The Answers You Need for the Questions You’re Forced to Ask
One of the worst aspects of pursuing a case—whether you’re fighting for injury compensation or trying to settle a divorce—is not knowing what to expect. Before you get yourself knee deep in the details of your case allow us to answer some of your questions first. We’ll help you be more fully prepared and more confident as you move forward.
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How do I change my name after a divorce?
Women undergoing divorce proceedings must choose whether to keep a former spouse’s last name or revert back to a maiden name. While it is up to each individual to choose the name she prefers, there are factors that can influence the decision, including the length of the marriage and whether or not there are children who share the former spouse’s surname. If you have decided to change your name, there are a few things you need to know in order to make the change permanent and legal.
Going Through the Legal Name Change Process After a Divorce
In Rhode Island, spouses can revert back to a former name as part of the divorce proceeding. It must be specifically stated in the divorce decree that you wish to change back to the name you held before marriage (the name stated on your birth certificate).
Once you have obtained a copy of the divorce decree ordering your name change, you will need to update your:
- Primary identification. The first step toward changing your name is to take the divorce decree and your birth certificate to your local Social Security (SS) office to obtain a new SS card. Once your SS card is updated, you may visit your local DMV office with your current RI driver’s license and proof of name change (your new SS card) and apply for a new license. Once a driver’s license in the new name has been issued, the license may be used as a primary ID to obtain a new passport.
- Legal identification. You will need to update your name on any legal documents, including your will, deeds or trusts, and property titles. You should also update your name on your voter registration card if you plan to vote in any upcoming elections.
- Address and account identification. It is your responsibility to update your legal name with the post office, your bank, and anywhere your name is used. You may need to submit a name change form to ensure that your taxes, car title and registration, bank accounts, credit cards, retirement accounts and 401K, investment accounts, mortgages, employment records, insurance policies, and medical records use your correct name. While you are changing your name on these accounts, you may want to change your beneficiary designations, so your ex-spouse does not inherit your assets if you want them to go to someone else.
- Child’s identification. If you wish to change your children’s names along with your own, this will have to be done through the family court system. However, a minor name change petition will only be approved if both parents have given consent.
Divorce forces people to make a lot of decisions in a short space of time, many of which will continue to affect them for years into the future. The legal team at Kirshenbaum & Kirshenbaum can help you through this process. Please get in touch with us today via our online contact form.
What if my spouse does not show up to divorce court?
If you and your spouse are seeking an uncontested divorce, you may not need your spouse to appear in court. As long as you agree on how to resolve all issues related to the marriage (such as custody arrangements, alimony, and division of property) and meet the requirements of a Rhode Island no-fault divorce, the court does not require both spouses to be present in order to grant a divorce.
Proceeding With a Divorce If a Spouse Refuses to Appear in Court
Once paperwork is filed, a court hearing date will be set. If only one spouses appears at the hearing, the divorce may proceed as a “default divorce,” meaning the judge may grant the divorce based on the testimony of the spouse that is present.
In order to proceed with a default divorce, you must ensure that:
- Your spouse was properly notified. If you are the person who requested the divorce, the burden is on you to ensure that filing deadlines are met and your spouse has had every opportunity to participate in the process. This includes filing divorce papers with the family court clerk, serving the divorce papers on your spouse through the sheriff’s office, and filing a copy of the delivery form with the clerk's office to prove that your spouse received a notice of the proceeding. If you have proof that your spouse received the papers, you can proceed with the divorce even if your spouse did not submit a reply.
- You have witnesses to testify on your behalf. You will need to bring at least two witnesses to your hearing who can testify that you have lived in Rhode Island for at least one year and can offer insight as to the reason for the dissolution of the marriage. In particular, the judge may want to know how long you and your spouse have been separated and if you’re still living together.
- All marital property and financial issues have been resolved. Once a divorce order is granted, neither spouse can bring property distribution or alimony cases in the future. For this reason, it is best to consult with a divorce attorney to ensure that you will receive a fair portion of shared assets, debts, and property.
The legal team at Kirshenbaum & Kirshenbaum can carefully examine your situation and ask the judge for a divorce settlement that is fair to you. If you need more information on filing for divorce in Rhode Island, please get in touch with us today via our online contact form.
Aside from my estate plan, are there other legal documents I need to update after my divorce?
Once your divorce is finalized, you may believe all of your financial interactions with your spouse are finally settled. However, this may not be true if you have not removed your former spouse as a beneficiary on your individual accounts. Even if you have updated your will to exclude your former spouse, he may still receive some or all of your benefits if you have not named a new beneficiary for each plan or policy where his name appears.
