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The purpose of car insurance is to provide a way for accident victims to receive compensation for the injuries they sustain in a Rhode Island car accident. Indeed, without the existence of insurance, Rhode Island car accident victims would not be able to recover adequate compensation for their injuries unless the at-fault party happened to have sufficient assets to cover the expenses.

Despite the requirement that all drivers maintain insurance on their vehicles, the reality is that in many Rhode Island car accidents, the victim’s injuries far exceed the policy maximum of the at-fault driver’s insurance policy. In these situations, an accident victim can obtain underinsured/uninsured motorist (UIM) benefits under their own policy.

Under Rhode Island law, all insurance companies must offer UIM insurance when they write a policy. Additionally, all motorists must obtain a certain level of UIM insurance. Only in situations where a motorist obtains the minimum amount of liability insurance can they entirely waive UIM coverage.

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Few things are more exciting–and more stressful–than a first-time home purchase. For some, this process signifies the transition to adulthood and for others a fresh start. Any way you look at it, a Rhode Island first-time home purchase is an important decision, and one that will have lasting repercussions.

The home-buying process is not intuitive for many first-time home buyers. However, although the process is complex, it is governed by traditional principles of contract law. In fact, throughout the home-buying process, a buyer will typically sign several contracts, each playing an important role in the process. The peace of mind that an attorney can provide in the purchase of a Rhode Island home is invaluable.

A Rhode Island real estate transaction begins with an offer to purchase. Typically, an offer to purchase is drafted by a real estate broker, signed by the prospective buyers, and presented to the seller’s agent. Once the offer to purchase is in the hands of the seller, the seller has a certain amount of time to respond before the prospective buyer’s offer lapses. Often, the seller will return with a counteroffer.

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It’s that time of year – the time for beautiful weddings, fun receptions, delicious cakes, special gifts, and romantic honeymoons.  While this is a joyous time for everyone, it’s also time for you and your new spouse to plan for your future – for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health.

Why Newlyweds Need to Plan Their Estates

Why should newlyweds care about estate planning?  Because everyone – young or old, married or single – needs to protect themselves and those they love.

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Estate planning is not a topic that anyone wants to have with their loved ones; however, it is extremely important to a family’s financial future and should not be avoided or delayed. While the broader topic of estate planning gets complex fairly quickly, the basics of Rhode Island estate planning law are straightforward.

When someone dies, their property goes through what is called the probate process. During the probate process, a person’s assets are all gathered together and placed into an estate. From the estate, taxes are paid, and the deceased’s debts and other liabilities are settled. Whatever remains in the estate will be distributed according to the deceased’s will. In the event the deceased does not have a will, then their property will be distributed according to the Rhode Island intestate laws.

A will distributes the property of the deceased according to their wishes. However, including property in a will does not avoid the probate process, which can be both costly and lengthy. Although not necessary in every case, some individuals may benefit from creating a Rhode Island trust before their death.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Rhode Island family court case discussing whether the plaintiff grandmother could obtain visitation rights to see her grandchildren. Ultimately, the court concluded that the children’s father was a fit parent and that the plaintiff failed to overcome the presumption that a fit parent’s decisions are reasonable. Thus, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s petition for visitation.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff’s daughter was married to the defendant. The couple had two children. The couple eventually filed for divorce, but while the divorce was pending the plaintiff was shot and killed by law enforcement in a bank robbery.

Initially, the plaintiff maintained a good relationship with the defendant, taking his side over her daughters in the divorce. After the plaintiff’s daughter died, the plaintiff helped the defendant with child-care, because the plaintiff worked. However, the defendant noticed that after visits with the plaintiff, his children would come back with bags under their eyes, diarrhea, and symptoms of being sick. The children eventually started to exhibit behavioral problems at school, most notably after visits with the plaintiff.

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A premarital agreement, also called a prenuptial agreement, is an agreement between prospective spouses regarding the disposition of the couple’s assets in the event that the marriage ends. A premarital agreement applies not only upon divorce, but also upon the death of one of the spouses.

Prospective spouses may enter into a premarital agreement for any number of reasons, most of which are valid. Rhode Island law provides for certain default rules to be applied in the event of death or divorce, and these rules may not work for all couples. Thus, couples can clarify their intent to have a different set of rules apply in their marriage by creating a premarital agreement. Most often, Rhode Island prenuptial agreements are designed to provide the parties financial clarity.

