Rhode Island Separation Agreement Law

Divorce – Separation Agreements – Rhode Island

Note: This summary is not intended to be an all inclusive discussion of the law of separation agreements in Rhode Island, but does include basic and other provisions.

General Summary: Separation and Property Agreements may be entered into before a divorce is filed to be effective immediately. When the Agreement is approved by the court and “incorporated” but not merged into the agreement, it retains its status as an independent contract between the parties.

An incorporated but not merged agreement retains its independent contract status and may be enforced as a contract. The Court then lacks the power to amend the agreement without the agreement of the parties.

Statutes:

Rhode Island General Laws
Title 15 Domestic Relations
CHAPTER 15-5 Divorce and Separation

Assignment of property:

(a) In addition to or in lieu of an order to pay spousal support made pursuant to a complaint for divorce, the court may assign to either the husband or wife a portion of the estate of the other. In determining the nature and value of the property, if any, to be assigned, the court after hearing the witnesses, if any, of each party shall consider the following:

(1) The length of the marriage;
(2) The conduct of the parties during the marriage;
(3) The contribution of each of the parties during the marriage in the acquisition, preservation, or appreciation in value of their respective estates;
(4) The contribution and services of either party as a homemaker;
(5) The health and age of the parties;
(6) The amount and sources of income of each of the parties;
(7) The occupation and employability of each of the parties;
(8) The opportunity of each party for future acquisition of capital assets and income;
(9) The contribution by one party to the education, training, licensure, business, or increased earning power of the other;
(10) The need of the custodial parent to occupy or own the marital residence and to use or own its household effects, taking into account the best interests of the children of the marriage;
(11) Either party’s wasteful dissipation of assets or any transfer or encumbrance of assets made in contemplation of divorce without fair consideration; and
(12) Any factor which the court shall expressly find to be just and proper.

(b) The court may not assign property or an interest in the property held in the name of one of the parties if the property was held by the party prior to the marriage, but may assign income which has been derived from the property during the term of the marriage, and the court may assign the appreciation of value from the date of the marriage of property or an interest in it which was held in the name of one party prior to the marriage which increased in value as a result of the efforts of either spouse during the marriage. The court also shall not assign property or an interest in the property which has been transferred to one of the parties by inheritance before, during, or after the term of the marriage. The court shall not assign property or an interest in the property which has been transferred to one of the parties by gift from a third party before, during, or after the term of the marriage.

(c) The assignment of property, if any, to be made shall precede the award of alimony, since the needs of each party will be affected by the assignment of property, and once made in a final decree shall be final, subject only to any right of appeal which the parties may have. Any assignment made by the family court shall be regarded as a judgment for debt that suit may be brought or execution may issue on the debt for the property due and undelivered, or the amount due and unpaid to be shown by affidavits of the person entitled to the property and the attorney of record of the person, the executions to run against the goods and chattels of the husband and wife, as the case may be; and the court may make all necessary orders and decrees concerning the suits or executions. §15-5-16.1

Child support:

(a) In a proceeding for divorce, divorce from bed and board, a miscellaneous petition without the filing of divorce proceedings, or child support, the court shall order either or both parents owing a duty of support to a child to pay an amount based upon a formula and guidelines adopted by an administrative order of the family court. If, after calculating support based upon court established formula and guidelines, the court, in its discretion, finds the order would be inequitable to the child or either parent, the court shall make findings of fact and shall order either or both parents owing a duty of support to pay an amount reasonable or necessary for the child’s support after considering all relevant factors including, but not limited to:

(1) The financial resources of the child;
(2) The financial resources of the custodial parent;
(3) The standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the marriage not been dissolved;
(4) The physical and emotional condition of the child and his or her educational needs; and
(5) The financial resources and needs of the non-custodial parent.

(b) The court may, if in its discretion it deems it necessary or advisable, order child support and education costs for children attending high school at the time of their eighteenth (18th) birthday and for ninety (90) days after graduation, but in no case beyond their nineteenth (19th) birthday. In addition, the court may order child support to continue, in the case of a child with a severe physical or mental impairment, until the twenty-first (21st) birthday of the child.

(c) The court may, if in its discretion it deems it necessary or advisable, appoint an attorney or a guardian ad litem to represent the interest of a minor or dependent child with respect to his or her support, custody, and visitation. The court shall enter an order for costs, fees, and disbursements in favor of the child’s attorney. The order shall be made against either or both parents. After a decree for support has been entered, the court may from time to time upon the petition of either party, review and alter its decree relative to the amount of support and the payment of it, and may make any decree relative to support which it might have made in the original suit. The decree may be made retroactive in the court’s discretion only to the date that notice of a petition to modify was given to the adverse party if the court finds that a substantial change in circumstances has occurred; provided, the court sets forth in its decision the specific findings of fact which show a substantial change in circumstances and upon which findings of facts the court has decided to make the decree retroactive.