Accounts and Legal Documents to Update After a Divorce
Your attorney should perform a full investigation of your accounts and holdings to ensure that all of your assets have the correct beneficiary designations. In most cases, beneficiary designations will supersede what is written in a will—even if you named your spouse as a beneficiary decades before your death.
In addition to updating your estate plan after a divorce, you should also consider changing the beneficiary designations on your existing accounts, including:
- Healthcare plans. The beneficiary of a healthcare policy is a separate designation from a healthcare power of attorney. It is vital to consider whether an ex-spouse will continue to benefit from a shared health plan, particularly if the ex-spouse cares for children who are also covered under the plan.
- Pensions and life insurance. Under federal law, spouses are the automatic beneficiaries of 401k accounts. If the policyholder wants to name an alternative beneficiary, she will need a signed waiver from the spouse. Some divorce agreements may require that divorcing spouses keep each other as beneficiaries on certain accounts as a way of protecting their children or dividing assets fairly.
- Retirement accounts. The requirements for changing beneficiaries on retirement accounts such as IRAs can be complicated, especially if the policyholder changes the designation before the divorce is final.
- Bank accounts. A named beneficiary on checking and savings accounts, mutual funds, CDs, and annuities will have automatic access to funds after your death, so it is vital that you designate the correct person.
The legal team at Kirshenbaum & Kirshenbaum can carefully examine all of your accounts and holdings to ensure that your beneficiary designations reflect your wishes while staying in compliance with state and federal laws. If you need more information on filing for divorce in Rhode Island, please get in touch with us today via our online contact form.
Do I need an attorney for an uncontested divorce?
If you and your spouse agree to end your marriage, you may file an uncontested or no-fault divorce in Rhode Island. For the court to grant your uncontested divorce, you and your spouse must agree on every aspect of your divorce agreement. However, many people seeking uncontested divorces in Rhode Island still benefit from legal counsel.
Four Reasons to Consult an Attorney
Even if you and your spouse agree to end your marriage, there may be some necessary negotiations about how to divide your property, how to share custody of your children, whether alimony will be provided, and whether child support will be provided. An experienced divorce attorney can:
- Advise you of every option, so you’re confident in the decisions you make
- Make sure that all of your legal rights are protected before you sign a legally binding divorce agreement
- Prevent you from making mistakes or creating unnecessary delays in your divorce proceedings by making sure all of the paperwork is filed correctly and on time
- Take the stress out of negotiating directly with your spouse by handling negotiations on your behalf
How to Get an Uncontested Divorce in RI
Rhode Island does not have a special procedure for getting an uncontested divorce. Generally, you will need to file for divorce claiming irreconcilable differences, and you will need to explain to the court that both you and your spouse agree on the reason for the divorce and the specific terms of your divorce.
The divorce process will start when one spouse files for divorce at the clerk’s office at the local court. The other spouse will then have the opportunity to answer the divorce complaint. Then, the court will set a hearing date. You typically must bring witnesses to this hearing who will testify that you have been a Rhode Island resident for at least a year and know that you and your spouse have irreconcilable differences. After the hearing, additional forms must be submitted to the court. Once everything has been approved, you will be divorced.
The divorce process may be easier when both spouses agree to end the marriage, but it can still be complicated. Now is the time to make sure your rights are protected. Let us help you end your marriage with as little stress and as much certainty as possible. Call our Cranston divorce lawyers today, or reach out to us via this website to learn more.
How can I find the right divorce lawyer for me?
Once you have made the decision to separate from your spouse, you may turn to the internet to search for an attorney who can handle the case. While online research is a helpful first step, it can quickly become overwhelming, as there may be hundreds of attorneys near you. With so many lawyers who could handle your case, how do you find the one that’s right for you?
Finding the Right Attorney to Handle Your Divorce
The most important thing when selecting an attorney to handle your divorce is to choose a family law attorney. All law firms have areas of focus such as personal injury, business law, workers’ compensation, and estate planning. Your chosen attorney does not need to handle divorce cases exclusively, but one who regularly works in divorce and family law has a much better chance of obtaining a favorable outcome for you.
The right divorce attorney for your case will be the one who:
- Has experience in your type of divorce. There are many different ways to separate from a spouse, including mediation, collaborative divorce, and litigating the case in court. The divorce process you use will depend on the specifics of your case and whether you and your spouse can work together during separation. Spouses who divorce amicably may only need an attorney to act as a legal guide to help them file paperwork, discover and divide all assets, and update financial documents and estate plans after separation. On the other hand, if your spouse is hiding assets or threatening to leave you penniless, you will likely need an attorney with trial experience.
- Addresses your specific needs. Ask yourself: what is most important to you in your case? Is it custody of your children, obtaining spousal support, or moving on as quickly as possible? Are you concerned about dividing business assets or getting a fair portion of the marital property? The answer can steer you toward the right person to achieve that goal.
