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New York versus Connecticut divorce

NY versus CT divorce: Residency requirements

Lower Fairfield County (aka “Connecticut’s Gold Coast”) sees its fair share of complicated, high-net-worth divorces, where it is not uncommon for couples hailing from towns like Greenwich, New Canaan and Westport to own multiple homes (i.e., an apartment in New York City or a beach house in The Hamptons).  In such cases, a couple’s lifestyle can put one foot in each jurisdiction, and if confronted with the possibility of divorce, it may be possible to file for divorce in either state.

Accordingly, a comparison of the applicable state laws for NY versus CT divorce (with respect to your individual fact pattern) can be very instructive.  Firms like Needle | Cuda: Divorce and Family Law that practice in both states can be particularly helpful in determining in which jurisdiction it is most advantageous in which to file and in developing the optimal litigation strategy.

So, whether you are moving to or from Connecticut and New York, or have formally separated and one of the parties is living in each state, thinking through jurisdictional nuances and in which state to file is essential.

Residency requirements for New York divorce (NY versus CT divorce)

In New York, a party must meet one of several different residency requirements to be eligible to file a divorce action in the New York courts:

  • The marriage broke down in New York and both parties were living in New York at the time the case is filed; or
  • Either party has been living in New York for a continuous period of two years before the case is filed; or
  • Either party has been living in New York for a period of one year before the case is filed and at least one of the following is true:
    • The parties were married in New York;
    • The parties lived in New York as a married couple at some point; or
    • The marriage broke down in New York.

Grounds for divorce – NY

Does NY require a period of separation before a divorce can be finalized?

 

Residency requirements for Connecticut divorce (NY versus CT divorce)

Connecticut also has a residency requirement, but it is much simpler than New York’s rules:  any person who is a resident of Connecticut may file a divorce case.  However, the Connecticut courts may only enter a final judgment dissolving the marriage after a party has been living in the state for twelve (12) months.  In a contested divorce case, this last requirement does not usually present a problem due to the length of time it takes to resolve such cases.  Alternatively, a divorce may be granted earlier than following one year of residency if the marriage broke down after a party moved to Connecticut, or if a party was a Connecticut resident at the time of the marriage and returned to Connecticut on a permanent basis.

Three (3) Types of divorce in CT

Is it possible to simultaneously meet the residency requirements to file for divorce in either Connecticut and New York?

Yes, some parties can meet the residency requirements in both states.  For example, if a couple is living in New York and, in the process of separating, one party moves to Connecticut, then either jurisdiction would be an appropriate location to file a divorce action.

 Six (6) Month Residency Requirements for Minor Children

For parties with minor children, there is an additional consideration.  Forty-nine U.S. states, including both New York and Connecticut, as well as a number of territories have adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, which is intended to avoid jurisdictional confusion and competing court orders on the issue of child custody.  While the law is fairly complex, for purposes of this article, the reader should know that a court in either New York or Connecticut will generally not have jurisdiction to make child custody orders until the children have resided in that state for a period of at least six months.

Understand your options (NY versus CT divorce)

If a party is eligible to file a divorce case in either Connecticut or New York, it will be important to understand the differences between the laws in both jurisdictions concerning issues relating to divorce.

Broadly, the laws are materially different with respect to the following financial issues:

  • Equitable distribution of marital property;
  • Spousal support (also known as alimony or maintenance), and,
  • Awards of legal fees.

There are also differences in the laws and the divorce process relating to child custody awards and child support matters.

 Consult an attorney or law firm with experience in both New York and Connecticut divorce

Most Fairfield County divorce and family law firms practice only in Connecticut.  Firms like Needle | Cuda: Divorce and Family Law that actively practice in both states offer a distinct advantage for those couples who can consider either jurisdiction.

Attorney Kevin C. Brown, an active litigator, practices at the Westport based law firm Needle| Cuda: Divorce and Family Law. Many of the cases Attorney Brown takes involve high income and high net worth divorces, complex business valuations, highly contested custody and international custody cases. He can be reached at 203-429-4151 or through the firm’s website, www.needlecuda.com.

Frequently Asked Questions and Answers – Procedures, Requirements, and General Information about Connecticut Divorce

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:

  1. Either spouse established and maintained residency in Connecticut for at least 12 months before:
    • the divorce was filed; or
    • the date of the divorce decree; (In other words, you can file for the divorce before 12 months of residency but the judge will not grant the final divorce until the 12 months of residency are completed);
  2. Either spouse was domiciled in Connecticut at the time of the marriage AND returned to Connecticut with the intent to live there permanently before filing for divorce.; or
  3. The grounds on which the divorce is being pursued occurred after you or your spouse moved into Connecticut.  Although this prong of the statute doesn’t mention anything about a 12 month residency requirement, a majority of judges still require completion of 12 months’ residency before granting a divorce.

