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Divorce FAQs

Get answers to your questions about divorce, family law, and our firm byreviewing the answers below! If you have any further questions, pleasedon't hesitate to ask me by calling the office or submitting an onlineform. I offer a free Initial consultation so that you can discuss yourcase with me before making a financial obligation.

About Our Firm

Choosing a Lawyer


Family Law

Court Hearing

Q: What is a “boutique” law firm?

A: A “boutique” law firm concentrates its practice in one areaof the law and develops expertise and proficiency in that practice field.
The Law Office ofPatricia A. Sullivan is a boutique law firm concentrating in Rhode Islanddivorce and related family law matters.
Potential clientele often search the webto find an attorney and search results are confusing.

Potential clientele may find an attorney who practices in multiple areas such as, Superior Court, DistrictCourt, Criminal Court, Bankruptcy Court, Landlord Tenant Court, ProbateCourt, and Family Court and/or who practices in more than one state suchas Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. This “jack of all trades” type of attorney hasno particular concentrated practice and whose business day is going from one courtto the next court.

If you needed heart surgery, would you goto your primary care physician?

The Law Office ofPatricia A. Sullivan is a boutique law firm concentrating indivorce and family law. You are represented byPatricia A. Sullivan,not an “associate” or member of a “legal team”from a national law firm with a branch office here in Rhode Island. Youare represented by a Rhode Island attorney who “does”divorce and family law,not a Rhode Island attorney who “dabbles” in family law.

Q: What happens in a "free initial consultation?"

A:A free initial consultation is an excellent way for a potential client to learn about his or her rights,the court system and process of a case, and legal fees and expenses. Itis a valuable experience which not only allows the potential client tolearn about the process but also to meet and interact with the attorney.And, most importantly, it's FREE!

Q: I often see the term "aggressive representation." Is thata good thing?

A: Aggression is conduct intendedto be hurtful and harmful. Particularly in the "family" court,aggression isnot a good thing for obvious reasons. Yet, some lawyers think that is an effectivewayto practicedivorce and family law.

At The Law Office ofPatricia A. Sullivan, our strength is a capable, competent, caring, "downto earth" representation at reasonable rates. Hostility is rarelynecessaryto effectively represent the interests of a client.

Patricia A. Sullivan is recognized by the Judges, court personnel, and fellow colleagues asa skilled attorney capable of producing excellent results without aggression.

Q: When considering hiring a Rhode Islanddivorce and family lawyer, should I consider the gender of the attorney?


Many women want to hire a female lawyer because they feel more comfortable opening up to a woman (deep down, men do, too). Many men want to hire a "woman" lawyer because they feel that it will give them an edge in the results of the case. Listen to your inner voice because that really can be true.

Patricia A. Sullivan is warm, downto earth, and caring. Men and women easily respondto her style and the attorney -client relationship is comfortable, communicative and responsive.Also, for men, it can be helpfulto have a woman attorney. A "man-man" team can be perceived as "ganging up"on the wife.

Q: What are the residency requirements for getting adivorce in Rhode Island?


In order to file for divorce in Rhode Island, one spouse must have been a resident of the state for at least one year before filing.

Q: What does Rhode Island consider grounds for divorce?

A: Most divorces are filed on the ground of irreconcilable differences which have caused the irremediable breakdown of the marriage. This is a no fault ground. Other grounds which are available include living separate and apart for a space in excess of three years, adultery, and willful desertion.

Q: Where do I file fordivorce in Rhode Island?


: A Rhode Island divorce is ordinarily filed in the County where the Petitioning Spouse resides.

Q: How is alimony awarded in Rhode Island?

A: " Alimony may be awarded to either party. Alimony is designed to provide support for a spouse for a reasonable length of time to enable the recipient to become financially independent and self-sufficient. However, the court may award alimony for an indefinite period of time when it is appropriate in the discretion of the court." (Rhode Island Domestic Relations Law - Title 15, Section 15-5-16)

Q: How is child custody awarded in Rhode Island?


"Failing an agreement between the parents as to the custody of the children, determination will be based on the best interest of the child. In regulating the custody of the children, the court shall provide for the reasonable right of visitation by the natural parent not having custody of the children except upon the showing of cause as to why the right should not be granted. The court shall mandate compliance with its orders by both the custodial parent and the children." (Rhode Island Domestic Relations Law - Title 15, Section 15-5-19)

Q: Should I engage adivorce lawyer or a mediator? You should engage adivorce lawyer. Why?


