Before signing any binding agreement, it’s wise to have a lawyer review all contract provisions to avoid the potential for oversights.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)
Asset and Debt Division
- ADR Available: Yes
- Fault or No Fault: Both
- Parenting Plan Required: Yes
- Property Distribution: Equitable
Grounds For Divorce
In Connecticut, couples can file for either fault or no-fault divorce. In a no-fault proceeding, a couple can assert there was an “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage. For a fault divorce, specific grounds need to exist and be proven to the court. It is more common in Connecticut for couples to take the route of a no-fault divorce because the process doesn’t require proving a partner was responsible for the demise of the relationship.
Some of the grounds in a fault divorce include:
- Willful desertion for at least one year
- Habitual drunkenness
- Imprisonment, at least one year or a life sentence
- Confinement in a mental hospital for five consecutive years
- Cruel and abusive treatment
On the complaint for divorce, the person that files the paperwork is called the plaintiff, while the other spouse is named the defendant. The plaintiff has to state the reason for the divorce on the document and ensure the defendant is served with the summons.
Residency Requirements And Divorce Waiting Period
In order to be given a divorce or a legal separation in Connecticut, one of the parties must have resided in the state for at least a year prior to filing. Couples that end a marriage in Connecticut are subject to a 90-day “cooling off,” or waiting period from the time the complaint is pending with the court to the time a decree is granted.
Depending on the circumstances and the family involved, other options may be explored as an alternative to divorce. Spouses may file for an annulment under specific grounds or seek a legal separation.
An annulment essentially treats the union as though it never legally occurred. There are instances when a marriage is considered “void” from the beginning, such as a union with someone already legally married. There are other grounds to nullify a marriage by proving in court that a spouse was:
- Mentally incompetent
- Forced to marry or defrauded
- Physically deficient
- Closely related to the other party
- Under the age of 16 and without judicial approval
Obtaining an annulment is often a complex undertaking. The resources of a lawyer can be invaluable because the court requires substantial proof for the eligible reasons to annul a marriage.
For couples in crisis, pursuing a legal separation may be a viable option. When spouses legally separate, issues such as child custody and property division are addressed. Unlike a divorce, the marriage is not dissolved in a legal separation. Although every situation is different, some parties opt for a legal separation for financial, religious or personal reasons.
In some cases, legally separating can give parties time to reconcile the marriage and for other spouses this action may be a trial run to divorce. In Connecticut, couples must meet the residency requirement of 12 months in order to seek a legal separation.
Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) has several different formats, including mediation, arbitration, negotiation and collaborative practice. The goal in all types is to avoid a trial. ADR is an effective way for many couples to resolve the issues of a divorce and reach appropriate settlements. A neutral third party, often a lawyer or judge, will help parties by offering a wide range of possible solutions to meet intended objectives.
Child Custody Determinations
The courts in Connecticut award joint custody in the majority of divorce cases. If there is a deviation and sole custody is awarded, this gives only one parent certain rights over the children. Each type of custody can be physical, legal or both. When legal custody is awarded, one parent has the right to make decisions on medical care and educational needs, among other life issues for the children. Physical custody refers to where the children reside.
A family judge will assess certain factors to determine custody, such as:
- The needs of the child
- Each parent’s ability to encourage a relationship with the other caregiver
- The preferences of the children
- The mental and physical health of each parent
- The quality of the relationship between child and each parent
A court may limit or deny custody or visitation privileges when the welfare of the children is in jeopardy. Unsafe or unhealthy situations may result from a parent’s illegal drug use, physical abuse, neglect and habitual drunkenness.
The custody types, whether sole or joint, determine how often a parent will see the children. If a parent receives sole physical custody, the other parent may have visitation. Visitation usually works on a regular schedule that accommodates the enables children to see both parents. It’s beneficial to have a visitation schedule that is consistent in order to give children more stability.
The type of schedule that is chosen will vary based on the parents involved and the work schedules of each caregiver. Other factors that contribute to the coordination of a visitation schedule include child preferences and weekly activities of the minors.