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:

  • No-Fault; and
  • Fault

FAULT-BASED Divorce grounds include:

  • Adultery;
  • Fraudulent Contract (your spouse intentionally deceived you to enter into the marriage);
  • Willful Desertion (your spouse purposely deserted/abandoned you for one year);
  • Seven (7) years of Absence from the marriage without any communication or contact;
  • Drug and/or alcohol Addition;
  • Intolerable Cruelty;
  • Imprisonment (under certain circumstances/conditions) (e.g. your spouse committed a crime that is punishable by imprisonment of more than a year and involves a “violation of a conjugal duty,” which courts have interpreted to be crimes of a sexual nature;2 or
  • Mental Illness where your spouse is confined to a hospital, mental hospital, or other similar institution because of mental illness for at least five years within the six-year period before you file your divorce complaint.

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:

  • The marriage has broken down irretrievably (beyond repair with no chance of recovery);
  • Spouses have lived separately and apart due to incompatibility for a continuous period of eighteen (18) months prior to the "service" of the divorce complaint AND have no reasonable expectation for reconciliation.  (C.G.S. Section 46b-40 (c).)

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.

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.

The Cost of Divorce in Connecticut

Hourly Rates for Divorce and Family Law Attorneys in Connecticut and Fairfield County

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)

Retainer-based Relationship

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 for Divorce and Family Lawyers in Connecticut and Fairfield County

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

Initial Consultations

Most Divorce and Family Law Attorneys in Fairfield County do not offer Free Initial Consultations.  That said, there are some exceptions.

Monthly Billing

As work related to your case commences and is performed, your law firm will issue bills (typically on a monthly basis) and apply monies held in the IOLTA Trust (your retainer) against the balance forward reflected on your bill.  You will continue to receive bills and will receive a final bill at the conclusion of your case.

IOLTA Trust Accounts

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).

Retainer Replenishment

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.

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.

No, you (the parties) do not have to appear in Connecticut Court to get a Uncontested Divorce.

The State of Connecticut Judicial Branch recently announced that uncontested divorces will be permitted remotely, without the requirement of physical presence in court. This is significant given the current status of court closures because it means that if you have reached agreement with your spouse.

Until recently, physically appearing in family court before a judge was required to finalize a divorce and obtain a court ordered Divorce Decree.

As a result of government office shutdowns and disruptions due to COVID-19, the State of Connecticut Judicial Branch revised is procedure to allow "Final Judgments" and "Orders" as to Separation Agreements and other agreements related to Divorce and Family Law cases without requiring the parties (or their counsel) to appear in Court.

Accordingly, the following type of actions can be accepted and heard "on the papers":

  • Divorce or Legal Separation (Uncontested) -- including Uncontested Divorces filed online (see - What is the procedure (in Connecticut) for filing an Online, Uncontested Divorce?)
  • Custody / Visitation Agreements
  • Motion / Groups of Motions

Divorcing parties must be very careful when utilizing this process as there are specific documents that must be filed with the Court prior to the Court’s consideration of the Application for Approval without Appearance.  The Connecticut Judicial Branch has developed specific forms that must be utilized if an Agreement is to be approved without the presence of the parties. The type of form depends on the case or action to be disposed of and the Connecticut Judicial Branch has developed a website specifically outlining which forms are for which category of case.

See our May 5, 2002 Blog regarding this subject:  Family Court Orders accepted "On the Papers"

What is the procedure (in Connecticut) for filing an Online, Uncontested Divorce?

The Connecticut Judicial Branch has now made it possible to meet the legal requirements of an uncontested divorce online by requiring Affidavits to be filed (Affidavit in Support of Entry of Divorce Judgment, Plaintiff or Defendant) in lieu of in-person testimony, and a Request for Approval of Final Agreement Without Court Appearance.

To proceed with an uncontested divorce, a fully executed Separation Agreement and sworn Financial Affidavits (from both parties) must be e-filed with the court, and if applicable, the following:

  • Child Support Guidelines;
  • An Affidavit Concerning Children;
  • Advisement of Rights;

Until recently (prior to COVID-19), the parties and counsel were required to personally appear before a judge for an uncontested hearing for approval and entry of the Separation Agreement as final orders of the court.

Can I get a Divorce (Uncontested) in Connecticut without appearing in court?

Yes, it is possible to get a Connecticut Divorce (Uncontested) without appearing in family court.

The State of Connecticut Judicial Branch recently announced that uncontested divorces will be permitted remotely, without the requirement of physical presence in court. This is significant given the current status of court closures because it means that if you have reached agreement with your spouse.

Until recently, physically appearing in family court before a judge was required to finalize a divorce and obtain a court ordered Divorce Decree.

As a result of government office closures, courthouse shutdowns and limited operations schedule due to COVID-19, the State of Connecticut Judicial Branch revised is procedure to allow "Final Judgments" and "Orders" as to Separation Agreements and other agreements related to Divorce and Family Law cases without requiring the parties (or their counsel) to appear in Court.