Mediation plays upon perceived fears: 1) Divorce is expensive. Mediation is not expensive. 2) Lawyers are only in it for the money so court is acrimonious, protracted, and expensive. Let's address these fears and address some misconceptions associated with mediation. Like attorneys, mediators are business people offering a service for a fee. Some mediators are non-lawyers and, although they certainly mean well, they are not trained to analyze the facts of the case in the same way as an experienced Rhode Island divorce attorney. Most mediators are also practicing attorneys so mediation is not their primary field. Some mediators are even retired from their original career. Often times, mediation is simply just another professional fee incurred because of misplaced fears. The parties participate in mediation, which may or may not be successful.

After it concludes, then one of the spouses must still file fordivorce, serve the other, and proceed through the Court system (that is another sixto nine months following the conclusion of mediation). More often thannot, both husband and wife hire an attorney for the court case. Thus, what mediation did was create a long delay and adds yet another expense. Further, in many instances, one spouse has more power (usually financial power) than the other spouse. The more powerful spouse will encourage mediation in an effortto obtain a superior position over the less powerful spouse ("Let's save money" really means "if you don'tget a lawyer, you don't have anyone protecting your interests so Iwin"). It is also a myth that only mediators mediate. Reality is, although advocating for your interests, mostdivorce attorneys will work cooperatively with each other and with the partiesto identify the issues that exists and then worktoward amicable resolution. So whynot just file for thedivorce at the outset and avoid the delay and expense of mediation?

Q: If I hire Patricia Sullivan, what should my expectations be?

A: First, you should expect a true professional woman attorney who's exclusive, fulltime practice is divorce and family law. Pat is known for her integrity, competence, and excellent rapport with the Family Court Bench and Bar. You should expect a respectful, responsive, polite, experienced and genuinely nice person and attorney who will effectively and efficiently guide you through this difficultphase in your life. The goal isto amicably and cost-effectively negotiate a settlement in the case whileavoiding a trial. Because of this, there isno needto mediate.

Q: What is a collaborative divorce?

A: A collaborative divorce is a non-adversarial process where, prior to filing fordivorce in the Court system, the Husband and the Wife each hire an attorney.The Husband, Wife, and attorneys meet one or more times to define the issues,explore alternatives, then come to an agreement.Assets, liabilities, alimony, custody, visitation, andchild support are all topics resolved in the process.Once the issues are resolved, the actualdivorce is filed. It is a trueuncontested divorce because all issues are agreed upon prior to the filing.

Q: Does Attorney Patricia A. Sullivan practice collaborative divorce?


Q: Are recommendations which appear on the attorney's website reliable?

A:Yes they are. All attorneys are subject to the Rules of Professional Responsibility. Part of the Rules of Professional Responsibility governs attorney advertising. Because attorneys must comply with the Rules, the content on their website is reliable.

Q: Are online reviews or ratings reliable?

A: No. Never assess the competency of any professional based upon an onlinereview or rating.

Negative ratings or reviews are usually the result of one of two things:

(a) Cyberbullying, or

(b) Sabotage. (Often a competitor will write (or have written) a negative review specifically to damage his competitor's professional reputation.)

Q: I wasrecently served with papers for a family court matter and I have decided to represent myself. Am I eligible for a free initial consultation?


Only people who intend to hire an attorney to represent them in the familycourt matter are eligible for a free initial consultation.

Q: Does Patricia A. Sullivan practice divorce & family law in Massachusetts?


Because of her experience, reputation, personality, and commitment to client, Pat is one of the most sought-afterdivorce and family law attorneys in Rhode Island. She limits her practice to Rhode Island to allow her Rhode Island divorce and family law clientele optimum access to her.

Q: The Judge ordered me to pay child support then I lost my job. My exand I verbally agreed to lower my child support until I went back to work.Is the verbal agreement enforceable?


No it is not. If there is something in writing between you and your ex(signed by both of you) you are probably ok. But, it is more protectiveto go back to Court to lower the support. If you do not have somethingin writing or a modified Court Order, then you will be accruing a child support arrearage.

Q. I do not have the money to pay legal fees and Court costs to a private practice Family Law attorney, are there any alternatives for me?


If you do not have the money to pay for adivorce lawyer in Rhode Island, but need help with a Family Court matter,there are (at least) two organizations that may be of assistance: Rhode Island Legal Services and Rhode Island Bar Association.

Q: If I go through adivorce, will Attorney Sullivan be able to protect my personal injury settlement?

A: This is something that will be a goal in yourdivorce case and, in most circumstances, I will be able to successfullyprotect the personal injury recovery. There are some nuances to this whichwe will discuss in the free initial consultation.

Q: What is a Post Nuptial Agreement?