The courts in Connecticut determine all custody arrangements based upon what is in the best interests of the children. Grandparents do not have automatic rights over their grandchildren unless there is a court order for custody or visitation. In order for grandparents to obtain visitation time, it is necessary to show the court that denying the relationship will cause the children real and significant harm.
The courts in Connecticut calculate child support by using a basic formula. Specific factors are considered and used to determine the appropriate financial support each parent is responsible for. Some of the factors a judge will assess in child support decisions are:
- The net monthly income of each parent
- The amount of parenting time that has been granted to each spouse
- The number of children in the household
- The cost of health coverage for the children
Child support determinations are different in every case. The court will review other factors, such as child support paid for dependents from other marriages and additional expenses concerning the children.
Child Support Enforcement
There are many potential consequences for a parent that is ordered to pay child support and neglects to fulfill this obligation. Once a ruling has been made official in a divorce, a nonpayer is subject to:
- Applying a levy against a bank account
- Suspending a driver’s license
- Revoking a professional license
- Increasing income withholdings
- Intercepting tax returns
- Placing a lien on real estate
- Seizing personal property
In Connecticut, if a parent owes at least $500 in back support, the Bureau of Child Support Enforcement (BCSE) can place a lien on property. The BCSE will also report individuals to various credit agencies for being behind on child support by at least $1,000 and a driver’s license can be suspended after 90 days of failure to pay.
Determining the paternity of children is an important action, especially as it directly affects child support. In order for a father to be involved in the lives of his children, or for child support to be collected, paternity must be established. Once paternity is known, a father can benefit his children by offering valuable medical information from his side of the family. A father can also offer support by including children on life insurance and medical policies.
Allocating assets and debt in a divorce can be contentious. In the state of Connecticut, equitable property distribution laws dictate how items will be allocated in a divorce. Unlike other equitable distribution states, any property can be allocated in Connecticut, regardless of title of ownership. Even a gift or an inheritance can be considered marital property and dispersed.
Some of the points the court will use to assess property division include:
- The length of the marriage
- The cause of the divorce
- The age and health of the parties
- The financial needs of each party
If an inheritance hasn’t been received by a party, it is not considered an asset that can be divided. The court perceives this asset as an assumption rather than a guarantee.
Division Of Property
The court will award property and debt with the intent of making a fair and reasonable settlement for each party. Some of the ways in which Connecticut equitable property distribution laws differ than in other states include:
- Distribution is not limited to property held jointly.
- Property acquired before or after the marriage and after a separation of the parties can be subject to division.
- The way in which the asset was acquired is not a factor and can be allocated.
The cause of the breakdown of the marriage is often considered by the courts in Connecticut when allocating property.
Alimony is financial assistance made to a spouse when the marriage ends. This arrangement can be temporary or permanent. In a divorce, when a couple has gotten used to a particular quality of life, one spouse may be at a financial disadvantage when the union ends. The court can award alimony to a party that earns less or will have a hard time sustaining financial independence after the divorce.
In Connecticut, there is no standard formula for calculating or awarding alimony. This means that the court has discretion over whether alimony is granted and the amount that is awarded.
Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements
Prenuptial and postnuptial agreements are contracts both parties sign to safeguard the individual assets of each partner. The main difference between each type is that the prenuptial, or premarital agreement, is drafted before the marriage vows, while the postnuptial contract is constructed after the union is legal. Some of the issues a prenuptial and postnuptial agreement may cover include the following:
- The use and ownership of joint credit, savings and checking accounts
- Whether alimony will be awarded in the event of divorce
- Tax return filing and benefits
- Ownership of business ventures
- Entitlement to an inheritance or gift
It is only natural for life to change in the months and years following a divorce. When a major event like a job loss or relocation occurs, it is common that previously agreed upon divorce contracts must be amended. When financial circumstances significantly change, alterations to child support and alimony obligations may be required.
In the case of modifying child custody the court will want to see evidence that this change will be in the best interests of the children. For example, a parent will have to prove that moving the child out of state because of a job promotion is a sound choice and that the decision isn’t being explored out of spite toward the other caregiver.