The Rhode Island Divorce Process

At the law office of Kerry I. Rafanelli, Attorney at Law , our goal is to help you through the divorce process as smoothly as possible, while protecting your interests so you arrive at a fair resolution. We are happy to talk with you about the Rhode Island divorce process and how we can assist you. Call 401-398-8388 or contact us online to schedule a consultation at our East Greenwich law office.

Can you get divorced in Rhode Island?

In order to obtain a divorce in Rhode Island, one spouse must now reside and have resided in the state for at least one year. There is a 3-month mandatory waiting period and a Rhode Island divorce can be completed as quickly as 6 months.

The judges in Rhode Island family court want people to arrive at amicable agreements without resorting to a trial so they have developed a 2-tier divorce process that is intended to encourage an early resolution. Everyone goes through the steps leading to a nominal divorce hearing. If your issues are not resolved by that point, you move on to the second phase, heading to trial.

Filing For divorce

The first step in the divorce process is informing the court and your spouse. Our office can provide you with the necessary forms, or you can get the forms from the family court in your county (In Newport for Newport County; Wakefield for Washington County, Warwick for Kent County and Providence for Providence and Bristol counties).

Your, or you and your attorney, will complete the following forms:

  • Complaint for Divorce form
  • A Statement of Assets, Liabilities, Income and Expenses (DR6 form)
  • A verification form

If you have children under the age of 18, you will also need to submit:

  • Two statements listing the children of the divorce
  • A family services counseling report form
  • A schedule for visitation for minor children form
  • The child support guidelines, worksheet and income form and
  • A declaration under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act

Once these forms have been filed with in the clerk's office of family court, along with a copy of your marriage certificate and a filing fee, your case will be given a name, a docket number, and assigned to a specific family court where the case will be heard. You will be assigned a hearing date that is 11 weeks from the date you filed your paperwork.

A Summons form will be completed so that your spouse can be served with the divorce complaint. The divorce complaint needs to be given to your spouse in a very specific way. Our law office will handle this or you can hire a county sheriff or a county constable to serve the documents to your spouse.

Answering a divorce complaint

If you are on the receiving end of a divorce complaint you should "answer" the case and file a counterclaim in order to protect your interests. We can help you file an answer, a counterclaim (your side of the complaint), a DR6 form, and entry of appearance with the county clerk.

Copies of these documents must also be sent to the other party's attorney and/or the other spouse if he or she doesn't have an attorney.

Temporary orders

You may find that you need help from the family court judge to decide certain issues during the separation period: who can live in the family home, who will pay which bills, where children will live and with whom. We can request a hearing for temporary orders, which will usually occur within 5 weeks of the filing date.

Nominal divorce hearing

If you and your spouse have reached agreement on all of the issues to be decided in your divorce , perhaps through divorce mediation or through negotiations between your attorney and your spouse's attorney, you could be granted a "nominal divorce" at this very first hearing. There is a mandatory 3-month waiting period, after which your divorce is final.

If you have not reached agreement on the issues by the time of this first hearing, it will be cancelled and you will be assigned a date for a "status conference."

Status conference

At the status conference the family court judge will learn about the issues that still divide the parties and will issue orders or offer guidance to help the parties move toward resolution. For example, the judge could order an impartial appraisal of property to resolve a conflict over the valuation of assets or a psychological evaluation of children for a child custody dispute.


"Discovery" is the process of legally establishing the facts of the case. It includes the exchange of information, requests for documents, and interviews with the parties or their experts (depositions). This is the most costly and time-consuming part of a divorce.

With complex or large marital estates, a certain amount of discovery is inevitable. When parties work together with the goal of reaching a good divorce outcome, they can often minimize the number of experts involved and the time required.

Pre-trial conference

The judge and attorneys will follow progress of the case in pre-trial conferences.


At any time up until the judge makes a decision, the two parties can choose to resolve their differences. Doing it sooner rather than later will save money and time … but of course, it may not be possible in difficult cases .


This is the last step in a contested divorce case. The judge will hear all the evidence. Witnesses and experts will be called to testify. Documents will be submitted. At the conclusion, the judge will review all the evidence and issue a decision. It may be weeks before that decision is communicated to the two parties. But in the end, the divorce will be completed.

Work with a knowledgeable East Greenwich divorce lawyer

For more than 30 years, East Greenwich divorce lawyer Kerry I. Rafanelli has been helping clients navigate the divorce process. Learn more about how we can help you. Call 401-398-8388 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.