One of the first decisions you have to make when facing a Rhode Island Family Court divorce is whether or not to hire a divorce attorney or represent yourself, known as “pro se”. While there are pros and cons to both decisions, it is important to understand that in court, if you represent yourself, you are expected to know the same laws and procedures as an attorney. If you decide to proceed pro se, there is no guarantee that your spouse will as well, so you may end up facing an attorney on your own.
A major factor that plays into this decision is the financial aspect of hiring an attorney. While there may be a savings upfront by representing yourself, this decision can quickly end up costing you more if you agree to terms that you don’t understand or if you are required to go back to court to modify (change). One such situation might involve alimony (payment from one spouse to another): once you waive your right to alimony from your spouse, you are never allowed to return and change your mind. As part of your decision making, it is wise to meet with a divorce attorney for a consultation and decide if they are the right fit to represent you. You have the right to change your mind and representation during the divorce proceedings, so if you started pro se or currently are represented by an attorney who does not feel like the right fit, it is not too late to hire alternate counsel.
Once you have made your decision regarding legal representation, you will either file to serve your spouse or be served by your spouse who filed. The spouse who files first is called the “plaintiff” and the spouse who is served is called the “defendant”, as divorce is technically a lawsuit brought by one party (spouse) against the other. If you are filing, it is important to know the process and what pleadings (legal documents) are required. Once the pleadings are filed with the court, you will have initiated the divorce proceedings and have a court date assigned. You then need to have a specific package of pleadings served by a constable upon your spouse, and then file proof of the same back with the court. Your spouse will file their responses with the court, some of which necessitate your response back. If your spouse has you served, there is a certain period of time prior to your court date when you must respond with a separate set of specific pleadings.
The court experience is different for everyone as it can vary based on many different factors. In general, when you go before the judge, you will be there to either place an agreement on the record or advocate for your position on an issue. Having an experienced divorce attorney is beneficial as they are able to best advocate for you in the small window of time reserved for the same. The judge will put any agreement on the record and if none, will provide input as to what the agreement should be either permanently or until you return to finalize the divorce. In a nominal divorce, all topics related to your divorce have already been resolved without the necessity of court so the process is much quicker and less adversarial. In cases of a contentious divorce, there may be hearings, trials, witnesses, evidence, testimony, etc.
- Custody (legal decision making)
- Placement (primary residence)
- Relocation (moving out of RI)
- Parenting plan (visitation, holidays, etc.)
- Child support (implication, modification, termination)
Pleadings (legal documents)
- Marital or property settlement agreement
- Pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement
- Motions (requesting your ex-spouse do something)
- Objections (in response to your ex-spouse’s motions)
- Discovery process
- Restraining or no contact orders
- Legal representation vs pro se (representing yourself)
- Filing and serving your spouse
- Being served by and responding to your spouse
- What to expect at your court hearing
- Enforcing court orders
- Motions for modification (make changes) or to adjudge in contempt (not doing what agreed to)