- Family Law
- Dispute Resolution
Although it is generally best to reach an agreement with your spouse about your divorce, it is unwise to accept a poor outcome simply to avoid conflict. When deciding how to proceed with your divorce, it’s important to get reliable advice from an experienced attorney who can understand your situation and help you reach your goals.
A divorce complaint (petition) can be filed in Connecticut at any time after either spouse establishes residency in Connecticut. However, a divorce can only be granted if one of the following residency requirements is met:
NOTE: Members of the armed forces are considered residents of Connecticut for the length of his/her service if he/she/they were a resident of Connecticut when they enlisted in the military.
Yes. In most cases at least one spouse must have been lived in Connecticut for the past 12 months before the court can grant a divorce (called a "Dissolution of Marriage" in Connecticut). The 12 months requirement can be measured as of the date the plaintiff-spouse files their complaint OR as of the date the court enters a final decree.
There are a few exceptions to this general rule. For example, if a spouse was domiciled in Connecticut at the time of the marriage, left Connecticut AND the returned to Connecticut with the intent to live there permanently before filing for divorce. In that case, the 12 month requirement would not apply.
"Grounds" are legally acceptable reasons for a divorce.
In Connecticut, there are two types of "grounds" available for a divorce petition:
FAULT-BASED Divorce grounds include:
When filing a Fault-based divorce complaint in Connecticut, a plaintiff must prove (with specific evidence) that the other spouse's misconduct was what caused the relationship to fail.
Fault-based divorce tends to be the "road less taken" because Fault-based divorce typically trigger additional hostility, unnecessarily highlights emotional issues, and can drive-up attorneys' fees as a result of the additional conflict that is introduced into the process.
Notwithstanding, the State of Connecticut permits Family Law Judges to factor the causes of divorce when awarding Alimony and dividing marital property/assets.
Yes, the State of Connecticut allows for a divorce complaint to be file on "No-Fault" grounds.
A No-Fault divorce requires only one party to claim that their marriage is "broken down irretrievably."
It is important to note that a petition filed on "No fault" grounds does NOT preclude a Family Court from factoring into their decisions that one spouse is the reason why the marriage broken down.
Specifically, Connecticut divorce statutes explicitly permit a judge to factor the causes of the divorce into their decisions when dividing marital property and/or awarding alimony (C.G.S. - §§ 46b-81 (c) and 46b-82 (a).) Conversely, it does not mean that Family Judges will indeed factor the causes a marriage breaks down into their decisions, just that they have the discretion to do so. As always, it depends on the particular circumstances of each case.
NO FAULT Divorce grounds include:
Connecticut Family Courts and most couples opt to file for divorce with "No-Fault" grounds - where neither spouse is blaming the other for the dissolution. Generally speaking, this simplifies the process and minimizes potential emotional conflicts.
In the State of Connecticut, "Legal Separation" and "Annulment" are legal alternatives to a Divorce.
Legal Separation involves a scenario where a couple wants to live apart, but doesn't want to formally (legally) end their marriage. A clear example of this involves religious couples where their religious beliefs disallow Divorce.
For more information about Legal Separation reference our Practice area page on this subject Legal Separation in Connecticut and Attorney Alexander Cuda's Blog What is Legal Separation and When is it the best approach?
Annulment - Annulments and divorces are similar in the sense that they make a determination about marital status. The key difference between an divorce and an annulment is that a divorce dissolves an existing, valid legal marriage whereas an annulment simply involves a determination that the marriage was invalid and never actually a marriage at all. So, in the eyes of the Connecticut law, an annulment would determine that marriage never really existed.
In Connecticut, the grounds on which one can file a Complaint for Annulment so as to declare your marriage void include:
A Complaint for Annulment must filed in the Connecticut Superior Court in order to obtain a declaration/Court Order that a marriage is invalid or annulled,
The required elements for a Complaint for Annulment include:
The defendant can file an answer after being properly "served" with a Complaint for Annulment. Defendant's answer may admit or deny any or all allegations in the complaint. The answer should also include Defendant's claims for relief and/or a Cross-Complaint requesting a Marriage Dissolution (a.k.a. divorce), Legal Separation, or Annulment.
Both parties are required to appear in Family Court. Plaintiff's must meet the "burden of proof" that the marriage should be annulled or invalidated by offering "clear and convincing evidence." The State of Connecticut holds a high bar for Annulment because, in general, Connecticut statutes broadly assume that all marriages are legal and valid.
