Rhode Island Divorce Basics

Get started here to learn about the divorce process in Rhode Island.

Rhode Island allows couples to file for divorce under either fault or no-fault grounds. The fault-based grounds for divorce include impotency, adultery, extreme cruelty, and continued drunkenness.

Grounds for Divorce

Rhode Island allows couples to file for divorce under either fault or no-fault grounds. The fault-based grounds for divorce include impotency, adultery, extreme cruelty, and continued drunkenness. When a couple files for divorce on a no-fault ground, they can cite irreconcilable differences or state that they have been living separate and apart for at least three years.

Residency Requirement

Any person filing for divorce in Rhode Island must have been a resident of the state for at least one year before the filing. The spouse filing for divorce can file in that spouse's county of residence or, if residency is based on the other spouse's residence, either in the second spouse's residence or in Providence County.

Property Division

Rhode Island is an equitable distribution state, which means a judge will divide the property in an equal and just way; property does not necessarily have to be divided equally. The judge bases decisions about property division on the length of the marriage, each spouse’s conduct during the marriage, each spouse’s financial and other contributions to the marriage, each spouse’s resources and needs, and each spouse’s health and age.  

Alimony

Either spouse may ask the court to order the other to pay alimony, also known as spousal support. The court's first decision is whether the support is necessary; relevant factors include the length of the marriage, each party's health, age, skills, and income, and the spouses’ conduct during the marriage.

If the spouse asking for support has been a homemaker and has primary physical custody of a minor child, then the court may apply different standards when making a decision for support.  For example, if the spouse asking for support is the primary caregiver and has sacrificed education or career opportunities, and will face challenges becoming self-supporting in the future, the judge is likely to find that support is appropriate. The court might order temporary alimony in the expectation that the supported spouse can become self sufficient--but under certain circumstances, a support order can last indefinitely. However, when the supported spouse remarries, alimony automatically ends.

Child Support

The state of Rhode Island sets out guidelines for judges to follow when making an order for child support. In addition to the guidelines, a judge will consider other factors, including both the child and the parents’ financial resources, the child's physical and emotional condition and educational needs, and the standard of living that the child would have enjoyed if the parents did not get divorced. Parents must support their children until age 18 or until they graduate from high school, whichever is first.

Parents may also be responsible for paying child support for a child over 18 who is physically or mentally impaired and living under the care of one of the parents. The judge would look at the nature and extent of the disability, the child's medical expenses, the child’s ability to earn an income, the child and parents’ financial resources, and whether the primary caregiver is able to maintain gainful employment while caring for the child.

Generally, the court will revisit child support issues after three years; any request for modification before three years have passed must be based on a substantial change in circumstances.

To find out more about the child support guidelines, go to the website of the Office of Child Support Services, here.

Child Custody

Judges in Rhode Island may award sole custody to one parent with rights of visitation to the other parent, or award joint custody to both parents. In order to decide custody disputes, the court considers the best interests of the child. If the court finds that there has been domestic or family violence, then it can deny visitation to the abuser, or it may order the abuser to attend classes or join programs to ensure that the child is safe. Either of the parents may request a modification in the child custody arrangement if there has been a significant change in circumstances.

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