Equitable division of assets in a Rhode Island divorce is a 3 step process

The law which pertains to equitable distribution of marital assets and debts in Rhode Island is SECTION 15-5-16.1  The RI Supreme Court has stated many times that a marriage is an economic partnership. Rhode Island has equitable distribution of marital assets. Equitable does not necessarily mean equal!  Nonetheless, in the vast majority of Rhode Island divorces, marital assets are divided equally either via settlement or decision after a divorce trial. Non-economic contributions to the marriage are also very important under Rhode Island law.

Judges have wide discretion dividing marital assets

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Every justice of the Rhode Island Family Court has a different world view, different history and different perspective. This means that some judges place more weight on certain factors than other judges. Judges and General Magistrates have wide discretion in equitable dividing marital assets in RI. The Rhode Island Supreme Court can only overturn a judge’s use of discretion if the Justice abused his or her discretion

An experience Rhode Island divorce attorney will likely have vast experience with the judge who will be deciding a divorce. A husband and wife would be well advised to retain an experienced RI divorce lawyer

For an in depth explanation of what  exactly constitutes marital assets in Rhode Island, please visit: What Constitutes Marital Property in Rhode Island (RI) subject to the equitable distribution statute in a divorce?

Court must equitable divide marital assets

In Stanzler v Stanzler, The Rhode Island Supreme Court stated, “It is well established that the intent of property division is to provide a fair and just assignment of the marital assets, D’Agostino v. D’Agostino, 463 A.2d 200, 203 (R.I. 1983), on the basis of the joint contribution of the spouses to the marital enterprise. Wordell v. Wordell, 470 A.2d 665, 667 (R.I. 1984). Property division, however, does not require an equal division of the property, Casey v. Casey, 494 A.2d 80, 82-83 (R.I. 1985), and is subject to the concept that nonmonetary, as well as monetary, contributions may enhance the marital partnership. Wordell, 470 A.2d at 667.” Milton STANZLER v. Phyllis STANZLER. 560 A.2d 342 (1989) No. 88-459-A. Supreme Court of Rhode Island June 21, 1989. 343*343 Milton Stanzler, Cerilli, McGuirl, Hustwit & Bicki, William J. McGair, Providence, for plaintiff. Dewitt T. Kersh, Jr., Tillinghast, Collins & Graham, Providence, for defendant.

Equitable division of assets, a three step process

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The Court must first determine what is a marital asset and which assets are not marital assets. After making a determination of what constitutes a marital asset under Rhode Island law, the Rhode Island Family Court justice must consider the factors enumerated in RI law SECTION 15-5-16.1 . The Providence Family Court Justice or General Magistrate must, as the third step, divide the marital assets.

It is important to realize, that a vast majority or Rhode Island divorce causes of action settle prior to a trial starting. Of the cases in which a divorce trial begins with testimony, a vast majority of those cases settle before a Judge of the Rhode Island Family Court issues a decision.

Identifying marital assets in RI

“Identifying which assets are included in the overall marital pot is a crucial first step in the distribution process.   See Vanni, 535 A.2d at 1270.  “We have previously stated that a trial justice in undertaking to distribute marital assets must initially separate nonmarital assets from the marital assets in accordance with § 15-5-16.1.” DiOrio v. DiOrio, 751 A.2d 747, 751 (R.I.2000) (quoting Gervais, 688 A.2d at 1305).   Under § 15-5-16.1(a), the Family Court is granted broad discretionary authority to “assign to either the husband or wife a portion of the estate of the other.”  Supreme Court of Rhode Island. Rosemarie RUFFEL v. Lance RUFFEL. No. 2004-6-Appeal. Decided: June 28, 2006 Present:  WILLIAMS, C.J., GOLDBERG, FLAHERTY, SUTTELL, and ROBINSON, JJ. Lauren E. Jones, Esq., Providence, for Plaintiff. Robert S. Parker, Esq., Providence, for Defendant.

§ 15-5-16.1 Assignment of property.

Rhode Island law 15-5-16.1 sets forth 12 factors that a Rhode Island Family Court Justice “shall consider” in equitable assigning the assets of the marital partnership. The twelfth factor is possibly the most interesting because it includes a catchall. Does this catchall eviscerate the other 11 factors meaning the judge can just do whatever the judge believes is fair?

“(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.” SECTION 15-5-16.1

A Providence Family Court Justice’s decision can only be overturned by RI Supreme Court based on an “abuse of discretion”

“In dividing property, a trial justice must decide which assets are marital property, consider the contribution of each party, and then distribute the property. Lancellotti v. Lancellotti, 481 A.2d 7, 10 (R.I. 1984). Finally we note that a trial justice’s assignment of property will not be overturned unless it constitutes an abuse of discretion. Centazzo v. Centazzo, 509 A.2d 995, 997 (R.I. 1986)Stanzler v Stanzler

 

 

 

 

 

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