Family Law FAQ

How do I file for divorce?

In Rhode Island, the most common ground for divorce is "irreconcilable differences which have led to the irremediable breakdown of the marriage". Six other grounds exist for divorce and we can discuss these with you when we meet.  However, there is no need to identify a fault ground for the divorce; alleged fault may still be important when discussing the children and the division of the assets.

We will prepare a complaint and related documents which will be efiled with the new Electronic Filing process used by the Family Court to start the divorce process. We will review family dynamics with you. A complete picture of your financial situation will be reviewed to analyze support issues along with an early evaluation for possible settlement of the issue of distribution of assets, according to the theory of equitable distribution. We will alert you to which assets are subject to distribution, and the standards used to measure each parties' contributions to the marriage. Clients come with worries, such as who will pay the mortgage, credit cards or rent,  and when will I be with my children. We use the information that you can provide or we can obtain, in order to help plan your current changing situation and your future.

A tracking system is used for all filed cases. If a matter is expected to be uncontested, a divorce hearing is scheduled by the Court Clerk when the complaint is filed - this date is usually 10 to 14 weeks after the date of filing. If the matter will be contested, the Clerk will schedule dates for pre-trial conferences and trial.

Financial Matters involving Support, Real Estate and Personal Property

Since Rhode Island delays a hearing on the divorce for a minimum of 60 days, a Motion for Temporary Allowance may be filed seeking a Court hearing within 30 - 45 days; at this hearing, if the parties cannot reach an agreement on terms, the Court will make orders regarding the care, custody and access to the children, support, payment of family bills, medical and life insurance, and temporary use of the home, cars, furniture and other assets. These orders will remain in effect until either party can demonstrate a change in circumstances or the parties agree to other terms. Before any hearing, we will sit with you, analyze your position and needs and advise you accordingly. The DR-6 is an expense form which must be filed with all court filings.

Mr. Hirsch will analyze the appropriate amount of support to be paid by the non-custodial parent. We review your income and help you prepare a budget for your financial needs. Presently, the Court uses a guideline to establish a minimum amount for the support of the children, taking into consideration the gross income of both parents.

Before and after the motion, we use the discovery process to learn about the assets and debts of the family, including pension benefits, so that an equitable division of the assets may be accomplished through negotiation. When an agreement is reached, we will prepare a property settlement agreement and schedule a court hearing for the Judge to approve the settlement and award the divorce. If we cannot reach a negotiated settlement, your case will be placed upon the court calendar for trial, so that a Judge can establish the division of the property and make orders for custody, visitation and support related items.

Why is one person ready for divorce while the other is not?

Divorce is a profound action that affects parties differently. Certain therapists believe parties go through a grieving process similar to the process one experiences at the time of another loss - death. There are 5 Emotional Stages of Divorce. Parties travel through these stages at different rates. Guilt, embarrassment, a sense of failure, a sense of relief, and fear of the unknown are just some of the emotions that may accompany separation and divorce. Parties' reactions differ when a separation occurs and that also plays a part in each person's readiness for a divorce.

When do Court orders apply to me?

When a party signs a divorce complaint, Automatic Court Orders apply; when the other party is served with the complaint by a sheriff or constable, these Orders apply as well.

The purpose of these Orders is to maintain the status quo for the parties until a hearing can be scheduled at Court. These Orders affect many day-to-day issues facing divorcing couples including, interaction with the children, financial and insurance matters and matters concerning the marital domicile. Failure to comply with these Orders can lead to being found in contempt of a Court Order.

Child Support and Visitation

When two parents separate, new issues arise regarding children. Mr. Hirsch will work with you in determining the custody and access (visitation) schedule that may be in the best interests of the children (the standard adopted by the Court), including discussions about holidays and relocation. The relationships among you, your spouse and children will be studied, so that a workable solution can be achieved. As children grow, new issues spring out which may require adjustments in custody or access; further, the income of the parents may change over the years. For this reason, Court Orders regarding custody, access, holidays and vacation, and support may be modified any number of times after the divorce is granted.  We realize that today, most families (Gen X and Millennium marriages) have two wage earners; both parties bring income to the family and both are involved in child rearing.

