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Rhode Island Divorce Dispute Centering on Property & One Old but Not Forgotten State Law


August 2, 2007 — We've all probably read about or heard of some argument used in a divorce case that sounded absolutely crazy, and the following example would certainly seem to fit that mold. A Rhode Island man is claiming that he can fire his wife's Rhode Island divorce lawyer and sign her name on a contract to sell the couple's house during their divorce.

What may sound ludicrous to you and me doesn't quite seem so to Daniel R. Chaput of Pawtucket. Chaput has cited a little-known section in the state law by the name of "Married Woman's Rights" as the basis of his argument. Specifically, a Projo.com story detailed how this Rhode Island law states that a "wife may act as the attorney and/or agent of her husband" and vice versa.

Chaput has thus argued that this state law gives him the power to fire his wife Denise's divorce lawyer. A Family Court magistrate disagreed and rejected Daniel Chaput's attempt to have Rhode Island divorce attorney Albert J. Mainelli fired in June. As for selling the house, that's where this strange Rhode Island divorce gets even more complicated.

The story revealed that a family court judge had originally appointed a lawyer during the Chaput's Rhode Island divorce to act as a commissioner to sell the couple's house. However, after that judge rejected two letters of intent and offers to purchase the home, Daniel Chaput used the old state law to sell the home to Steel House International Trust.

Specifically, Chaput signed both his and his wife's name to a contract agreeing to sell the house to Steel Horse International Trust for $225,000. A lawyer for the Tennessee-based trust has filed a federal lawsuit claiming that the trust has a valid contract to the home and that it is thus relying on enforcement of the state law.

Daniel Chaput and Steel House International Trust have even gone as far to champion their cause in this divorce case by issuing a press release with a headline claiming that this "Rhode Island decision may affect Divorce and Family Court Nationwide."

And how does Denise Chaput and her Rhode Island divorce lawyer feel about this whole spectacle? They are obviously not pleased. Mainelli was quoted in the story as saying that the law allows a woman to grant her husband this power when she so chooses to do so. The divorce lawyer then pointed out that Denise Chaput does not want her husband to represent here and opinioned that the idea that a husband could act without this authority made no sense.

Steel Horse's lawyer and Daniel Chaput naturally disagree with Mainelli's interpretation of the "Married Woman's Rights" section of Rhode Island state law. Lawyer Damon M. D'Ambrosio elaborated that the section of the law says that the wife or husband "may act" as the attorney and/or agent for the other without specifying who makes that determination.

Daniel Chaput, who is course representing himself in his Rhode Island divorce case, agreed and said in the story that the state law "recognizes two as one." When thus asked if his wife could serve as his divorce lawyer and sign for him, Chaput said that she could.

While arguing two separate things, both D'Ambrosio and Mainelli agreed that they have not seen any other case in which such an argument has been made. It's certainly one of the more unusual arguments to find its way here to Total Divorce.

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