally, once an accurate child support figure is determined be sure to have it garnished, or taken directly from the pay of whichever parent does not have placement (like social security or taxes are).  This means more paperwork.

As for claiming the child for State and Federal income tax purposes – that right goes to the parent who has a child most overnights in a given calendar year.  So, to the placement parent.
Lastly, child support is meant to cover a child’s food, clothing, and shelter.  It does not cover extracurricular activity costs, camp costs, and the like.  Costs such as that are separate, and should be borne by both parents equally, unless one makes exponentially more income.
That’s it for kids?  Easy right?  If you can agree it is…


Next you should touch on health, dental, and vision insurance.  If you and your spouse are covered on different insurance plans then this is very easy.  Tell the judge what insurance you have, and if it is through your employment.  Tell the judge your spouse is not on your insurance so you will each be solely liable for your own insurance costs and coverage.


If your spouse is on your insurance, then you are obligated to keep Spouse covered on your insurance for so long as he is eligible per state law.  That eligibility is usually determined by your employer.  If your employer mandates that it will not cover Spouses after the Final Decree of Divorce enters, then you only have to cover your spouse until then.  But, if your employer allows for coverage of ex-spouses indefinitely then Spouse is fortunate, and can stay on your insurance after you split ways and until one of you dies or remarries (whichever is worse).  Spouse does, however, have to pay you back the difference in premium cost for you to cover them on your plan, so you remain whole.

i.e.  You get Tufts as a benefit of your employment.  You have a plan for you and your spouse.  That plan costs you out-of-pocket, say, $200.00 per month to use easy numbers.  According to that plan, if you were only covering yourself, it would cost $100.00 per month.  Because you are covering your spouse still, and because that raises your premium by $100 / month, Spouse has to pay you $100.00 per month.  If Spouse doesn’t, you kick Spouse off.  They get to stay on the insurance if they get a boo boo, but you have the same amount of money coming out (net).  Neat, right?

Be sure to testify as to which of you has the insurance plan that covers the children, and state that he or she will continue to cover the children.  Testify that you will each cover the children’s uninsured / under-insured health, dental, orthodontic, vision, and like care expenses equally.

Now that the whole courtroom is fast asleep, including the judge, as long as the stenographer is still awake you can keep going into assets.  The steno is the important one!  More on that later.

Look on the bright side – you are halfway to getting divorced!  You can practically picture all the weird sex you are going to have soon!

Whether an asset is tangible (a house!) or intangible (a stock!) you have to deal with it here.  If you have any joint bank accounts be sure to tell the judge how you plan to handle them.  If one of you is going to divide a retirement account you have to say so (and you have to divide it by “QDRO”, or Qualified Domestic Relations Order).  If neither of you can afford the marital real estate on your own you should sell it and split the money among yourselves.

If you are not sure whether an asset is marital (must be divided) or non-marital (its yours walking in the door) make a consult with a nice-smelling divorce attorney well before your court date OR even reschedule the court date and find out.  It is that important.

Next, do the same but for debts.  If there are ANY debts in BOTH your names have a clear plan to tell the judge about how you will split them / pay for them.  Usually these are credit card debts.  If you are each keeping all debts in your own name say so.  A common example is student loans one of you incurred before the wedding.

Finally, request to waive alimony.  To waive alimony, tell the judge your: age, health, highest level of education, current employment, and gross income.  Tell the judge you do not need alimony (money) from your spouse and are able to support yourself.

If there is not an agreement on all of the above elements, you are not getting divorced today.  Get another court date, speak to an attorney maybe, and try again in six weeks.

If you are the Wife, and you wish to resume use of your maiden name say so now.

Then, after all that, the other spouse (who has not yet testified) will be asked if he has questions for you (they won’t – you’ve been so thorough) and then you can sit down in your seat and nap.  Then the other spouse gets up and goes through the major points again.  Address, length of time living in RI, wedding and separation date, marriage can not be reconciled, what to do about: children, insurance, assets, debts, and alimony.

As long as your testimonies line up and complement one another then the judge will grant your divorce based on irreconcilable differences.

You MAY have to give the name and relationship of a person who could have come to testify that 1). One or both of you lived in RI for at least one full year before filing for divorce and, 2). Your marriage can’t be saved or reconciled.  This person does not have to appear in court – just give the judge his or her name.  Agree upon a person beforehand.
*NOTE: If either Wife or Husband is not going to appear in court on the hearing date then the one who will appear (say, Wife) must ensure she brings with her TWO witnesses who can testify to the above.  Otherwise you may not get divorced!

Then the judge will read her decision onto the record, you have to get a transcript of that decision from the stenographer, and draft a document called a Decision Pending Entry of Final Judgment that reduces the judge’s decision to writing.  File that with the Family Court as soon as possible after your hearing, and send your ex a copy at that fleabag motel he is staying in.

Then, three months after your divorce hearing, draft and file a Final Decree of Divorce from that same transcript (use the Decision Pending to go off of).

If you have avoided the landmines described you will be formally / finally divorced as soon as your judge signs the Final Decree of Divorce you presented to the Court.

Voila, divorced!  Well done – have a margarita!  I’m proud of you.

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