Divorce Terms 2017-10-13T10:02:38+00:00

Below is an alphabetical list of legal terms commonly used in divorce in Rhode Island

Alimony: Support payments that one spouse may be ordered to pay the other spouse because of a divorce. The purpose of alimony is to provide support to a spouse for a reasonable length of time to enable him or her to become financially independent. Alimony is sometimes known as “maintenance” or “spousal support.”


Annulment: In Rhode Island, annulments are known as “void marriages.” Technically, there is no such thing as an annulment in Rhode Island. A “void marriage” is a declaration by the court that finds the marriage was never legally valid to begin with.


Answer: What the defendant-spouse must file in response to the plaintiff-spouse’s complaint. If you do not file an answer, the case may result in a default judgment.

Burden of Proof: A party’s duty to prove the truth of his or her claims in the lawsuit.

Child Support: The amount of money that a court will order one or both parents to pay every month to help support their child.


Complaint for Divorce: The initial step in filing for a divorce. It is a legal document that you or your attorney files with the proper court that has jurisdiction over the case. This is sometimes called a “Petition for Dissolution of Marriage” or “Petition for Divorce/Divorce Petition.”


Contested Divorce: This is when the parties to a divorce cannot agree on issues revolving around the divorce, such as child custody, child support, division of assets, distribution of debt, and alimony.


Counterclaim: In response to a plaintiff-spouse’s divorce complaint, the defendant-spouse may file a counterclaim if he or she wants to list different reasons for the divorce.

Default: If the defendant-spouse fails to respond to the plaintiff’s complaint after being properly served, the plaintiff will usually be granted all the relief sought in the complaint.


Defendant: The spouse who does not start the divorce, and answers the complaint, is the “defendant.”


Deposition: Through a lawyer, one spouse can ask the other spouse questions, under oath, in front of a court reporter. Before conducting a deposition, you need permission from the court. To get permission, you must file a motion to take a deposition.


Discovery: The stage of a lawsuit where the parties exchange information. This is crucial in a divorce case when a spouse is unaware of the extent of marital assets and estate. Discovery is also useful to obtain documents and other evidence that is needed for settlement or trial.


Divorce: The legal process for ending a marriage.

Equitable Division/Distribution: This is the term used for how the court assigns property in Rhode Island. Equitable does not necessarily mean equal or 50/50. Rather, it means what is fair considering certain weighing factors. See §15-5-16.1 for a list of factors that the court considers when dividing property and assets in Rhode Island.

Family Court: In Rhode Island, family court is where you will file for divorce.


Fault Grounds: The different legal justifications for getting a divorce. Many states have abolished fault grounds, but Rhode Island still allows certain faults as a grounds for divorce. There are various fault grounds that one may assert in Rhode Island. Fault grounds in Rhode Island include, adultery, impotency, habitual drunkenness, drug abuse, extreme cruelty, willful desertion, gross misbehavior, neglect. See §15-5-2 for full text of the law.


Forma Pauperis Status: You may qualify for forma pauperis status if you are indigent (i.e. poor). If you qualify for forma pauperis status, then your court filing fees will be waived.

Grounds for Divorce: Legal reasons a court will allow you to get a divorce. This may either be fault grounds or no-fault grounds in Rhode Island.

Interrogatories: During discovery, one party may submit interrogatories to the other party. These are written questions that are helpful in obtaining information. One party may ask up to thirty written questions.


Irreconcilable Differences: This is one of the no-fault grounds in Rhode Island.

Jurisdiction: This is a legal concept that gives courts the power to hear a case. It is the geographic area over which legal authority extends.

Legal Separation: In Rhode Island, this is also sometimes called “divorce from bed and board.” This is different from divorce because legal separation does not deal with division of assets, and you are still legally married even after legal separation. Legal separation in Rhode Island only deals with three issues: (1) children, (2) alimony, and (3) temporary orders.


Litigation: The court process for a contested divorce. It only takes one spouse to engage in litigation through filing a complaint for divorce, that in turn, forces the other spouse on the defensive side.

Marital Property: Property and assets accumulated during a marriage that may qualify for equitable distribution during a divorce.


Mediation: This is an alternative method to litigation for dissolving your marriage. This method works for couples that desire an amicable divorce and can cooperate with each other. Couples meet with a neutral, third party (i.e. the “mediator”) to discuss and work out the terms of their divorce. Unlike arbitration, mediation is a voluntary process which requires cooperation and compromise by each party, so a binding resolution can be made. Mediation is also unlike arbitration because the parties create their own agreement based on their own negotiations.


Motion: A request in writing to the court. The purpose of filing a motion is to obtain a court order from the judge that will provide a temporary solution to a problem. For example, a motion for temporary child support.

No Fault Grounds: In Rhode Island, no-fault grounds are legal reasons for divorce that the court will allow. There are two no-fault grounds in Rhode Island: (1) irreconcilable differences, and (2) living separate and apart for 3 years.


Nominal Divorce: If both spouses agree about all the terms in a divorce, they may have a nominal divorce. A nominal divorce may also arise if the defendant does not respond to the complaint (default). At a nominal divorce hearing, there are no disputes presented before the court. The judge simply must make determinations on the undisputed issues, as required by law, to grant the divorce. In other states, a “nominal divorce” is known as an “uncontested divorce.”


Non-Marital Property: Non-marital property is property accumulated prior to the marriage, property that was inherited at any time, or property given as a gift at any time. Non-marital property is generally not available for equitable distribution in a divorce. Note that originally non-marital property may become marital property in certain cases. Such as if there is income created from the non-marital property or the value increased during the marriage.

Plaintiff: The spouse who files for divorce is called the “plaintiff.”

Request for Admission: During discovery, one party may submit to the other party a written set of statements that the other party must either admit or deny.


Request for Production of Documents: This is an official request for documents that assists in the fact-finding process of discovery.

Service: Service is how the defendant-spouse receives a copy of the divorce complaint and summons (i.e. how the defendant-spouse is “served” with complaint and summons). You can serve a defendant-spouse by using the county sheriffs’ office in the county where the defendant lives. If the sheriff is unsuccessful in serving the defendant, you may have to ask the court for permission to serve by alternate service. Alternate service includes regular and certified mail, service by publication (by newspaper), or tacking notice to a door. You will be required to file a motion for alternate service. 


Summons: A paper form that is delivered or “served” on the defendant-spouse. The information on the summons is the relevant divorce case information.

Temporary Orders: Temporary orders may be filed with a complaint when one party needs a temporary resolution of issues while the divorce case is pending. For example, you may file a motion for temporary child support, motion for temporary alimony, motion for temporary payment of household expenses, etc. These are not necessarily final orders, and may or may not continue after the divorce is final.

Uncontested Divorce: This is sometimes called a “nominal” divorce. The parties to the divorce agree on all of the issues surrounding the divorce (children, alimony, property division, etc.).

Verification: This is a form in Rhode Island that certifies the accuracy and truth of the complaint for divorce.