Does it matter who files first in your Rhode Island divorce? It might. There may be some advantages to being the first to file for divorce in Rhode Island.
Sometimes people want to be first out of an emotional need to not be perceived as the “victim.” However, basing decisions on emotion in a divorce proceeding is rarely a good idea. Whether or not to file first should be a strategic decision made in consultation with your attorney.
While every situation is different, you should consider the following advantages to filing first in your Rhode Island divorce.
Preparing for Your Rhode Island Divorce
In a worst case scenario, some people are blind-sided by their spouse filing for divorce. Not getting caught by surprise is one advantage of filing first.
If you know that a divorce is in your future, it is best to start preparing as soon as possible. Start interviewing lawyers and, if necessary, hire a financial expert that can testify on your behalf in court.
If you file for divorce, you are the plaintiff (or petitioner) in your divorce proceedings. Your spouse is the defendant (or respondent). By filing first, you have the advantage of getting all your ducks in a row before you file. The defendant, on the other hand, has 30 days to respond to the “complaint.”
Amicable divorces are about as common as a blue moon. Most divorces are “messy” with legal battles over child custody, spousal support, and division of community property.
Don’t be caught unprepared if you can help it. Assemble your “team” and start strategizing early.
Make Sure You Have Critical Legal and Financial Records
When you file first, you can ensure you have access to, or copies, of all your important legal and financial records. Vital records include bank and brokerage statements, tax returns, insurance policies, pension documents, or documentation concerning anything else that may be considered an asset.
Gathering these records is important when you suspect your spouse will be non-cooperative in assembling this information. Make copies of every document and make sure to store them in a safe place where you spouse can’t get to them.
Prevent Your Spouse From Hiding Assets
One advantage to filing first is to prevent your spouse from engaging in attempts to hide assets.
Every divorce must address the distribution of property. When a divorce is acrimonious, as divorces often are, a spouse might try to hide assets so as to keep them from being recognized as community property.
Concealing assets is never a good idea and, depending on the circumstances, may put the offending party in legal jeopardy. But it has been known to happen.
Filing first is the safest way to ensure that your spouse cannot play games with your assets.
Choosing the State of Jurisdiction
If a couple maintains residency in more than one state, you may have the option of selecting the state in which to file. Typically, the state of jurisdiction for the divorce proceedings is the state where the filing of the divorce complaint occurs.
State laws vary when it comes to community property, alimony, child custody, and visitation. Considering which state to file in will depend on your particular circumstances, the states involved, and their divorce laws.
For example, Rhode Island uses an “equitable distribution” method to divide marital property.
Avoiding Dirty Tricks
The more you mistrust your soon-to-be-ex-spouse, the more you will want to be first to file.
An unsuspecting spouse may find themselves the target of all kinds of dirty tricks during a divorce.
One dirty trick that you may be familiar with is lawyer shopping.
Some devious spouses have been known to consult with every lawyer in town before filing for divorce. By relaying confidential information to an attorney during a consultation, an individual can create an attorney-client privilege, regardless of whether the person ultimately retains the lawyer. The effect is known as “conflicting out” and is used to create a potential conflict of interest and remove that attorney from the pool of potential lawyers a spouse can hire.
“Conflicting Out” is a dirty trick, but quite common in divorce law.