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Rhode Island Court Records

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The Difference Between a Divorce and an Annulment in Rhode Island

Divorce and annulment are the two ways to end a marriage contract in Rhode Island. The state’s family law vests the Rhode Island Judiciary with the power to make a decree regarding either of these actions. And per the state’s sunshine laws, court officials must present requesters with the publicly available court records unless a court order or statute forbids public disclosure.

What is a Rhode Island Divorce Decree?

A divorce decree is a document stating that a court order has dissolved marriage and restored the parties to single status. In Rhode Island, the divorce decree is of two parts. First, the court issues a divorce decree from bed and board, which leaves a window for reconciliation. Then, the court issues a divorce decree from the bonds of matrimony, which effectively makes the parties single again. Note that the issuance of the divorce decree from bed and board is discretionary and based on the judge’s evaluation of the petition (R. I. Gen. Laws. § 15–5–9)..

The records contained in documents related to family court include both marriage and divorce records. Both types of records contain information that is considered very personal to the parties involved, and it is recommended that those parties maintain these records with care to make changes in the future. The personal nature of these records results in both being considerably more difficult to find and obtain when compared to other types of public records. In many cases, these records are not available through either government sources or third party public record websites.

What is an Annulment in Rhode Island?

Suffice to say that an annulment declares an illegal marriage null and void. Per R. I. Gen. Laws. § 15–1, these include the following marriages:

  • Marriage between kindred (R. I. Gen. Laws. § 15–1–2);
  • Incestuous marriages (R. I. Gen. Laws. § 15–1–3);
  • Bigamous marriages void (R. I. Gen. Laws. § 15–1–5);
  • Marriage of mentally incompetent persons (R. I. Gen. Laws. § 15–1–5);
  • Marriage of underage persons; and,
  • A marriage where consent is obtained by fraud, force, or under duress

Court records created and filed during an annulment or a divorce are generally available to public requesters unless a statute or court order sequesters it from the public domain.

Annulment vs. Divorce in Rhode Island

Divorce and annulment both free spouses from the bonds of matrimony, but both legal actions are unique. The court requirements for annulment are different from divorce, and so are the legal effects. Furthermore, the state deems marriage to be legal and valid pending the issuance of a divorce decree. Conversely, a marriage that is subject to an annulment is both invalid and void ab initio.

Similarly, the intending divorcee may file the petition at any time convenient so far as either spouse meets state residency requirements. However, annulment actions have a statutory window that depends on how long the petitioner has been aware of the invalidity. Thus, living amicably with a spouse following the knowledge of voidness or voidability is subject to legal scrutiny.  

Is an Annulment Cheaper Than Divorce in Rhode Island?

No, but it depends on the kind of divorce. An uncontested divorce is cheaper than an annulment for several reasons. Asides from the filing fees, and paying attorney fees, the petitioner seeking an annulment must also submit medico legal evidence to support the claim. This evidence is often the result of costly scientific investigations, which increases the cost of annulling considerably. In some cases, the petitioner may also need to hire a private investigator who conducts background checks, finds witnesses, and traces genealogy.

What is an Uncontested Divorce in Rhode Island?

Suffice to say that it is a way to avoid protracted litigation, save legal expenses, and receive a divorce decree quickly. The uncontested divorce is one where the petitioner and the respondent agree on the grounds of divorce, i.e., irremediable breakdown of the marriage (R. I. Gen. Laws § 15–5–3.1).. There is no accusation of misconduct, and the parties have prepared an equitable divorce agreement on matters like the division of financial assets and debt, spousal support, child support, and custody. The forms and documents filed in an uncontested divorce are different contested divorces.

Where to Get an Uncontested Divorce Form in Rhode Island

Uncontested divorce forms are available at the family court in the county of residence of either spouse. Make a request at the office of the clerk and follow the official instructions. Likewise, the petitioner may find divorce forms online. Use the official instructions for finalizing a divorce in Rhode Island. Before filing the divorce forms, however, either spouse must meet the Rhode Island residency requirement of one (1) year (R. I. Gen. Laws. § 15–5–12)..

At the end of the case, court records created and filed during a divorce action are available for public perusal. Interested requesters may visit the family court (see contact information) or use the public access portal. Nevertheless, the court restricts documents that contain information that is potentially injurious to the divorcees or minors involved.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching for records simpler, as geographic locations do not limit their activities. Thus, the search engines on third-party sites may help when starting a search for specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or persons involved in the case. These include information such as the city, county, or state of residence or accusation.

Third-party sites are independent of government sources and are not government-sponsored. Consequently, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

How Do I Get a Copy of my Divorce Decree in Rhode Island?

Concerned requesters may get copies of divorce decrees at the office of the clerk of family court. The court only receives and processes requests during office hours and the requester provide enough information to assist the administrative staff in a record search. Requesters may also mail the request to the address of the court listed on this webpage or send an email to virtualfamilyclerk@courts.ri.gov.

Regardless of the means of request, the concerned party will need to provide payment, a photo I. D. for verification, and a description of the divorce decree sought, i.e., case number, the names of divorcees, and the date of the divorce decree.

Divorce and marriage records may be available through government sources and organizations, though their availability is not guaranteed. Similarly, their availability through third-party websites and companies is not guaranteed, as these organizations are not government-sponsored, and record availability may vary. Finally, marriage and divorce records are considered extremely private due to the information they contain and are often sealed. Bearing these factors in mind, record availability for these types of records is not guaranteed.

How Do I Get a Rhode Island Divorce Decree Online?

At present, the judiciary does not process online service requests for copies of divorce decrees. Ergo, the concerned requester must visit the family court to get the divorce decree.

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