A: APostnuptial Agreement is a contract between two legally married persons who are not contemplatingdivorce, but who desire to predetermine which party gets which asset inthe event of adivorce.

Q: What is a Pre Nuptial Agreement?

A: A Pre-Nuptial Agreement is a contract between two persons who are intendingto marry each other. Primarily, aPre-Nuptial Agreement regulates the disposition of assets acquired by each party prior to themarriage in the event of adivorce or death.

Q: What is a "silver" divorce?

A: "Silver" divorce refers to those couples married 25 or moreyears who are separating and divorcing. Typically a "silver divorcee"is a baby boomer.

Q: Does Pat Sullivan practice "silver" divorce?

A: Yes, absolutely. In fact, Pat is one of the first matrimonial lawyersin Rhode Island to identify this demographic of the populace. As a result,she has networked a team of accountants, financial planners, and appraisersto work cooperatively with her and her client in the identification andvaluation of the marital estate and the distribution of those assets.

Q: My spouse and I are no longer living in the same house. Does that meanwe are legally separated?


No it does not. It means you are physically separated.

Q: I don't understand what a legal separation is.

A: A legal separation is a court case just like a divorce is a court case. All of the same issuesthat are a part of a divorce case (custody, visitation, assets etc.) area part of a legal separation case.

The difference is that in a legal separation you are still married to yourspouse but you live in a different place from your spouse. In a divorce,you are no longer married to your spouse and are free to date and remarry.

Most usually, a divorce is the best alternative for a prospective clientnot a legal separation.

Q: If I move out of our house, am I guilty of abandonment.

A: No you are not. All you have done is physically separate.

Q: Is the initial consultation free?

A: Yes it is. It is completely free of charge. You will meet directly withPat Sullivan and spend about 30 minutes discussing your situation.

Q: Is the initial consultation offered at night or on the weekend?

A:Free initial consultations are offered during usual business hours.

Q: Who is a prospective client?

A: A prospective client is a person who is not presently Pat's clientbut who wants to become an actual client.

Q: Is a prospective client eligible for a free initial consultation?


: Absolutely!

Q: When my husband and I argue, he threatens me with divorce and he says thathe will make sure that I get nothing. This scares me. I really don'twant a divorce. And, I don't think my husband wants a divorce either.He just says things about divorce in anger. Am I eligible for a free consultation?I just want information but I don't want to pay for it.

A: You would not be considered a prospective client so you are not eligiblefor a free consultation.

Q: I made an appointment for a free initial consultation and I want topostpone it without giving the attorney a lot of prior notice. Is that ok?

A: Although we appreciate being notified by the prospective client that he/sheis not going to keep the appointment, the fact that it is free of chargeto the client, does not mean that the attorney does not suffer a financialloss. Other than the free initial consultation, attorneys charge for theirtime. So, a last minute postponement leaves a gap in the attorney'sschedule that cannot be filled. Therefore, the attorney loses money. Also,the attorney pays the administrative assistant to schedule the initialappointment and then a second appointment.

If you call to postpone, please explain the reasons why and, if the reasonis legitimate, you will be offered a new date for your consultation. However,if you do not come to the second appointment you are no longer considereda prospective client and are not eligible for a free consultation.

Q: I made an appointment for a free consultation, but I was a no show.Can I still have a free consultation?

A: "No-Shows" are no longer considered prospective clients and are not eligible for another appointment for a free consultation.

Q: Who gets the dog?

A: Domestic animals (dogs, cats, hamsters, etc.) are marital property. In a contested pet case, the Court will decide which spouse will be awarded the pet. However, very few judges will approve an Order of "pet visitation."

Q: All of our credit card debt is in the individual name of my spouse. Do I have to pay any of the credit card debt?

A: If the credit card debt was incurred during the marriage, it is likelythat both the Husband and Wife have an obligation to the creditor. During the free initialconsultation, we will discuss the family court rules regarding credit card debt.

Q: Is my spouse eligible to receive a portion of my inheritance received during themarriage?

A: In most circumstances, your spouse is not eligible to receive any portion of your inheritance. However,there are exceptions to this. In your free initial consultation, we will discuss protecting your inheritance.

Q: What is the difference between a free initial consultation and freelegal advice?

A: The most important difference is that all lawyers are prohibited fromgiving legal advice to a person who has not retained the lawyer.

The lawyer-client relationship is formed when the client retains the attorney.At this point, the attorney can give advice.

Until the attorney is retained, the attorney can only speak generally aboutrights and expectations, as well as, the court system and fees and expenses.This is what occurs in the free consultation. Free consultations are anexcellent way to begin the process of adivorce or family law matter.

