A Summary of Rhode Island Divorce Laws

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Rhode Island

Grounds for Divorce Under Rhode Island Divorce Laws

Rhode Island law provides for divorce on the following grounds, in addition to irreconcilable differences:

  • “Civil death” or presumption of death
  • Impotency
  • Adultery
  • Extreme cruelty
  • Willful desertion for five years of either of the parties, or for a shorter period of time in the discretion of the court
  • Continued drunkenness
  • Habitual use of opiates and opiate derivatives
  • Neglect and refusal of the husband to provide for his wife – despite being perfectly capable of doing so – for at least one year before the filing of the petition
  • Any other gross misbehavior and maltreatment of one person by the other, which is in violation of the marriage contract

Rhode Island divorce laws lay out the blueprints for three different “types” of divorce:

First, is a general divorce.

Secon is what the state of Rhode Island calls the “divorce from bed and board,” which is basically one spouse attempting to remove the other spouse from their home for reasons of injury inflicted to the petitioning spouse by the offending spouse.

The third option is called relief without the commencement of divorce proceedings, which is similar to a legal separation and requires many of the same proceedings and regulations as a divorce.

Residency Requirements

Rhode Island divorce laws require that the plaintiff must have been a resident of the state and have resided in Rhode Island for a period of one year before the filing of the complaint.

An exception is made for active military as long as the person lived in Rhode Island before active service and will live in the state at least 30 days after returning.


In most cases, you must file for divorce in the county where the plaintiff resides.

In cases in which the complaint is based upon the residence of the defendant,  you must file in the county where the defendant resides.

Waiting Period

Rhode Islanders may be required to wait 60 days from the filing of the divorce petition until the court grants a hearing, unless sooner ordered by a justice of the family court.

During this waiting period a family counseling service may investigate the circumstances of the divorce at the discretion of the court or at the request of either party, may counsel the parties, and make recommendations to the court and the parties.


After hearing the testimony of witnesses, if any, the court will look at the following factors:

  • The length of the marriage
  • The conduct of the parties during the marriage
  • The health, age, station, occupation, amount and source of income, vocational skills, and employability of the parties
  • The state and the liabilities and needs of each of the parties

In addition to those four main factors, the court must also consider:

The extent to which either party is unable to support herself or himself adequately because that party is the primary physical custodian of a child whose age, condition, or circumstances make it appropriate that the parent not seek employment outside the home, or seek only part-time or flexible-hour employment outside the home;

The extent to which either party is unable to support herself or himself adequately with consideration given to:

  • The extent to which a party was absent from employment while fulfilling 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 supported spouse to acquire the appropriate education or training to develop marketable skills and find appropriate employment 
  • The probability, given a party’s age and skills, of completing
    education or training and 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 to pay of the supporting spouse, taking into account the supporting spouse’s earning capacity, earned and unearned income, assets, debts, and standard of living
  • Any other factor that the court expressly finds to be just and proper

Alimony is defined as payments made for the support or maintenance of either the husband or the wife. It’s designed to provide support for a spouse for a reasonable length of time to enable the recipient to become financially independent and self-sufficient post-divorce.

The court may award alimony for an indefinite period of time when it is appropriate in the discretion of the court.

Child Custody

Rhode Island divorce laws state that when the court assigns full custody to one parent, they will also grant the right of visitation by the noncustodial parent unless there is reasonable cause that this could be detrimental to the well being of the child.

The court will require both the custodial parent and the children to comply with the order for visitation.

Division of Property

The courts must take into consideration the following factors before ruling on property division:

  • The length of the marriage
  • The conduct of the parties during the marriage
  • The contribution of each of the parties during the marriage in the
    acquisition, preservation, or appreciation in value of their respective
  • The 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 parent to occupy or own the marital residence and to use or own its household effects, taking into account the best interests of the children of the marriage
  • Either party’s wasteful dissipation of assets or any transfer or encumbrance of assets made in contemplation of divorce without fair consideration

Child Support

If, after calculating support based upon court established formula and guidelines, the court, in its discretion, finds the order would be unfair to the child or either parent. The court shall make findings of fact and shall order either or both to pay an amount reasonable or necessary for the child’s support after considering all relevant factors including, but not limited to:

  • The financial resources of the child
  • The financial resources of the custodial parent
  • The standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the marriage not been dissolved
  • The physical and emotional condition of the child and his or her educational needs
  • The financial resources and needs of the non-custodial parent

The court may order child support and education costs for children attending high school at the time of their eighteenth (18th) birthday and for ninety (90) days after graduation, but in no case beyond their nineteenth (19th) birthday.

In addition, the court may order child support to continue, in the case of a child with a severe physical or mental impairment, until the twenty-first (21st) birthday of the child.

Change of Name

Any woman who requests to change her name as part of the divorce will be allowed to do so by the courts, regardless of whether or not there are any children of the marriage according to Rhode Island divorce laws.


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