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Rhode Island Court Applies Connecticut Law in Divorce Ruling

As divorces and custody claims have become more complicated and contentious in recent years, sometimes the laws of multiple states must be addressed in evaluating the parties’ claims. Generally, the law of the state where an action is properly filed will determine how a judge addresses each party’s claims. Sometimes, when a proceeding is ongoing, one state court may be required to apply the laws of another state in evaluating a claim. The Rhode Island Supreme Court recently accepted a lower court’s application of Connecticut law when determining the propriety of an attorneys’ fees award issued during a divorce claim.

The parties in the recently decided case had been married for over 10 years when their relationship became unsustainable, and they separated. Although the parties’ primary residence was in Rhode Island, the wife took the children to Connecticut to live with family upon separation and had them enrolled in school there. In response to the move, the husband requested an emergency custody hearing in Connecticut. During that hearing, the pirates managed to reach a settlement agreement (known as a postnuptial agreement, or PNA), to effectuate their divorce, child custody, and financial matters. Part of the settlement agreement included a provision that requires anyone who unsuccessfully challenged the agreement to pay the other party’s attorney fees.

After the parties’ disputes worsened, the husband brought an action for divorce in Rhode Island court, where he had been living at the time. The husband challenged the enforcement of the postnuptial agreement. The husband’s challenge of the agreement failed, and the Rhode Island court applied the terms of the PNA, ordering him to pay his ex’s reasonable attorneys’ fees for his unsuccessful challenge of the PNA.

The husband appealed the ruling to the Rhode Island Supreme Court, arguing that the lower court incorrectly applied Connecticut law and misconstrued the attorneys’ fee provision when awarding fees to his ex. The husband’s primary contention was that the lower court paid her fees for the entire case and not only for the amount incurred in attempting to enforce the PNA. The high court rejected the husband’s arguments, ruling that the total amount of fees had not yet been determined (and was therefore not ripe for a challenge) but that the fee award, in general, was valid and enforceable and that the lower family court must hold hearings and take evidence to determine what the proper fee award will be. As a result of this ruling, the husband will be forced to pay some of his ex’s attorney’s fees, although the amount is yet to be determined.

If you or a loved one is anticipating filing for divorce in Rhode Island, it is crucial to determine what other states may have some jurisdiction over your case. In some cases, one or more states could be the venue for a case, and whoever files first often gets to set the venue. If you and your ex or children live in different states, the choice of venue can have significant implications. The experienced Rhode Island real estate attorneys with Bilodeau Capalbo, LLP understand how complex and challenging divorces can be. With our representation, you can be confident that your case is being properly pursued in a venue that is favorable to you. If you have questions about a Rhode Island family law issue, we’re here to help. Call us at 401-300-4055 for a free consultation.

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