How to File a Divorce in Rhode Island

How to File a Divorce in Rhode Island

by Edward A. Haman, Esq., August 2015

Whether you live in Rhode Island or elsewhere, divorce for any married couple will accomplish two things: (1) severing the marital relationship, and (2) dividing assets and debts. If they have been married for a significant length of time and one of them will be unable to be self-supporting after the divorce, the issue of alimony may also arise. If there are minor children, they will also need to resolve issues of child custody and support.

Residency and Where to File

In order to file for divorce in Rhode Island, either you or your spouse must be domiciled in Rhode Island for at least 1 year. Your domicile is your primary residence. You may be a resident of more than one state, but may only have one domicile (where you have your driver’s license, car and voter registration, etc.). If only the defendant meets this requirement, he or she must actually be served with the Summons and Complaint for Divorce. You may file in the Family Court in the county where the plaintiff resides. If only the defendant meets the domicile requirement, you may file in the county where the defendant resides, or in Providence County.


The simplest procedure is an uncontested divorce. This is where you and your spouse can reach an agreement about the division of your property, and, if you have any children, what arrangements will be made for them. You begin the divorce procedure by preparing a document called a Complaint for Divorce, along with various other supporting documents. For an uncontested divorce, one of these documents will be a marital settlement agreement outlining the division of assets, and your agreement regarding any children. These documents are filed with the court, and copies of them are provided to your spouse. You will attend a court hearing, at which time the judge will make sure that all of your paperwork is in order, perhaps ask you a few questions, and enter your Final Judgment of Divorce.   

Grounds for Divorce

Grounds for divorce are legally recognized reasons to get a divorce. This is the justification for severing the marital relationship. Rhode Island, like most states, has what are commonly called no-fault grounds for divorce, and several traditional fault-based grounds.

To get a no-fault divorce in Rhode Island you need to state in the Complaint for Divorce either that “the parties have irreconcilable differences which have caused the irremediable breakdown of the marriage,” or “the parties have been living separate and apart for at least 3 years.”

The fault-based grounds for divorce are: impotence, adultery, extreme cruelty, willful desertion for 5 years (or less at the judge’s discretion), alcoholism or drug addiction, the husband’s neglect and refusal to provide for the wife for 1 year while being able to do so, and “gross misbehavior and wickedness…repugnant to and in violation of the marriage covenant.” However, in most cases, there is no reason to use any of these, since they add complexity to the process by requiring proof.

Property Division

A divorce involves dividing property and debts between you and your spouse. Generally, each party will keep his or her nonmarital property, which is property acquired prior to marriage, or acquired at any time by gift (unless from the spouse) or by inheritance.

All other property is marital property, including any income from, or any increase in value of, nonmarital property during the marriage. Unless there is an agreement of the parties as to property division, the court will divide the property, after considering the following factors:

  • the length of the marriage,
  • the conduct of the parties during the marriage,
  • each party’s contribution during the marriage to the acquisition, preservation, or appreciation in value of their respective estates,
  • any contribution and services of either party as a homemaker,
  • the health and age of the parties,
  • the amount and sources of income of each of the parties,
  • the occupation and employability of each of the parties,
  • the opportunity of each party for future acquisition of capital assets and income,
  • the contribution by one party to the education, training, licensure, business, or increased earning power of the other,
  • the need of the custodial party to occupy or own the marital residence, and its household effects, taking into account the best interests of the children of the parties,
  • either party’s wasteful dissipation of assets, or any transfer or encumbrance of assets made in contemplation of divorce without fair consideration, and
  • any factor which the court expressly finds to be just and proper.

Alimony in Rhode Island

Alimony is sometimes also referred to as support or maintenance in Rhode Island divorce law. The stated purpose of alimony is “to provide support for a spouse for a reasonable length of time to enable the recipient to become financially independent and self-sufficient.” However, if it appears, at the discretion of the judge, that the time and expense for the party seeking alimony to acquire sufficient education to become employable is too great, alimony may be awarded for an indefinite period of time. In the absence of an alimony agreement, if it is determined that alimony is appropriate, the amount of alimony will be determined by the judge, after considering the following factors:

  • the length of the marriage,
  • the conduct of the parties during the marriage,
  • each party’s health, age, station, occupation, amount and source of income, vocational skills, and employability,
  • each party’s state, liabilities, and needs,
  • whether a party is unable to be self-supporting due to being the primary custodian of a child whose age, condition, or circumstances make it appropriate that the party not seek employment outside the home, or only seek part-time or flexible-hour employment,
  • the extent to which a party is unable to be self-supporting, with consideration given to:
  • the extent to which the party was absent from employment due to homemaking responsibilities, and the extent to which any education, skills, or experience of that party have become outmoded and his or her earning capacity diminished,
  • the time and expense required for the party seeking alimony to acquire appropriate education or training to develop marketable skills and find appropriate employment,
  • the probability, given a party’s age and skills, of becoming self-supporting,
  • the standard of living during the marriage,
  • the opportunity of either party for future acquisition of capital assets and income,
  • the ability of the supporting party to pay, considering his or her earning capacity, earned and unearned income, assets, debts, and standard of living, and
  • any other factor the court expressly finds to be just and proper.

Alimony automatically and immediately terminates if the party receiving it remarries.

Child Custody in Rhode Island

If you and your spouse have any minor children, there will have to be a custody determination. This basically comes down to figuring out how the children’s time will be divided between the parents, and how decisions will be made regarding the child’s welfare.

If you and your spouse can reach an agreement on custody, it will be accepted by the judge unless it is determined not to be in the child’s best interest. If you cannot reach a custody agreement, the judge will decide the issue, based upon what is determined to be in the best interests of the child. Unlike most states, the Rhode Island child custody law does not provide any specific factors that the judge must consider.

Child Support in Rhode Island

Child support is determined by the Rhode Island Child Support Guidelines. The Rhode Island Office of Child Support Services offers information about child support, including the basic support obligation schedule.

Miscellaneous Matters

A court hearing may not be held until at least 60 days after the Complaint is filed. The judgment is not final until 3 months after it is issued.

If you and your spouse agree on the major issues, an uncontested divorce may be right for you. Otherwise, you can talk to an attorney to get advice or help filing for divorce with the LegalZoom personal legal plan.