- Communicates well and keeps you informed. The right attorney should never make you feel as if you are a bother or that you are not a priority. When you meet with an attorney, don’t be afraid to ask questions about who will be working on your case and how often you will be updated on its progress.
If you need more information on filing for divorce in Rhode Island or have child custody questions, we can help. Please contact Kirshenbaum & Kirshenbaum today via our online contact form.
How can I help someone in my family going through a divorce?
When someone you know announces her divorce, it can be very difficult to know how to respond. Grandparents may be afraid of losing access to the couple’s children, siblings of one spouse may become angry at the other, and friends may simply stay away because they are unsure of how to act. If someone you love has decided to divorce, there are a few things you can do—and avoid doing—to show your support.
How to Be Supportive of Someone Getting a Divorce
Divorce can place an enormous strain on family relationships, and it is often hard for those involved to ask for help. If a friend or family member is going through a divorce, here are some ways you can help make things easier:
- Be a good listener. Couples often hide their problems until they announce a divorce, and as a result, the divorce comes as a surprise. Even if you don’t know what to say, it can be helpful just to listen. If the person is comfortable talking about it, be a sympathetic listener, and if she doesn’t want to talk, let her know that’s okay, too.
- Avoid taking sides. If someone tells you she’s getting divorced, she’s likely hurting and in need of sympathy. However, you should resist the urge to badmouth her spouse. No one except the couple really knows what goes on in a relationship, so try to stay impartial and decline voicing judgments.
- Be careful what you say. When people hear that others are getting a divorce, their first response may be unkind. Many will want to offer advice, give their opinion, or even say “I told you so.” Above all, do not repeat any conversations with a divorcing friend or family member to others. Even if these responses come from fear or shock, your friend is relying on you for support, and these behaviors are not helpful.
- Make an open offer of help. Ask your friend if there is anything she needs (such as financial help, child care, or a temporary place to stay), and work together to come up with a solution. If she declines help, let her know you are available if she thinks of anything she may need in the future.
- Stay present. Many spouses put off filing for divorce because they are afraid that everything in their lives will change. It can be a great comfort to a divorced friend to continue to treat her as you always have, including maintaining your relationship with her children. Friends and family can be of great help in the transition of divorce just by staying in contact and maintaining a sense of normalcy.
If you need more information on filing for divorce in Rhode Island or have child custody or support questions, please contact Kirshenbaum & Kirshenbaum today via our online contact form.
What happens to the ring after a broken engagement?
Even if partners are able to amicably end their relationship, they may have differing opinions about who keeps the engagement ring. Courts have devised a way to determine who is the “rightful” owner—but there may be more than one way to determine who should have the ring.
Courts May Decide Who Keeps the Ring After a Broken Engagement
Courts traditionally view engagement rings as “conditional gifts,” or a gift that is contingent on a future event (marriage). If the condition is not met, the giver has the right to get the gift back. Conditional gift decisions are usually no-fault, so it does not matter which partner broke the engagement. However, there could be extenuating circumstances where returning the ring is not fair to the receiver.
When determining who should keep the ring, the law may consider:
- The ring as a gift. Some courts consider the engagement ring as a gift from one partner to the other. If the ring constitutes a gift, the giver has no right to revoke it, and the receiver will get to keep it. However, engagement rings are only considered gifts in rare cases.
- The ring as compensation. A ring can be considered compensation under the law as long as both parties acknowledged that the ring was being offered as compensation. For example, if a man proposes marriage by offering an expensive ring to a partner who has lent him a considerable sum of money or performed work for him in the past, the ring may be considered compensation.
- Who broke the engagement. Some courts take into account the reason or party responsible for the broken engagement when considering who should keep the ring. This "fault-based" approach is sometimes used to award the ring to the receiver if the giver is the one who called off the wedding.
A broken engagement can lead to awkward and painful situations. Our family law attorneys can take over the burden on your behalf, allowing you to move on with your life as easily as possible. Contact Kirshenbaum & Kirshenbaum via our online contact form to learn more.
How long will it take for my divorce to become final?
Many spouses want to know how long it will take to be officially divorced after filing. In Rhode Island, an uncontested divorce may be granted in as little as 75 days—and some divorces may be granted even sooner if they qualify for expedited processing. However, wait times are often longer if the court imposes a waiting period, the parties cannot agree, or there are other complexities.
Factors That Can Affect the Timeline of a Rhode Island Divorce
The biggest factor that will impact the length of a divorce is whether the separation is contested or not. The Rhode Island Family Court allows uncontested divorces to receive a hearing approximately 75 days after papers are filed. If both parties agree that there is no chance of a reconciliation and sign a waiver requesting expedited treatment, the court may grant a divorce immediately.
