Every state has its own rules and procedures for filing a divorce. Here's what you need to know to get started with your Rhode Island divorce.
You must meet a state's residency requirements before you can file for divorce in its courts. To get a divorce in Rhode Island, the filing spouse (the "plaintiff"), must be a resident of the state for at least one year immediately before filing. Alternatively, if the plaintiff doesn't live in Rhode Island, the residency requirement can be met when the non-filing spouse (the "defendant") has lived in the state for at least one year and is personally served with the divorce paperwork. (R.I. Gen. Laws § 15-5-12 (2022).)
You'll file in the family court in the county where you (the filing spouse) live. If you don't live in Rhode Island, you can file the complaint in Providence County or the county where your spouse (the "defendant") lives. (R.I. Gen. Laws § 15-5-13 (2022).)
Rhode Island allows both "no-fault" and "fault-based" divorces. A no-fault divorce is one in which the court doesn't require either spouse to prove that the other's bad acts were the cause of the divorce. In a fault-based divorce, one or both of the spouses must show that the other's actions caused (were "grounds for") the failure of the marriage.
No-fault divorces in Rhode Island reach resolution faster than fault-based divorces because the spouses don't have to argue about or prove who was responsible for the divorce. There are two no-fault grounds for divorce in Rhode Island:
In a fault-based divorce, one or both spouses will have to present evidence to the judge that proves that the other spouse committed acts that meet one of Rhode Island's fault-based grounds for divorce. Any of the following can be grounds for a fault-based divorce in Rhode Island:
(R.I. Gen. Laws § 15-5-2 (2022).)
No-fault divorces are far more common than fault-based ones in Rhode Island.
Generally, there are two types of divorce—uncontested and contested. An uncontested divorce is one where the spouses agree on all divorce-related matters, such as division of property, child custody, and alimony (spousal support). A contested divorce, on the other hand, is one where the spouses disagree on at least one topic and must ask a court to decide the issues in their divorce.
Uncontested divorces usually reach resolution faster and are less expensive than contested divorces because there's no fighting in court. Instead, the judge needs only to review and approve the spouses' marital settlement agreement and issue a divorce decree.
To begin your Rhode Island uncontested divorce, you'll need to file a complaint (the divorce petition) and other forms, including financial disclosures. Your spouse will then file an answer.
Most of the forms you'll need are available from the family court clerk's office (also known as the Domestic Relations Division of the Superior Court) in the county where you will file for divorce—the county where the petitioner lives, or where the defendant lives if you meet the residency requirement based on the defendant's residence. (R.I. Gen. Stat § 15-5-13 (2022).)
Some forms are available online at the Rhode Island Judiciary website, but you'll need to check with the local court clerk to get a list of all the forms you'll need. The clerk can also give you information about whether you should file your paperwork electronically, in person, or by mail. You can call the clerk, go to the court in person, or use the Family Court's "Virtual Clerk Help Desk." The other option is to use an online divorce service that will provide and complete the proper forms, once you've filled out a questionnaire about your finances and any children.
The procedures and paperwork for filing a contested divorce in Rhode Island are essentially the same as filing an uncontested divorce.
Along with filing the right paperwork, you'll have to pay court filing fees to begin your divorce. The cost to file your divorce in Rhode Island is $160. If you choose to file your paperwork electronically, you might be charged additional fees.
If you can't afford to pay the filing fee, you can request that the court waive the fees. To do this, file a Plaintiff/Petitioner's Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis with the court clerk. If the court grants your motion, you won't have to pay any court costs or fees during your divorce.
After you file the paperwork, you will need to provide notice to your spouse of the divorce by "serving" (delivering) copies of everything you filed with the court. Usually, the easiest way to do this is to hire the sheriff in the county where the defendant lives. You'll pay the sheriff a fee (usually $30-$50) and provide an address where the defendant can be found. The sheriff will provide a completed summons for you to file as proof the defendant was served. Another option is to hire a private process server to serve your spouse.
If your spouse lives out of state, you might be able to serve them by certified, return-receipt-requested mail. If you can't find your spouse, you might be able to serve them by publication—posting a notice in a newspaper. You'll need to ask for permission from the court to serve your spouse in these alternative ways.
If you're working with an attorney, your attorney will assess your situation and fill out, file, and serve all the necessary forms. Many divorcing couples can't afford to hire an attorney to handle their entire case, but would like some assistance with completing and filing their forms. If this describes your situation, consider using an online divorce service or finding an attorney who will consult with you on an as-needed basis. Low-income individuals might qualify for reduced-fee or free legal aid.