How Do I File for Divorce in Rhode Island

Get an overview of the divorce filing process in Rhode Island.

If you live in Rhode Island and you want to represent yourself in your divorce, you may not know where to begin. This article provides an overview of the divorce process in Rhode Island.

Some Key Points

As long as either spouse has lived in Rhode Island for at least one year before the divorce is started, the divorce can be handled in this state.

The document needed to start the divorce is called the “Complaint." The spouse who starts the divorce is the “plaintiff” and the other spouse is the “defendant.” The court charges a fee to file (submit) the divorce complaint.

With the exception of the child support forms, the Rhode Island Judiciary Branch website does not have on-line instructions or forms. You have to go to the court to obtain the divorce forms.

Getting Started

In Rhode Island, the official divorce forms are available directly from the court. The plaintiff spouse completes the complaint form and a verification form and delivers them to the family court for the plaintiff’s county. There are four family courts in the state, one for each county except for Providence and Bristol counties, which are covered by the same court.

Once the complaint and a "Verification" are filed with the court, the plaintiff will receive a blank "Summons," which is the paper that will be delivered or “served” to the defendant spouse. The plaintiff completes the summons by filling in the same case information that was on the complaint. This means the name of the case, the name of the family court, and the docket number, which will be provided by the court clerk.

Other Important Forms

If there are children in the family who are under 18 years of age, the plaintiff should also complete the following:

  • the schedule for visitation for minor children form
  • the child support guidelines, worksheet and income form. This is available court website, www.courts.ri.gov. Go to the courts tab and then to family court section for the form.
  • the declaration under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act

The Next Steps

Service on the Other Spouse

“Service” means how the other spouse is given a copy of the divorce complaint and summons. The law has specific rules on how this is to be done. The plaintiff may:

  • use the county sheriff where the defendant lives or works. The sheriff will deliver the papers to the defendant and return proof that the defendant was served to the plaintiff. There is a fee for this service.
  • using a private constable authorized in Rhode Island to serve legal documents. Like the sheriff, the constable will deliver the papers and provide the plaintiff with proof of service. There is a fee for this service.

What if my spouse files for divorce?

If you receive a complaint for divorce, you should file a response, which is called an “answer” to show that you want a voice in the divorce. You can use the answer to correct any incorrect statements that appear in the complaint. You can also ask for a final result different that what your spouse requested. You can file a counterclaim if you want to list different reasons for the divorce.

Other Places for Help

Rhode Island Legal Service,  www.helprilaw.org, has a detailed description of the divorce process. Go to the library tab on the website. Click on the family law tab, then go to the divorce link. Click on “The Basic Divorce Process.”  

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