If you pursue an Annulment, it is always best to seek the advice of an experienced family lawyer and there are many related complexities (e.g. custodial, child support, potential alimony claims, and property/asset division.)
If you are successful and receive a Court Ordered Annulment, your marriage will be deemed invalid from the moment you married, as opposed to the date of the court order. You status as a single person is immediately restored and you can marry again.
Legal separation is a remedy for married couples who no longer want to live together but do not want a final divorce. The effect of a legal separation is essentially the same as a divorce except that neither party is free to remarry. Reasons for seeking a legal separation include:
Once you have a legal separation, you can obtain a final divorce more easily and quickly. If instead you reconcile with your spouse, you do not need to remarry in order to have a legally married status, as your marital status never changed.
Just as with a divorce, the legal separation process begins by one spouse filing a complaint with the court. The complaint may assert the same grounds for separation as would be used for divorce, including the “no fault” basis that the marriage is irretrievably broken down without hope of reconciliation.
While fault may also be asserted as a basis for the legal separation, it is extraordinarily rare since it is sufficient, for purposes of being able to obtain the separation, just to allege irretrievable breakdown. However, the cause of the breakdown of the marriage may still be relevant as a factor affecting alimony and distribution of property awards.
In most ways, the process and outcome of a legal separation are similar to that of a divorce, with the distinction being that at final judgment the parties to a legal separation are still legally married, and cannot remarry. The complaint must be served on the other spouse, who then has the opportunity to file an answer and cross complaint. The resolution of the case is likely to proceed generally in the same manner as a divorce, and may be resolved via a negotiated settlement or trial. A legal separation may also be converted, under certain circumstances, to a divorce.
As with a divorce, a legal separation decree should cover such issues as:
Automatic Orders are restraining orders that go into effect automatically at the beginning of a Marriage Dissolution case when a Complaint is validly served and filed with Family Court along with a Summons and Notice of Automatic Court Orders.
Automatic Orders are intended to maintain the status quo and to prevent either spouse from taking actions that would materially affect: the value, title and ownership of marital property/assets; the physical custody, day-to-day parenting, and best interest of the children; an important "family" decision without the other spouse's consent. Restricted actions include: spending a large amount of money; changing life or medical insurance beneficiaries; mortgaging or selling a home; locking the other spouse out of the family residence; or taking children out of the state, etc.
The Family Court can modify (change) and clarify Automatic Orders and issue new temporary orders as appropriate each case when a Motion to Modify is filed by either party.
Generally, all parties seeking a Connecticut Divorce must ordinarily wait at least ninety (90) days to get a divorce in Connecticut (this is commonly known as the "Cooling Off Period," however, there are exceptions for Non-Adversarial Divorce, Divorce with Agreement, and other specific circumstances where this requirement can be waived. See link to Non-Adversarial Divorce Flow Chart and other Waiver Exceptions.
A Non-Adversarial Divorce can be filed and heard in thirty-five (35) days or less without having to appear in Court on the divorce date, however, there specific requirements/conditions that must be met (which are very narrow) :
1. Married 8 years or less
2. Neither spouse is pregnant
3. No children
4. No interest or title in real property
5. Property owned is less than $35,000
6. No defined benefit pension plan
7. No pending bankruptcy proceedings
8. No other divorce action pending
9. No restraining or protective orders
between you and your spouse
It is also possible to obtain a divorce prior to the ninety (90) day waiting period through Divorce by Agreement Waive 90.
High Net Worth Divorce and Contested Divorces
Notwithstanding the above, most cases that we see in lower Fairfield County are significantly more complicated wherein one spouse contests/disputes one or more required elements of a Divorce Agreement (e.g. Alimony, Custody, Property/Asset Division) -- this is particularly true with respect to the high-net-worth cases in which we specialize.
In simple terms (and on the rational side of the fence), there tends to be more financially at stake with respect to marital property in Fairfield County (e.g. complex financial assets, multiple homes/title to and appraisals of real estate, and valuation equity interests family and private business and the related liquidity,and family trusts/inheritances/transfer of generational wealth) wherein a great many divorcing parties often have difficulty resolving the related disputes due to their complexities and the need to involve a team professionals (e.g. lawyers, valuation experts, accountants, tax specialists, appraisers, etc) . The path to resolution, settlement, and formal agreement on marital property and alimony is not always a straight line (e.g. the need to involve of experts and expert testimony; alternative dispute resolution methods like represented mediation or arbitration to move past the sticking points, etc.)
