The decision to divorce is often a long time coming. You’ve been slowly drifting apart and have begun to view life differently. The process of a marriage unraveling can be quite protracted until one or both realize the relationship is over.
Before you tell your spouse that you no longer want to remain in the marriage, you can act to better protect yourself during the inevitable divorce.
Step 1: Understand Rhode Island’s Divorce Laws
If you are beginning to think about divorce, first look at the divorce laws in the state. Every state has different regulations relating to residency, grounds, and other issues.
Rhode Island’s divorce laws include the following:
- Fault and no-fault divorces are recognized
- No-fault grounds are irretrievable breakdown of the marriage or separation of at least three years
- Fault grounds must be proved by the other spouse
- Fault grounds include adultery, bigamy, cruelty, desertion for five years, drug or alcohol addiction
- The residency requirement is one or both spouses have lived in the state (primary residence) for at least one year
- Rhode Island follows equitable division (not community property) guidelines for dividing assets and debt
Step 2: Research Different Divorce Processes
Divorces in Rhode Island fall into one of two categories: contested or nominal. All divorces require a hearing before a judge.
- Nominal Divorce. In this divorce, there are no disputes that must be decided by the courts. Child custody, child visitation, child support, property division, spousal support, and any other divorce matters are decided by the parties with the help of their attorneys. In these divorces, the hearing date before the judge is scheduled about two to three months after filing. A final decree is issued 90 days after the hearing in cases of irretrievable breakdown. The wait is 20 days if the couple has lived separately for three years.
- Contested Divorce. Some divorces begin in the contested track but won’t necessarily end in litigation. The two parties are unable to reach an agreement within the timeframe of the nominal track. They can still use attorneys or a trained mediator to help them settle their differences outside of court. If the matters to be resolved are not accomplished by the nominal divorce hearing date, the divorce is automatically changed to the contested track. Status hearings are generally scheduled every six to eight weeks until an agreement is reached. Should the divorce end up in a trial, both sides will present their cases and arguments before the judge. The judge will listen to testimony and review other evidence before making a ruling on all outstanding issues.
Step 3: Get Organized Financially
Understanding where you stand financially is critical. A good place to start is to make three lists. One list outlines assets and debt that you believe are your personal property. The second list does the same for your spouse. The third list contains all assets and debt you believe are marital property. Look at bank, credit card, loan, retirement, and other account statements.
A few helpful financial steps can put you on more solid ground should you divorce:
- Pay off as much debt in your name as possible while still married
- Open a bank account in your name and consider closing joint accounts
- Save cash for potential expenses such as housing and retaining an attorney
- Gather proof of income for yourself and your spouse
- Look at your credit report to understand your creditworthiness
- If you don’t have one, consider opening a credit card in your name only
Once you file, your finances will be integral to your divorce agreement including child support, spousal support, asset distribution, and debt distribution.
Step 4: Determine Your Budget as a Single Person
When you were married, you and your spouse’s finances were blended to some degree. In some couples, their money is completely entwined. Now, it is time to think about how you would handle a budget on your own.
Consider the following when creating your new-life budget:
- What is your individual income?
- Will you need to find a different job?
- What kind of housing will you need?
- How much will the housing cost?
- What are average utility and other house-related expenses?
- Are their tuition or other education costs for you or your children?
- Will you need spousal support?
Answering these and other questions will better prepare you for negotiations with your spouse as well as your life on your own.
Step 5: Reflect on What You Want
Most couples would agree that a best-case scenario is one in which they are able to stay together happily married. When that isn’t possible, what do you want from your new life? If you sidelined your career during the marriage, you might want to switch your focus back to that path. Maybe you want to spend more time with friends or go back to school. If you have children, put significant thought into how to best support them during this time of transition. How can you be the best parent to them? How will you work with your ex on parenting decisions?
Contemplating how you want your life to play out will help you define what you need in your divorce settlement.
Step 6: Talk to Experts
When determining the value of property, you may need real estate, tax, and financial experts to help you with appraisals and understand the implications of various divorce scenarios. These experts can be especially useful in high-net-worth divorces.
Divorce is a traumatic experience for everyone, especially children. A licensed therapist can help prepare your children for a huge change. Teaching children how to appropriately process their feelings and express themselves will help them before, during, and after the divorce. Children aren’t the only ones who benefit from professional guidance. A trained counselor can also help you understand your own feelings about the relationship and the divorce.
Step 7: Take the High Road
Even in uncontested divorces, emotions can run high. Disappointment, anger, jealousy, and depression are a few of the intense emotions that surface during a divorce. Lashing out at your soon-to-be former spouse may be tempting. Realize, though, that doing so could backfire and hurt you in the long run. Your reaction and actions can color important matters, including child custody.
Taking the high road includes some of the following:
- Don’t vent about your relationship on social media
- Don’t lie about your financial or other situation
- Don’t disparage your spouse to your children
- Don’t be baited into conflict
- Don’t rehash old fights
Maintaining your higher values is important for your own well-being. Not making misrepresentations or slinging mud will also help your case in child custody matters.
Consult with an Attorney
You don’t have to wait until you are ready to file to talk with legal counsel. At McIntyre Tate LLP, we have more than 150 years of collective experience handling even the most complex divorce cases. Lean on our knowledge to help you through each step of your divorce.
Whether you are considering filing for divorce or believe your spouse is, talking with legal counsel before divorce papers are filed is beneficial. Schedule a consultation using our online form or by calling our office at (401) 351-7700.