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September 2011

A RI Divorce Question from an Angry Rhode Islander

[To the Rhode Island Divorce and Family Law Community Who Read My Postings:  I apologize if my postings have been few and perhaps a bit less coherent lately.  My wife has gone through some significant trauma due to complications following surgery and I am taking time to care for.  She, of course, is my first priority.  I have no intention of needing a divorce lawyer myself.]

An angry Rhode Islander called me.  I also had the same conversation with an angry Rhode Island attorney who handles quite a few Rhode Island divorces each year so I thought I'd share the caller's question which was more of an ethical question than a legal one.

The caller had hired an attorney to file for divorce against her husband. The attorney apparently filed the paperwork and then served the woman's husband.  Then the woman was told by her lawyer that he received a notice from the family court changing the woman's Nominal Divorce date.  The woman got a bill from her attorney shortly after that.  She was very upset to find two charges for serving her husband and obtaining papers from the family court for service of process on her bill.  The woman indicated she called her attorney and told him about the mistake but he told her it wasn't a mistake.  The attorney explained that he was sorry about the charges but he was forced to get the second set of papers and to serve them again and that he had to do so because the court notice changed the court date.

The woman said her attorney tried to explain to her why he had to do what he did. Then something dawned on her and she asked her attorney if she was going to be billed for the time it took to explain this to her.  The attorney told her that he would see what he could do for her on the amount of time for the call but that he had to bill her something because he was having take time explaining a legal principle when she should just trust him.  The woman hung up on her attorney.

Now this woman called me while she was still very angry about what was going on with her divorce. Basically she wanted to know if her attorney was cheating her because he was double billing her. She didn't think she should have to pay for serving her husband twice.  

My response?  

I told the woman that based upon what she had told me I didn't think her divorce attorney was cheating her or double billing her.  The woman was very quiet and then said "You're all the same" and hung up.  

I wonder how many lawyers the woman called that day with the same question.

A Rhode Island attorney brought up the same issue but in a different context.  He was angry because he had several cases in which the same notices had been received.  The attorney was struggling this year but he was afraid to lose the clients he ate the time and paid the constable for the second service out of his own pocket so he wouldn't lose those clients.  For the attorney, he was ticked off because he felt he had to lose the time and money to keep his law practice going.  The attorney didn't believe the Court should have just unilaterally cancelled his client's Nominal dates without even checking with him to see if service had already been made.

The Rhode Island Attorney's anger and the anger of the woman are both understandable.  Sadly, they were both caught in something they couldn't control.  Once the court sent the Notice on each case, if service of process had already been made on the other spouse, then attorneys and pro se plaintiff's needed to get new papers certified by the court with the new date on them and serve the spouse again.  If they didn't do that, Due Process would not be completed and it's likely that the Court would not let the plaintiff go forward if the defendant spouse doesn't show up on the newly noticed court date.

Sadly there isn't a fund set up by the Family Court or by the State of Rhode Island for claims to be processed for the cost of the additional service plaintiff's are required to pay for on their spouse.  

Even if only 200 cases were rescheduled at an average of only $50 for service of process then the reschedulings cost the notified plaintiffs potentially $10,000 without even considering the amount attorneys' fees involved.

Yesterday another person contacted me to say it had happened twice. The person was going to have to pay the service fee 3 times in total now.

I'm not sure why this happened, why it had to happen, or if there might have been a better way to handle the rescheduling so people wouldn't be out so much time and money by placing them in this legal predictament.  

If anyone has any idea as to why this happened or any other details, or simply wants to anonymously or publicly make a comment, feel free to.  I've had several calls on this subject by people who essential want answers but I just don't have them.  

My only answer is merely to wonder if there might have been a better way to do this to prevent losses to Plaintiff's and Rhode Island lawyers in these particular divorce cases.