(d)

(1) In a proceeding to enforce a child support order, or a spousal support order for a custodial parent having custody of a minor child, the court or its magistrate may assign to the obligee any tangible personal property of the obligor that will be sufficient to satisfy the child or spousal support arrearage owed. The court or its magistrate, after a hearing, shall establish the amount of the child or spousal support arrearage, and the nature and value of the tangible personal property. To effect the assignment, the court or its magistrate may order the obligor to execute and deliver the documents of title which may be necessary to complete the transfer of title to the property, and may order the obligor to deliver possession of the property to the obligee. Whenever the obligor fails to comply with the order assigning the property, the order of assignment shall be regarded as a judgment vesting title to the property in the obligor as fully and completely as if the obligor had executed and delivered the documents of title.

(2) Any order for child support issued by the family court shall contain a provision requiring either or both parents owing a duty of support to a child to obtain health insurance coverage for the child when coverage is available to the parent or parents through their employment without cost or at a reasonable cost. Any existing child support orders may be modified in accordance with this subsection unless the court makes specific written findings of fact that take into consideration the best interests of the child and conclude that a child support order would be unjust or inappropriate in a particular case.

(e) In a proceeding to establish support, the court in its discretion may, after opportunity for hearing, issue a temporary order for child support payable into the registry of the court and to be held pending entry of judgment. In the event of a final adjudication requiring no payment or payments in an amount less than those payments which have been made pursuant to a temporary order under this section, the defendant shall be entitled to a refund of all or a portion of the amounts so paid.

(f) In any proceeding to establish support, or in any case in which an obligor owes past due support, for a child or children receiving public assistance pursuant to chapter 5.1 of title 40, the court or its magistrate, upon a finding that an able bodied absent parent is unemployed, underemployed or otherwise lacks sufficient income or resources from which to make payment of support equal to the public assistance payment for the child or children, or is unable to pay the arrearages in accordance with a payment plan, may order that parent to perform unpaid community service for at least twenty (20) hours per week through community service placements arranged and supervised by the department of human services and/or the division of taxation within the department of administration. The performance of community service shall not be a basis for retroactive suspension of arrears due and owing.

(g)

(2) In any proceeding to establish support for a minor child whose adjudicated parent is a minor (minor-parent), the court or its magistrate may order a grandparent of the minor child to reimburse the department of human services in an amount not to exceed the total amount of cash assistance benefits paid to or for the minor child pursuant to chapter 5.1 of title 40 until the minor-parent reaches the age of eighteen (18), less any payment made to the department by the minor parent.

(2) It is declared that the obligation of reimbursement for the minor child shall be the joint and several responsibility of the minor parent and the grandparent(s) until the minor parent reaches the age of eighteen (18) and provided, that each joint obligor shall have a right of contribution against each joint obligor, which

(h)

(1) All support orders established or modified in the state on or after October 1, 1998, shall be recorded with the Rhode Island family court/department of administration, division of taxation child support computer enforcement system which maintains the official registry of support orders entered from then on in accordance with applicable administrative orders issued by the Rhode Island family court. The support order shall be recorded whether or not services are being provided under the IV-D state plan.

(2) Each party to a paternity or child support proceeding shall be required to file with the family court, upon the entry of the order, the appropriate form as provided by family court, which includes the full name of the parties, residential and mailing address, telephone number, drivers license number, social security number and the name, address and telephone number of the employer. The form shall also include the full order amount and date and amount of arrearages if any, the name of the child(ren), their date of birth, address and social security number and any other information as required by administrative order.

(3) Thereafter, each party is required to file an amended form whenever any of the information contained on the original form has been changed in any way, within ten (10) days of the change. The information shall be entered in the child support enforcement computer system within five (5) business days of receipt of the amended form.

(i) In any subsequent child support enforcement action between the parties, upon sufficient showing that diligent effort has been made to ascertain the location of a party, the court may deem state due process requirements for notice and service of process to be met with respect to the party, upon service by first class mail or, where appropriate, by service as specified in the Rhode Island rules of procedure for domestic relations for the Family Court of Rhode Island, of written notice to the most recent residential or employer address of record. §15-5-16.2

Case Law:

Both the divorce decree and the agreement specifically stated that the agreement was to be incorporated but not merged into the divorce decree. As such the agreement survived as an independent, enforceable contract between the two parties. Riffenburg v. Riffenburg, 585 A.2d 627 (R.I. 1991).

Riffenburg v. Riffenburg, 585 A.2d 627 (R.I. 1991), is controlling in the instant case. In Riffenburg, we held that the Family Court has no authority to modify a separation agreement which has been incorporated by reference but not merged into a final divorce judgment.

When a term of a property settlement agreement is ambiguous and may be construed in different ways this court has held that it will adopt that construction which is most equitable and which will not give to one party an unconscionable advantage over another. Flynn v. Flynn, 615 A.2d 119, 122 (R.I. 1992).

The Rhode Island courts adhered to the well-settled principle that modification of contracts can only be accomplished by the contracting parties. We further held that the judiciary has no authority to modify alimony in a nonmerged separation agreement. Flynn v. Flynn, 615 A.2d 119, 122 (R.I. 1992).


Inside Rhode Island Separation Agreement Law