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.
Rhode Island has residency requirements for couples seeking a divorce. 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. R.I. Gen Laws § 15-5-12 (2019).
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 Rhode Island Judiciary Branch website has some limited online instructions and divorce forms. You may be able to obtain additional divorce forms by visiting your local courthouse in person.
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. Visit the Rhode Island Judiciary “Family Court” webpage for more information.
The plaintiff spouse completes the complaint form and a verification form and delivers them to the family court for the plaintiff’s county. Do your best to fill out the paperwork completely and accurately. Any mistakes on your divorce paperwork could cause problems in your case or even delay your divorce.
When you submit your divorce paperwork to the court, you'll also have to pay a filing fee. If you're unable to pay the fee, you’ll need to ask the judge to waive it based on your financial circumstances. You may be required to provide additional income information to show the judge you’re not hiding or misrepresenting your assets.
Once you file the complaint and a "Verification," you'll 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.
“Service” refers to delivery of the divorce complaint and summons to the responding spouse. There are specific rules on how this is to be done. The plaintiff can accomplish service by using 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.
Alternatively, the plaintiff may use 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 as well.
If you and your spouse have minor children together, you should also complete the following:
If you receive a complaint for divorce, you should file a response, which is called an “Answer” to show that you want a say in how the case is resolved. If you and your spouse agree on all terms in the divorce, it’s called an “Uncontested Divorce”.
If you don’t agree with everything 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 that’s different from what your spouse requested. You can file a counterclaim if you want to list different reasons for the divorce.
Rhode Island Legal Services has a detailed description of the divorce process. You can call Rhode Island Legal Services for more information (401) 274-2652. You may be entitled to free legal representation if you qualify.
The Rhode Island Bar also maintains a Lawyer Referral Service with reduced fee or free legal representation for certain individuals.