Litigation is a process where one or both parties file a complaint to give a judge the authority to resolve disputes. In a divorce, litigation will most often result in a contested divorce, upon which the spouses cannot come to an agreement. A contested divorce is when you and your spouse cannot agree on issues surrounding the divorce, such as child support, child custody, alimony, property division, etc. In a contested divorce, each spouse will present their argument and a judge will decide the issues for them. The court process for a contested divorce tends to be more lengthy, expensive, and complex than the court process for an uncontested divorce.
In Rhode Island, the term used for an uncontested divorce is a “nominal” divorce. This means that there are no disputes as to the issues surrounding the divorce (i.e. child support, child custody, alimony, division of property, etc.). The nominal divorce court process is generally easier, cheaper, and quicker than a contested divorce because the judge does not have to decide on the disputed issues for you. The spouses create the agreement and the judge usually approves that agreement. Some states have a special process for uncontested divorce, but Rhode Island does not.
In Rhode Island, legal separation is sometimes called “divorce from bed and board.” This is different from a divorce because you are technically still legally married, even after the legal separation. In comparison to a divorce, you are no longer legally married after. The major difference between a divorce and a legal separation is that legal separations only deal with three issues: (1) children, (2) alimony, and (3) temporary orders while the divorce case is pending. In a legal separation, the court will not divide property and assets between spouses. On the other hand, in a divorce, all of those three issues will be dealt with, plus the division of property and assets. The reason someone may want a legal separation over a divorce is because of religion, family, or other personal factors.
An annulment is different from divorce because its effect is that the marriage never existed in the first place. In other words, the marriage becomes void, and it’s as if the parties were never legally married. Technically, there is no such thing as an annulment in Rhode Island. Instead, there is a similar provision for marriages that are void or voidable under certain circumstances, which has the same effect as an annulment. See §15-5-1 to read the full text.
For a marriage to be considered void in Rhode Island, the marriage must have been prohibited. Prohibited marriages in Rhode Island include the following: bigamy, mentally incompetent parties, and incest. Unlike most states’ laws on annulments, Rhode Island courts will not declare a marriage void for one spouse’s impotence or drug abuse. See §15-1-2 and §15-1-5.