Prior to COVID-19, market guidance regarding the length of time to resolve Divorce action with some level complexity was (6) months to eighteen (18) months -- back when the process of filing motions, scheduling appearances, case management dates/scheduling, and the ability to appear before a family law judge flowed in their normal course.
Post Covid-19 ongoing state and federal government restrictions it is not unreasonable to offer "market" timeline guidance of one (1) to (2) years. Post Covid-19, Family Court processes and procedures have been modified (a range Superior Court hearings on matters are now handled virtually (via Microsoft Team Video); some types of agreements and motions can be procedurally moved forward "on the papers"; court scheduling (in-person) has been significantly restricted and prioritized around emergency motions (e.g. domestic violence, child abuse, etc.); and case management timetables are much longer). Notwithstanding the many efforts to adapt to ensure safe operation, the Connecticut Family Court system is faced with a major backlog with some trial/hearings extending out (1) year or more.
Contested Child Custody Divorce Cases - In our divorce and family law practice, contested child custody cases are both the most difficult thing we do and also the most rewarding. Practically speaking, Contested Child Custody Cases typically take longer to resolve, are inherently more complicated, and come with an emotional "wild card." "How Child Custody issues can or will extend the timeline of your case?" -- always boils down to you and your spouse -- and whether reaching agreement through negotiation is possible OR if the use/leverage of Litigation (going to trial), Represented Mediation, or Arbitration will be required.
Contested Divorce involving Mental Illness, Substance Abuse, Domestic Violence, Personality Disorders (Narcissistic Personality Disorder), Gaslighting, Parental Alienation, Privacy and Safety Concerns, Motions for Contempt, Arrests and Criminal Charges - Simply put, these types of cases are "wild cards" when it comes to offering accurate guidance with respect to a resolution timeline. The only reasonable guidance to be offered is that these cases take longer and depend on the behaviors, actions, decisions and compromises in which you and your spouse can engage in and/or are capable of given the unique mental/personal health/safety issues and circumstances associated with your case. These cases are extremely difficult and less likely to be resolved through negotiation and agreement (without court or third party intervention) because they involve uncontrollable behavior, emotional/irrational decision making, unrealistic expectations, and the potential of physical harm and personal safety. More often than not, these types of cases will involve ex parte restraining orders, a wide range of emergency motions and enforcement actions; Court ordered custody evaluations; Court appointed Guardian Ad Litem ("GAL') or Attorney for the Minor Child ("AMC"); Individual and family therapy (both voluntary and court ordered); Police involvement, police reports, and occasional arrests and criminal court cases; and Private, specialty, and forensic investigators/experts.
Hourly rates for Divorce and Family Law Attorneys in Connecticut range from $300 to $1,000/hour.
In Fairfield County, CT the range is more accurately described between $500 to $1,000/hour (and generally what will be required by attorneys in offices located in town like Greenwich, New Canaan, or Westport)
Most Divorce and Family Law Attorneys work on a Retainer Basis (meaning they require you to prepay your legal fees and hold them in Trust until the fees are earned). It is rare that a Divorce Attorney will work without a Retainer on account. Your Divorce Attorney is required to engage you with a Retainer Agreement that documents the scope of the representation in your case and the basis or rate of fee and expenses for which the client will be responsible (e.g. billing policy; hourly rates; collection of third party administrative disbursements like filing fees, service of complaints; transcripts; Expert fees and Retainers; a termination clause, and dispute resolution process, etc.) [C.S.G. Annotated Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 1.5]
Initial Retainers in divorce cases range from $5,000 to $100,000 (the higher end of this range applying to high-net-worth cases (with complex property/asset division), contested child custody, child relocation, and generally if your case is not expected to settle and/or will be heavily litigated and/or move into trial preparation.
In Fairfield County, it is common for a Divorce and Family Law Firm to require Initial Retainers between $25,000 and $75,000 before entering and beginning work on a case (a.k.a. entering an appearance and filing/responding to a Divorce Complaint).Iota
Most Divorce and Family Law Attorneys in Fairfield County do not offer Free Initial Consultations. That said, there are some exceptions.
Attorneys are required to hold your Retainer Funds in a Trust Account (also called an IOLTA Account). As work related to your case commences and is performed, your law firm will issue bills (typically monthly) and apply monies held in the IOLTA Trust against the ending balance of reflected in your bill. Attorneys and paralegal professions bill on an hourly basis (usually measured in 15 minute/.25 hour increments).
