Uncontested Divorce in Rhode Island

Learn more about a less contentious divorce process in Rhode Island.

Making the decision to get a divorce may be a complicated and emotional process. Many times couples expect that the legal process will be equally draining and even ugly.

However, in Rhode Island, when neither spouse plans to contest the divorce (or any aspect of the divorce proceeding), the couple may choose a simpler route by filing for an uncontested, no-fault divorce. The uncontested, no-fault process is generally much easier and shorter than pursuing a contested divorce based on fault. However, in order to pursue an uncontested divorce, both spouses have to agree on all of their divorce-related issues, from the reasons for filing for divorce to the final division of property.

If you have questions about an uncontested divorce in Rhode Island, you should contact an experienced family law attorney.

What is an Uncontested Divorce?

An uncontested divorce is when both spouses agree to terminate their marriage and agree on how to resolve all of their divorce-related issues, such as alimony and the division of property.

While some states have a special process for an uncontested divorce (sometimes called a "simplified dissolution"), Rhode Island does not. So, the easiest way to get an uncontested divorce in Rhode Island is to file for a no-fault divorce and explain to the court that you and your spouse agree on all of the issues in your case, including the reason for the split.

A no-fault is a divorce when one spouse claims there are “irreconcilable differences” that make the marriage beyond repair. Even if one or both spouses are at fault in causing the differences, the fault is not considered by the court in this type of divorce case. Avoiding claims of fault substantially simplifies the divorce process.

Requirements for Filing for a No-Fault Divorce

You must meet the following requirements to file a no-fault divorce in Rhode Island:

  • either spouse has lived in Rhode Island for one year before filing for divorce, and
  • irreconcilable differences caused the breakdown of the marriage, or you and your spouse have been separated for three years without a reconciliation.

You must also have all financial issues resolved before the final divorce order is granted. This means you must either have property and alimony claims settled before the final divorce, or have your claim filed with the court before the divorce is final. You cannot bring property distribution or alimony cases to court after the final divorce is granted. If you wait until after your divorce is final, you will have lost the right to make any financial claims.

To begin the divorce process, one spouse, the “plaintiff,” will file divorce papers with the family court clerk at his or her local courthouse. The other spouse, the “defendant,” will submit a reply to the papers.

After the paperwork is filed, the spouses must wait 60 days, after which a court hearing will be set. Usually, both spouses and testify at appear at the hearing. After all testimony is submitted, the judge will grant the divorce.

You may seek this type of divorce whether you and your spouse have children together or not. If you do have children together, you may also be required to participate in a divorcing parent class. You should check the requirements for this at your local courthouse.

You may choose to handle your divorce without the help of a lawyer. If you go forward on your own, you must be sure to carefully follow the filing instructions. The judge and court staff are not allowed to provide legal advice. Any errors in your paperwork may cause you to have to start the process over from the beginning.

Overview of the Process for Filing an Uncontested, No-Fault Divorce

The following instructions assume that you and your spouse agree on the divorce and that both of you are willing to sign all of the required divorce documents. If one spouse contests or disputes any aspect of the divorce, the process will require additional steps, in which case you should consult a family law attorney about your case.

File the Divorce Complaint

You will need to file a "Complaint for Divorce," along with other required forms. Most of the forms you will need are available from the family court clerk where you file. Some forms may also be available online here.

You'll need to pay filing fees when you submit your divorce papers, but if your income is below a certain level, the court may waive your fee. If you think you may qualify for this, you must file a form called an In Forma Pauperispetition. You may get this form from the clerk’s office.

Serve Your Spouse and File a Proof of Service

Serving papers on your spouse means having the divorce papers delivered by the sheriff’s office. You must deliver a copy of the papers you filed to the sheriff. After a sheriff’s deputy delivers the papers, he or she will fill out a form affirming that the papers were properly delivered to your spouse. You must then file a copy of that form with the clerk's office in order to prove that your spouse received the necessary paperwork and notice of the proceeding.

Prepare for Your Hearing

You will need to bring two witnesses to your hearing, who can testify that:

  • you have lived in Rhode Island for at least one year, and
  • irreconcilable differences are the reason for your divorce or that you have been separated for three years (depending on which grounds were in your papers).

Your spouse, if he or she plans to appear, will also need a witness.

At your hearing, you and your spouse will testify, along with your witnesses. If your spouse does not show up to the hearing, your case will be considered a “default divorce.” In a default divorce, the judge will only hear from the side that appears in the case and will grant the divorce based on what that party has requested.

Finalize Your Divorce

After the hearing, you are not yet officially divorced. There are additional forms that must be submitted to the court, including a "Decision Pending Entry of Final Judgment" and a "Final Judgment." After these papers are submitted and processed by the court, you and your spouse will be legally single.

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