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What’s the Difference in Rhode Island Between Legal Separation and Divorce?

In a divorce there are generally four major categories of things to deal with, namely (1) child issues, (2) equitable distribution issues (assigning assets and debt), (3) spousal support (alimony) issues, and (4) "temporary" issues while the divorce is pending, such as who can live where, who can use the car, who pays the bills.

In a divorce from bed and board, aka legal separation, the Rhode Island courts can only deal with three of these issues, namely (1) child issues, such as custody, possession, child support, etc., (2) alimony, and (3) "temporary issues."

So the first major difference is that the courts will not assign assets and debt between the parties. If one party wins the lottery, it's still a marital asset. If a party racks up debt, it's still marital debt.

The next major difference, which is obvious, is that with a legal separation, you are still married. The theory is that parties may need room to breath and figure out if there can be any solutions to the problems in the marriage. For this reason, the courts will not penalize a party who is legally separated for things that usually get punished if such behavior occurs after the separation. This would include issues surrounding abandonment, affairs, or the like. This limbo last until the parties either reconcile and dismiss the separation case or decide to move on with a full divorce.

The process for a legal separation is essentially the same as a divorce, with the same timetable as a divorce, however, in the end, you merely receive an order granting the divorce from bed and board, as opposed to a final decree of divorce.


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In Rhode Island, no-fault grounds include irreconcilable differences and living separately for at least three years. Fault grounds include impotency, infidelity, cruelty, desertion of either partner for at least five years, or shorter at the court's discretion, alcohol or drug abuse, husband's refusal to provide support for his wife for at least one year, or any other conduct seen as a violation of the marriage covenant, such as abuse.
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