Once your IOLTA Retainer Balance is depleted and drops below the floor amount reflected in your retainer agreement, you will be required to replenish fund up to a defined threshold (also reflected in your Retainer Agreement). At the end of your case, any balances held in your IOLTA Trust Account will be returned to you.
In Connecticut divorce cases, each spouse is responsible for their legal and court costs. In some cases, a judge can order one spouse to pay for both partners legal and court fees.
Prospective clients who schedule and complete a Paid Consultation get the same advice and service we provide to established clients, even though a formal Client Relationship has not been established. You will have uninterrupted time with an experienced Divorce and Family Law Attorney to ask questions and explore your options/strategy.
Anything you say,convey, and/or communicate to us is subject to the protection of Attorney-Client Privilege -- as that relationship is established by the payment for service.
Our Initial Consultations are scheduled and blocked out for an hour. Some run longer, but we never rush you.
We review your options and explain the potential costs to determine the most cost-effective method to handle you divorce.
It is not unusual for us to advise a client during an initial consultation that our services are actually not needed. We regularly offer alternatives that benefit only you (and not us), such as referring you or helping you behind the scenes in a mediation.
In a divorce, your children, marital assets, and future are on the line. You want a lawyer who understands the complexity and nuances of your finances and assets. If an attorney is doing free work, they do not understand money. If they can’t budget for themselves, they certainly cannot advocate on your behalf for an equal/fair division of assets. Be wary of “cheap” lawyers who will accept $2,500 or 5,000 for your case when your case is replete with complex issues.
Initial retainers do not fund your entire case, and many times, these lawyers enter a case as a "loss leader" with no long-term commitment to you. It is important to note, that the limited involvement of this kind of attorney can harm you in the long run. If you pay a cheap roofer to for a “cheap patch job”, and your roof will collapse in the next rainstorm. When you finally pay a professional roofer, they will charge you more than they would have originally charged you, just to undo the damage from a cheap patch job. You get what you pay for.
Most all of the lawyers who offer “Free consults” are not giving you “legal advice.” There is no such thing as a free lunch, and there are no free consultations in divorce.
Giving legal advice jeopardizes the lawyer, potentially risking themselves of malpractice claims by creating a factual circumstance wherein an attorney-client relationship could be asserted or claimed down the road. A good, successful lawyer at the top of their game does not expose themselves to liability by giving random legal advice for free.
Those attorneys that offer Free Consultations simply use them to engage in hard sales tactics and to sell you on their services. This is a waste of both of your time.
All of our clients who schedule a Paid Consultation after having “Free Consults” elsewhere have said, “You really do get what you pay for out there.” In our experience, a thorough initial consultation lasts at least 1 hour. If a firm or lawyer is willing to commit several hours delivering “free legal advice”, they must be lacking clients or experience.
Remember, a lawyer’s time is his stock. Reputable, experienced divorce lawyers at the top of their game charge market rates for their time in return for valuable knowledge and expertise. And, there is a comfort in knowing that you are getting what you paid for.
When facing the prospect of divorce, it is critical to choose the right process to efficiently resolve your open marital disputes, craft an enforceable agreement that meets Connecticut's statutory requirements (known as a Divorce Agreement, Divorce Decree, or Separation Agreement), and complete formal process/procedure required by the Connecticut Superior Court Family Division -- so that your divorce agreement is properly filed with court, certified by the court/family law judge, and entered as a final and valid divorce order.
The complexity and size of your marital property, the relationship and trust level that you have and can maintain during the process with your soon to be ex-spouse, the length of of your marriage, the needs and best interest of your children, and the stability and/or alignment of your parenting views and expectations with your co-parent are some of the most important factors in determining that Mediation is right for you and is able to deliver on its "promise."
On the surface, the most common considerations on which people initially focus include: maintaining privacy, controlling the costs, and minimizing the incredible stress of the process. In this context, "Are you going to Mediate?" has evolved as the default reaction and "Go To Question" confronting people facing Divorce -- therefore representing the so-called amicable path and positive solution.
By contrast, the perceived opposite of Mediation is the so-called conventional "Divorce" -- where the idea of "hiring a good Divorce Lawyer" seems to be associated with maximum conflict, costly litigation, and the next "War of the Roses."
