Why doesn’t R.I. Family Court follow its own orders?

The Administrative Orders are in plain view, on the Rhode Island Family Court website: numbers 2000–03 and 2000–04.

They are clear: Any parents filing for divorce in Providence or Bristol counties must watch an educational video at Family Court (at no cost) in order for their case to proceed.

Nothing on the website indicates that either order has been nullified.

And yet, when you talk to Family Court staff, you’re told that the video — of a kind explaining the effects of divorce on children and how parents can cooperate for their children’s benefit — hasn’t been shown “in years.”

Ask for the video’s title, or what company produced it.

Ask if it’s on VHS or DVD.

Ask if there’s a log noting when it was last shown. (The Administrative Orders require it to be shown daily.)

You get the same answers: I don’t know, I’m not sure.

There is also no accounting for how many divorcing parents over the years — a hundred? a thousand? — have gone through Rhode Island Family Court without having seen this video or even knowing that Administrative Orders 2000–03 and 2000–04 exist.

Virtually every U.S. state, on either the state or county level, requires divorcing parents to complete a program addressing the effects of divorce on children.

Rhode Island general law has no such requirement. All we appear to have are Administrative Orders that aren’t being followed.

Why?

Family Court staff assured me the video is “outdated” (while admitting they’ve never watched it). Times have changed, I was told. These orders were a long time ago, I was told. The fact that these orders are still on the Family Court website might be an “oversight.”

Maybe it is.

And maybe it’s not.

Family Court Chief Justice Jeremiah S. Jeremiah, Jr. signed these orders in August 2000. His retirement in 2010 may have occasioned a shift in thinking: that it’s perhaps inconvenient to delay every divorce action until both parties watch a 50-minute video. Perhaps confidence in the video’s efficacy was low. Perhaps no one updated a VHS tape to DVD.

One is told at Family Court is that it’s up to the judge’s discretion to require divorcing parents to watch the video — but that’s not what Orders 2000–03 and 2000–04 say. Per those orders, watching the video is mandatory.

The larger point is this: a video or an online module is scarcely sufficient to help parents and children manage the difficult transition of divorce.

In Miami-Dade county, Florida, and in more than a dozen other U.S. cities, children ages 6–17 whose parents are divorcing are required by law to take a class — The Sandcastles Program™ — to help them cope with divorce.

Rhode Island has no such laws, no such programs.

What is our excuse?

When divorcing parents fail to co-parent and cooperate, their children are at risk for anxiety, depression, impaired academic performance, and even substance abuse and self-harm.

If, in the short term, replacing the Family Court video with a more current DVD — say, one that Massachusetts or Connecticut uses — would cost $100 or $150? Let me know, and I’ll pay for it. Just enforce Administrative Orders 2000–03 and 2000–04.

And if Rhode Island Family Court wishes to vacate those orders, then do it.

Either way, let us get serious about helping children and families of divorce in our state.


If you live in Rhode Island and want to help…

  1. Contact your representative in the State Legislature and tell them what you think our state should be doing, to help children and families of divorce.
  2. Leverage social media to create awareness around helping children and families of divorce, especially concerning parental alienation.
  3. Contact Rhode Island’s governor to say Rhode Island should officially recognize April 25 as National Parental Alienation Awareness Day.