The Enforceability of Prenuptial Agreements

As a general rule, validly created Rhode Island premarital agreements are considered binding against the parties. In Rhode Island, courts look to the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act when determining whether an agreement is valid. Notably, Rhode Island courts place a heavy burden on the party seeking to invalidate the agreement.

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Although Rhode Island does not allow for annulments, practically speaking, a Rhode Island marriage can be declared “void” by the court. This carries the same effect as an annulment, meaning that it is as though there was no marriage in the first place. Thus, while Rhode Island technically does not provide for annulments, that is merely a function of the language lawmakers chose.

Divorce Versus Annulment

Divorce and annulment are very different things. In a Rhode Island divorce, the parties are ending what is agreed to have been a valid marriage. However, an annulment is a legal proceeding in which a marriage is declared void. After a successful annulment, legally speaking, it is as though the marriage never took place.

Under What Circumstances Can a Marriage Be Declared Void

There are only a few limited circumstances in which a Rhode Island marriage can be declared void. Under Rhode Island General Laws § 15-1-5, both bigamous marriages and those involving a person who is mentally incompetent at the time of the marriage are absolutely void. A bigamous marriage is one in which one of the parties involved is still currently married to another person or “a relationship that provides substantially the same rights, benefits and responsibilities as a marriage whether entered into in this state or another state or jurisdiction.”

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While many issues must be resolved when spouses separate, child custody matters are frequently the most hotly contested issues in a Rhode Island divorce. The term “child custody” refers to two separate types of custody, physical and legal. Physical custody refers to the parent with whom the child will live while legal custody refers to the parents’ ability to make important life decisions for their children.

Each state has its own laws regulating how judges resolve child custody issues. In Rhode Island, courts use the “best interest” standard, which focuses primarily on what is in the best interest of the child. Of course, this may not necessarily be in line with the expressed interests of the child, especially if they are young. Interestingly, Rhode Island lawmakers never defined what factors courts should consider when deciding what is in the best interest of a child. Thus, in the 1990 case, Pettinato v. Pettinato, the Rhode Island Supreme Court listed several factors that should be considered. Since then, these factors have been termed the “Pettinato factors.” Therefore, when deciding what is in the best interest of a child, courts must consider each of the following:

  • The wishes of the child’s parents;
  • The preference of the child, if the child is “of sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a preference”;
  • The child’s relationship with her parents, siblings, or anyone else who may impact the best interest of the child;
  • The child’s adjustment to her home, school, and community;
  • The physical and mental health of the child as well as the parents;
  • The stability of the child’s home environment;
  • The moral fitness of each of the child’s parents; and
  • The willingness of each parent to foster a meaningful relationship with the other parent.

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Being involved in a domestic violence situation is a horrifying experience affecting tens of thousands of people across Rhode Island each year. Victims of Rhode Island domestic abuse may be able to prevent their harasser or abuser from contacting them by obtaining a Rhode Island protective order. A protective order prohibits the person named in the order from engaging in any form of contact with the person who obtains the order, including contact through social media.

Contrary to what many believe, being the victim of domestic violence does not necessarily mean someone has been physically assaulted. Under Rhode Island General Laws section 15-15-1, domestic abuse is defined as certain acts between “present or former family members, parents, stepparents, or persons who are or have been in a substantive dating” relationship. Specifically, domestic violence consists of any of the following:

  • Attempting to cause or causing physical harm;
  • Placing another in fear of imminent serious physical harm;
  • Causing another to engage involuntarily in sexual relations by force, threat of force, or duress; or
  • Stalking or cyberstalking.

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The term easement frequently comes up in Rhode Island property law cases. In the most general terms, an easement is a legal term referring to a non-owner’s right to use another’s property, usually for a specific purpose. For example, a property owner who owns land that is near the beach may have an easement over another property owner’s land to gain access to a beach. This is called a beach access easement.

There are many facets of Rhode Island easement law; however, it is beneficial to first understand the two types of easements: easements appurtenant and easements in gross. An easement appurtenant is tied to a particular parcel of land and remains with the land through changes in ownership. An easement in gross, on the other hand, is assigned to a particular person, business, or entity, and cannot be sold, transferred, or given away.

An easement can come into existence in several ways. Some easements are created based on an agreement between parties, whereas others are issued by courts as a result of a Rhode Island property dispute. A few common types of Rhode Island easement definitions will be discussed below.

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