Both of these perceptions are superficial stereotypes deeply rooted in pop culture. They reflect a very shallow understanding what Mediation "is" and "isn't"; un-informed ideas of how the Mediation process works, and whether your individual interests are reasonably "protected" by the process; and "if" the specific, tangible benefits offered by Mediation are reasonable to expect given your unique situation. As with most things, “the devil is always in the details.”
The truth is that every case is not a good candidate for Mediation, there are a great many technical nuances and protections (legal and statutory) that should be considered before committing to a path of Divorce Mediation. It should also be noted that there are a wide variety of Divorce Mediation models available to you...it's not a "one-size-fits-all" thing and it is nuanced. It is also important to note in answering this question that most Divorce and Family Law Attorneys are well equipped and make every attempt to (first) work through issues amicably and craft divorce agreements with an informed, negotiation between both parties without litigation. So therefore, the negative stereotypes: Mediation is good AND Divorce Attorney is bad are both ill-deserved and quite often inaccurate.
The basic difference (Mediation vs. Divorce) is that in a Mediation the spouses engage a third party to help them work through their issues. That third party does not represent either spouses individual, best interests. A Mediator's prime directive/obligation is to bring both parties to settlement -- which, in the context of Divorce Mediation can come at the expense of the individual best interests of one or both of the parties. In a conventional divorce, both parties engage lawyers who are responsible for protecting the individual, best interest of their respective client.
A closer look at Mediation reveals important risk factors to Mediation participants that should be fully considered and clearly understood versus the protections and benefits that a conventional divorce offers when individually represented by n experienced divorce lawyer. See Advantages/Disadvantages of Mediation before foregoing a traditional path for divorce (that starts with the Filing of a Divorce Complaint in the Connecticut Superior Court Family Division) or a hybrid litigation/mediation divorce process. See Divorce Mediation FAQs
Connecticut is an Equitable Distribution state. This means that all marital assets are divided in a fair and equitable way. To be clear, it does not mean that they are always divided equally on a 50/50 basis.
Connecticut Family Law Judges have broad discretion in determining how assets/property is divided in a Connecticut Divorce. The decision to take your case to trial (Family Court) always carries risk as things may not work out or align with your expectations, including the disposition and division of Premarital Property. It is always advisable to make every attempt possible to settle your property/asset division disputes by agreement of the parties.
Separate property is awarded only to the spouse who owns it and will not be a factor in dividing assets.
One of the most common questions asked by men and women who are contemplating a divorce is “how will my spouse’s cheating on me” impact the case.
The short answer is that generally and in a vast majority of cases it does not. Although Divorce Complaints can, in fact, be filed in Connecticut on Fault-based or No-Fault grounds. Most divorces are filed on No-Fault grounds - where neither spouse is blaming the other for the dissolution. Generally speaking, this simplifies the process and minimizes potential emotional conflicts. Further, plaintiff -spouses do not have to prove (with specific evidence) that the other spouse's misconduct was what caused the relationship to fail in their divorce action.
It is important to note that a petition filed on "No fault" grounds does NOT necessarily preclude a Family Court from factoring into their decisions that one spouse is the reason why the marriage broken down.
Specifically, Connecticut divorce statutes explicitly permit a judge to factor the causes of the divorce (a.k.a. fault) into their decisions when dividing marital property and/or awarding alimony (C.G.S. - §§ 46b-81 (c) and 46b-82 (a).) Conversely, it does not mean that Family Judges will indeed factor the causes a marriage breaks down into their decisions, just that they have the discretion to do so.
As always, it depends on the particular circumstances of each case. An example where infidelity could be a factor might in a judge's decision to divide assets and/or set alimony in Connecticut is an instance where a husband defendant supported a girlfriend or formed a de-facto second family and systematically siphoned off/diluted marital assets/income over time.
Historically speaking, adultery was a serious allegation, and fault for a divorce played a role in the awarding of support or alimony and who received what assets of the marital estate. Nowadays, in most states the existence of adultery doesn’t really impact divorces cases at all. Family Judges do not measure/meter out moral authority or play the role condemning a cheater spouse. While they may feel sympathy for the cheated upon spouse, they are no suppose to let those feelings guide the resolution of a case.
Instead, Connecticut Courts look to focus and make a determination on the equities involved. They consider who contributed what to the family. They also consider how the result should get divided without considering “punishment” as a factor.
In Connecticut, cheating doesn’t really “matter” in the big picture – there are usually more compelling and substantive legal arguments on which to focus and make.