The amount of time it takes for a Rhode Island divorce to be finalized depends on:
- If you require a temporary court order. Some spouses need a temporary court order to establish which spouse will live in the house, which spouse will have custody, and other terms of the separation. Temporary hearings on these matters are usually scheduled about five weeks after filing.
- The length of the waiting period. Divorces do not become final until after the expiration of the mandatory waiting period that starts after the first hearing. Divorces granted on the grounds of "irreconcilable differences" have a 90-day waiting period before they are final, while "separate and apart” divorces have a 21-day waiting period.
- How long you and your spouse have lived apart. If you and your spouse have been living separately for three years or more, the court may waive the waiting period.
- If the case goes to trial. Only divorces where both spouses agree on all of the terms of the divorce will qualify for expedited treatment. If you and your spouse are not in agreement by the hearing date, your case will be classified as a "contested divorce," and you will be given a date to meet for status conference. At the conference, the spouses, their attorneys, and the judge will meet to settle the unresolved issues. Once the parties agree, the judge will schedule the divorce hearing. If the parties cannot reach an agreement, the case will go to trial, and the divorce can last for several months or even a year.
Our family law attorneys can advise you on your best options and ensure you settle your divorce in the most beneficial manner. Contact Kirshenbaum & Kirshenbaum via our online form to learn more about your options.
What is a property settlement agreement?
A property settlement agreement (PSA), sometimes called a marital settlement agreement, is the document that itemizes what each spouse will receive when a divorce is final. The document is customized to the needs of the divorcing couple, and it can include a division of furniture, property, savings accounts, trusts, and/or life insurance proceeds. It also outlines each spouse’s financial responsibilities in a divorce such as paying shared debts or alimony obligations.
What Should Be Included in a Property Settlement Agreement?
Under Rhode Island law, PSAs are considered a contract between the divorcing spouses. This means, the court may not be able to modify portions of the agreement, including those regarding alimony and property division. For this reason, it is important to be thorough when creating a PSA, since any oversights or vague language can cause legal disputes in the future.
A property settlement agreement should provide clear information on:
- Distribution of assets. The PSA should clearly indicate how much each party will receive of all marital funds, real estate, trust funds, and personal property.
- Division of debt. The document should divide shared debt (for example, credit cards and car payments) and assign each debt to the spouse who will be responsible for paying it.
- Alimony. The document should state how much a spouse will receive in support payments and the length of the obligation. If there will be no spousal support, the PSA should acknowledge that the support has been waived.
- Insurance concerns. A PSA should address who will be covered under each spouse’s health insurance, as well as who will remove proceeds from life insurance claims.
- Tax payments. Each spouse may be assigned a portion of federal and state taxes on property that will be divided or dissolved during the divorce.
- Retirement accounts. Spouses may be entitled to a portion of a partner’s pension, 401k, or other retirement account distributions.
Our family law attorneys can draft a property settlement agreement that will provide for you and your family for years to come. Contact Kirshenbaum & Kirshenbaum via our online contact form to learn more about your options.
Will I still get child support from my first spouse if I remarry?
While alimony payments to a spouse are unlikely to continue after a supported spouse’s remarriage, the same is not true of child support payments. Under Rhode Island law, a former spouse must continue his financial obligation to his children whether or not either spouse has remarried. However, there are instances when remarriage could change the amount of these payments.
Courts May Modify Child Support Orders Based on Remarriage
The Rhode Island family courts use certain guidelines to determine how much child support a parent must pay, but they are allowed to order a different amount of support based on all relevant factors in a case. Remarriage may be considered relevant to a support order, especially if the new marriage includes:
- The birth of new children. In the past, children in a new marriage were not considered a valid reason for changing a support order for children from a prior relationship. Today, Rhode Island courts may consider the increased costs of new children when deciding on an amount of child support.
- Increased expenses. Marriage can increase a couple’s income, but it can also increase their expenses. A parent who remarries and takes on shared debts (such as house and car payments) or provides care for a new spouse with a disability may see a change in the amount of income available for child support.
- A new spouse’s income. Although Rhode Island courts agree that a new spouse has no duty to support children from a prior relationship, they have ruled that a new spouse’s income may be considered in some cases. For example, if a parent paying child support remarries, the new spouse is likely contributing financially to household bills, utilities, and groceries. This essentially causes an increase in income for the parent and leaves more of his income available for child support.
In order to change the amount of child support after remarriage, a parent must petition the court for a modification of the order. It’s up to the court to decide whether remarriage has resulted in a significant change in circumstances needed to make the modification. If you need help with your divorce, custody, or child support order, fill out our online contact form today to set up your initial consultation with a family law attorney at Kirshenbaum & Kirshenbaum.