We will discuss with you the statutory basis for support, either for children or for a spouse, including aspects such as the standard of living during the marriage and the opportunity of either party for future acquisition of capital assets and income. We can also discuss the standards used for equitable distribution and a possible deferment of a sale of the home.

What is Divorce Mediation?

Unless divorcing parties can reach an agreement on every single issue by themselves, there is a dispute between them. Some form of dispute resolution is needed for the couple to move forward. Until recently, hiring lawyers and the court battles that defined the customary model for divorce was the only choice separating couples faced to resolve their dispute. Mediation, a confidential process endorsed by the Family Court, the Rhode Island Supreme Court and numerous other professionals provides a new method to reach a resolution of all issues. Mediation allows parties to retain control of the decisions affecting their children, place of residence, finances, division of assets and bills in a very private process.

Mr. Hirsch is a trained neutral mediator with more than 16 years of experience, who helps the parties focus on the issues that need to be resolved. The mediator facilitates the parties' communication, development of options and creation of solutions to resolve differences. Mediators use skills that differ from those of litigating attorneys.

Parties participating in mediation can benefit from working with a lawyer before mediation sessions, though that is not a necessity. Whether you use Mr. Hirsch as a mediator or as a trainer prior to mediation with another mediator, he will identify and clarify issues that you will need to address in mediation. He will discuss the differences between issues and positions, and how they relate, in order to negotiate a resolution. He will help you review and understand financial data in order to gain a strategy that you will use in the mediation. As an example, we can help you understand options that are available to you in areas such as equitable distribution, medical insurance and retirement plans. He will also discuss your options regarding your children.

How long will my divorce take?

Each case is different. Your case is special and unique. We are a safe place where you can turn. The length of each proceeding varies in relationship to the number of issues that must be resolved. After you go to Court and a Judge grants a divorce, it does not become final for a minimum period of three months. You will be treated with the care, comfort, confidence and clarity that you deserve. Call Mr. Hirsch at 352-1000 to discuss your needs.

Will I need to return to Court after my divorce?

Our busy lives undergo changes that are often unforeseen at the time of the divorce. In many cases, parties return to court or mediation after the initial settlement is reached, because the lives of both parties and their children are dynamic and always changing. Sadly, sometimes a party cannot "let go" and continues to create issues so that continued contact in divorce court continues.

New employment, changing residences, fluctuating income, new blended families and the children's ever changing physical and developmental/emotional needs often require modifications in where the children live, when each parent has time with the child (or an older child has time for the parent), and the amount of support. Although it is difficult for the parents, as they grow children may become so busy that they spend little time with either parent.

Divorced parents must be responsive to this ever-changing situation. We can work with you to analyze if changes might be positive for you and your child. We will analyze the financial information to determine if a change in child support might be warranted, whether it be months or years after the final divorce or even since the last modification.

Often, when divorced parents reach an agreement on their own about these types of changes after a divorce, they fail to have these changes set out in writing and approved by the Court. The Court must approve theses changes so that both parties are protected.

If parties cannot reach an agreement on these changes, we will work with you to analyze the facts and suggest a plan of action to resolve the controversy.

What if the other party fails to keep his/her promises?

Sometimes, one party willingly fails to comply with the terms of the Property Settlement Agreement or a Court Order/Judgment. Sometimes a loss of a job prohibits a party from abiding by the Agreement or Court Order. This often takes the form of failing to pay support, failing to allow access to the child or failing to turn over an asset or pay a debt. Sometimes, one parent sends harassing or inappropriate emails, text messages or phone calls to the former spouse.  If these events occur, we will file the appropriate filing for our client to call the failure to the court's attention and seek the appropriate relief from the court

The Court will hear a party's claim that a person is in contempt of a Court Order or a party's claim that relief is required due to unfortunate circumstances. The Family Court, upon a finding that a party is in contempt, can make appropriate orders to make that person comply with the Court Orders, including incarceration or home-confinement if the contempt is willful and the award of attorneys fees to the innocent party. Likewise, a Court can relieve a party of compliance if good cause exists.

We suggest that you review your Property Settlement Agreement to determine if there are any prerequisites before beginning a contempt motion; often the innocent party must give the other prior written notice and a short period to cure the contemptuous action. We will work with you to bring about compliance with the Court's Orders.