Q: When I schedule a free consultation, why is my contact information important?

A: Very occasionally, a free consultation must be rescheduled. Ordinarilythis is due to an unanticipated change in Attorney Sullivan's Courtschedule or inclement weather.

Please provide a contact number with a voicemail.

Q: When I come in for my free initial consultation, do I need to bring anything?

A: For the free initial consultation, you do not have to bring anything unlessyou have been served with papers. If you have been served, please bringthe paperwork that you received from the sheriff or constable.

Q: When I hire Attorney Sullivan for my divorce case, what do I bring tothe consultation?

  1. If you are the Plaintiff, please bring an original or certified copy of your marriage certificate and your retainer. If you are employed, please bring a recent paystub.
  2. If you are the Defendant, please bring the papers you were served and your retainer. Again, if you are employed, please bring a recent paystub.

Q:Can I bring a friend or relative with me to the free initial consultation?

A: Certainly. You can bring one friend or relative who is over the age of18. (Please remember, however, that you have a privilege of confidentiality.If you have a friend or relative with you, the privilege of confidentialityis waived).

Q: How should I dress when I go to Court?

A: Making a good impression is important. Business casual is suggested.Denim is NEVER appropriate.

Q: What is a case status or pre-trial conference?

A: This is an opportunity for the attorneys to meet informally with the Judge,usually at the bench, to discuss matters impeding the amicable resolutionof the case. Often times, the input with the Judge will help resolve the issue.

Q: What is a NominalDivorce Hearing?

A: When parties have amicably resolved all of the issues in theirdivorce case, (custody, assets, liabilities, alimony (their case is considered"nominal" or "uncontested" allowing the parties toappear before the Judge and obtain thedivorce.

Q: What is a trial and why is it necessary?

A: A trial is a formal procedure wherein the parties and witnesses testifyin open Court about contested matters such as, custody, assets, liabilities,and alimony. After the Judge hears all of the testimony, the Judge willdecide the issues. A trial is necessary because the parties cannot beamicable and resolve the matter.

Q: If I call for a free initial consultation during normal business hours,but get voicemail, when will I receive a return call?

A: Almost immediately. Customer service is a priority for Pat and she isextremely responsive to new and existing clients.

Just leave your mobile phone number and you will receive a punctual return call.

Pat has an advanced telephone system which turns voicemail to email. Becauseof this, Pat is aware of voicemails within moments of the call.

On rare occasions, it may take as long as two hours for the return callbut that is usually because Pat is in Court or in a consultation.

Q: Am I eligible for a free consultation?

A: If you are actually going to file (or be served) a family court case(divorce, custody, support etc.) and if you are actually going to hirean attorney to represent you in that case then you are eligible for afree consultation."

Q:I represented myself in my divorce case. Can you help me prepare the finalpaperwork?

A: Yes, I can help you. I will need a copy of the transcript which you mustorder from the Court stenographer. If you have children, I will need acopy of the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet. You can obtain a copyof the Guidelines from the Court Clerk. Please call me at 401-732-8300and I will discuss your situation with you and quote a fee for the services.Typically, your paperwork and filing instructions will be available withina few days or hiring me.

Q: What is a parenting plan?

A: A parenting plan is a written agreement that outlines and defines how parentswill raise their children.

Q: Who benefits from a parenting plan?

A: First and foremost, the child benefits from the plan as his/her parentshave in place an agreement which eliminates conflicts while keeping thechild stable.

But, parents also benefit. The plan addresses legal custody, physical custody,visitation, child support and child care, educational or activity expenses, etc.

Q: When should a parenting plan be negotiated?

A: There are all sorts of times when a parenting plan can be negotiated.

For example, parents who are considering physically separating and/or whoare divorcing should have a parenting plan.

Negotiating the plan prior to the filing of separation or divorce can behelpful in reducing future court costs, legal fees, court appearances,and time out of work.

A successful parenting plan often times can lead to an actual uncontesteddivorce – less costly – less stress.

Parents who already have a plan in place may see the need for changes totheir existing plan. The child is growing older. One party has remarried.Employment has changed.

Q: How much does a parenting plan cost?

A: Parenting plans are charged on an hourly basis. The cost is directly relatedto the complexity of the plan and the level of conflict between the parents.

Q: Does Patricia A. Sullivan do parenting plans?

A: Absolutely. Patricia A. Sullivan has almost 40 years experience as a familylaw attorney and is also an experienced Guardian Ad Litem.

During her career, she has negotiated and drafted thousands of parenting plans.

For more information about thedivorce process,contact a Rhode Island divorce lawyerwho can provide you with advice and answersto your questions.