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Divorce FAQs

Get answers to common questions about divorce, family law, and our firm by reviewing the answers below! Contact us for help with your child custody, child support, alimony, or other family law situation. If you have any further questions, please don't hesitate to ask me by calling the office or submitting an online form. I offer a free initial consultation so that you can discuss your case with me before making a financial obligation.

Don't hesitate to contact our firm to schedule a free consultation with our divorce lawyer. We have nearly 40 years of experience and can help answer any questions you have regarding your divorce.

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 area of the law and develops expertise and proficiency in that practice field.
The Law Office of Patricia A. Sullivan is a boutique law firm concentrating in Rhode Island divorce and related family law matters.
Potential clientele often search the web to find an attorney and search results are confusing.

Potential clientele may find an attorney who practices in multiple areas such as, Superior Court, District Court, Criminal Court, Bankruptcy Court, Landlord Tenant Court, ProbateCourt, and Family Court and/or who practices in more than one state such as Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. This “jack of all trades” type of attorney has no particular concentrated practice and whose business day is going from one court to the next court.

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

The Law Office of Patricia A. Sullivan is a boutique law firm concentrating in divorce and family law. You are represented by Patricia A. Sullivan, not an “associate” or member of a “legal team” from a national law firm with a branch office here in Rhode Island. You are 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 prospective 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 prospective client to learn 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 that a good thing?

A: Aggression is conduct intended to be hurtful and harmful. Particularly in the "family" court, aggression is not a good thing for obvious reasons. Yet, some lawyers think that is an effective way to practice divorce and family law.

At The Law Office of Patricia A. Sullivan, our strength is a capable, competent, caring, "down to earth" representation at reasonable rates. Hostility is rarely necessary to effectively represent the interests of a client.

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

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

A: 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, down to earth, and caring. Men and women easily respond to her style and the attorney-client relationship is comfortable, communicative and responsive. Also, for men, it can be helpful to 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 a divorce in Rhode Island?

A: 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 for divorce in Rhode Island?

A: 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?

A: "Failing an agreement between the parents as to the custody of the children, the 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: Does the Law Office of Patricia A. Sullivan offer mediation services?

A: In addition to being recognized as one of the State of Rhode Island's best divorce and family law attorneys, Pat is also known as a top mediator capable of handling the simple to the complex. Mediation services include issues with custody, visitation, and support, marital assets, marital liabilities, and spousal support.

The Law Office of Patricia A. Sullivan is a full-service divorce and family law firm which also offers mediation services. The client(s) always work exclusively with Pat and not a junior partner or an associate. The client(s) receive the skill, knowledge, and compassionate service from a seasoned practioner (almost 40 years).

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 difficult phase in your life. The goal is to amicably and cost-effectively negotiate a settlement in the case while avoiding a trial. Because of this, there is no need to mediate.

Q: What is a collaborative divorce?

A: A collaborative divorce is a non-adversarial process where, prior to filing for divorce 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, and child support are all topics resolved in the process. Once the issues are resolved, the actual divorce is filed. It is a true uncontested divorce because all issues are agreed upon prior to the filing.

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

A: Absolutely.

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 online review 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 was recently served with papers for a family court matter and I have decided to represent myself. Am I eligible for a free initial consultation?

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

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

A: Because of her experience, reputation, personality, and commitment to the client, Pat is one of the most sought-after divorce 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 ex and I verbally agreed to lower my child support until I went back to work. Is the verbal agreement enforceable?

A: 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 protective to go back to Court to lower the support. If you do not have something in 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, am I eligible for a free consultation?

A: You would not be considered a prospective client so you are not eligible for the free consultation. However, you can reach out to Rhode Island Legal Services or the Rhode Island Bar Association. Those organizations may be able to assist you.

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

A: This is something that will be a goal in your divorce case and, in most circumstances, I will be able to successfully protect the personal injury recovery. There are some nuances to this which we will discuss in the free initial consultation.

Q: What is a Post Nuptial Agreement?

A: A Postnuptial Agreement is a contract between two legally married persons who are not contemplating divorce, but who desire to predetermine which party gets which asset in the event of a divorce.

Q: What is a Pre Nuptial Agreement?

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

Q: What is a "silver" divorce?

A: "Silver" divorce refers to those couples married 25 or more years 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 lawyers in Rhode Island to identify this demographic of the populace. As a result, she has networked a team of accountants, financial planners, and appraisers to work cooperatively with her and her client in the identification and valuation 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 mean we are legally separated?

A: 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 divorce is a court case. All of the same issues that 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 your spouse 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 client, not 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 with Pat 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 client but who wants to become an actual client.

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

A: Absolutely!

Q: When my husband and I argue, he threatens me with divorce and he says that he will make sure that I get nothing. This scares me. I really don't want 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 eligible for a free consultation.

Q: I made an appointment for a free initial consultation and I want to postpone 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/she is not going to keep the appointment, the fact that it is free of charge to the client, does not mean that the attorney does not suffer a financial loss. Other than the free initial consultation, attorneys charge for their time. So, a last-minute postponement leaves a gap in the attorney's schedule that cannot be filled. Therefore, the attorney loses money. Also, the attorney pays the administrative assistant to schedule the initial appointment and then a second appointment.

If you call to postpone, please explain the reasons why and, if the reason is 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 considered a 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 likely that both the Husband and Wife have an obligation to the creditor. During the free initial consultation, 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 the marriage?

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 free legal advice?

A: The most important difference is that all lawyers are prohibited from giving 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 about rights and expectations, as well as, the court system and fees and expenses. This is what occurs in the free consultation. Free consultations are an excellent way to begin the process of a divorce 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. Ordinarily, this is due to an unanticipated change in Attorney Sullivan's Court schedule or inclement weather.

Please provide a contact number with a voicemail which is set up and which is not full.

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 unless you have been served with papers. If you have been served, please bring the paperwork that you received from the sheriff or constable.

Q: When I hire Attorney Sullivan for my divorce case, what do I bring to the 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 office 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 confidentiality is 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 resolution of the case. Often times, the input with the Judge will help resolve the issue.

Q: What is a Nomina lDivorce Hearing?

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

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

A: A trial is a formal procedure wherein the parties and witnesses testify in open Court about contested matters such as custody, assets, liabilities, and alimony. After the Judge hears all of the testimony, the Judge will decide the issues. A trial is necessary because the parties cannot be amicable 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 is extremely 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. Because of 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 call but 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 hire an attorney to represent you in that case then you are eligible for a free consultation."

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

A: Yes, I can help you. I will need a copy of the transcript which you must order from the Court stenographer. If you have children, I will need a copy of the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet. You can obtain a copy of 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 within a few days or hiring me.

Q: What is a parenting plan?

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

Q: Who benefits from a parenting plan?

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

But, parents also benefit. The plan addresses legal custody, physical custody, visitation, child support and childcare, 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 who are divorcing should have a parenting plan.

Negotiating the plan prior to the filing of separation or divorce can be helpful 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 uncontested divorce – less costly – less stress.

Parents who already have a plan in place may see the need for changes to their 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 related to 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 of experience as a family law 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 the divorce process, contact a Rhode Island divorce lawyer who can provide you with advice and answers to your questions.