Accordingly, the following type of actions can be accepted and heard "on the papers":

Divorce or Legal Separation (Uncontested) -- including Uncontested Divorces that are filed online --  (see: What is the procedure (in Connecticut) for filing an Online, Uncontested Divorce?)
Custody / Visitation Agreements
Motion / Groups of Motions

Divorcing parties must be very careful when utilizing this process as there are specific documents that must be filed with the Court prior to the Court’s consideration of the Application for Approval without Appearance.  The Connecticut Judicial Branch has developed specific forms that must be utilized if an Agreement is to be approved without the presence of the parties. The type of form depends on the case or action to be disposed of and the Connecticut Judicial Branch has developed a website specifically outlining which forms are for which category of case.

See our May 5, 2002 Blog regarding this subject:  Family Court Orders accepted "On the Papers"

In a Connecticut Divorce, all property is subject to division between the parties based on a concept called Equitable Distribution.

This means that BOTH premarital property AND all property/assets acquired and/or accumulated during the marriage is subject to division between the parties by the court in a fair and equitable way.  This does not mean that division of any specific property/asset will be equal or that the split should be 50/50.

Appreciation of all property/assets also factors and falls subject to equitable distribution.

Even if a property was owned by one spouse prior to marriage, the other spouse’s involvement in its management or preservation can influence how the asset is treated by a judge. Take, for example, a business solely owned by the husband prior to marriage. If the wife had expertise in marketing that she applied in helping the business grow, but she took no salary for her work, her labor may strengthen her claim to a share in the value of the business.

It is important to note that Connecticut Family Law Judges have very broad discretion in determining how assets/property are ultimately divided in a  Connecticut Divorce.

And so, any decision to take your case to trial (Family Court) always carries a significant risk--as a family judge's decision/orders may not specifically 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.

Although all property is subject to equitable distribution in Connecticut, there are proactive measures you can take to shield property you owned before you were married. These include executing a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement --therein designating certain assets as separate property that will be exempt from equitable distribution.  Another such mechanism is keeping premarital accounts separate from family accounts and not using the funds in separate accounts to support family needs, thereby strengthening a claim for retention of those premarital accounts.

Experienced divorce and family law attorneys like Needle | Cuda can help you navigate these complex issues.  Whether you are trying to protect "separate property" through a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement or asserting a claim for "equitable distribution" in your divorce, it is always advisable to consult an attorney.

In a Connecticut Divorce, all property is subject to division between the parties by the court based on a concept called Equitable Distribution.

This means that premarital property (including assets acquired before marriage) can be considered for division by the court in a fair and equitable way.  This not mean that division of any specific property/asset will be equal or that any particular split should be 50/50.

Connecticut Family Law Judges have very broad discretion in determining how assets/property is divided in a  Connecticut Divorce.

And so, 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.

Although all property in a marriage is potentially subject to equitable distribution, there are measures you can take to shield property you owned before you were married. These include executing a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement --therein designating certain assets as separate property that will be exempt from equitable distribution.  Another such mechanism is keeping premarital accounts separate from family accounts and not using the funds in separate accounts to support family needs, thereby strengthening a claim for retention of those premarital accounts.

What is the difference between Marital Property, Separate Property, and Property Acquired During the Marriage in a Connecticut Divorce?

Marital Property - Marital Property is a term that refers to any property acquired during the marriage -- except an inheritance or gift;

Separate Property - Separate Property is a term that refers to any property that belongs to one spouse.  Examples include: gifts and inheritances (at the time received);  Assets owned by one spouse prior to the marriage.  To preserve consideration/treatment as Separate Property in Connecticut Family Court, it is important the such property does not become "mixed" or "commingled" after receipt.  If proper administrative and legal attention is not given to such property, claims to that property's designation as "Separate Property" can diminish in strength, effect and/or be completely negated.

Assets Acquired before Marriage - This term refers to any and all assets that were owned by a spouse prior to the marriage and so is a sub-categorization of Separate Property.  If administrative care and legal attention is not given to the organization, ownership, management, and tax treatment of such property, claims to that property can diminish in strength and effect and/or be completely negated.

All Types of Property in Connecticut are considered Marital Property and are therefore subject to "Equitable Distribution" in a Divorce Action

Notwithstanding the above terms-of-reference, Connecticut Family Courts hold broad authority and can discretion with respect to the distribution any and "all" property to either side in a divorce--regardless of how or when it was acquired and/or how "title" is held.  This includes the receipt of gifts and/or inherited property/assets.

Treatment of property division in a Connecticut divorce follows very different rules compared to neighboring states like New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.  This treatment is also different than a vast majority of the states in the country.

Connecticut is thus known as an "All-Property" State where "all property" is fair game in a divorce action.

In those other states where "Equitable Distribution" laws apply to divorce, some states may afford some factor or some consideration with respect to a property's title and/or how ownership is held.  However, in Connecticut no such consideration or weight is given.

What is a pretrail (divorce) conference in Connecticut?

A "pretrial" or "pretrial conference" is a meeting required by the Connecticut family court between the divorcing parties and their legal representatives.  A pretrial conference presents an opportunity for the family court judge to assist divorcing parties in resolving their open disputes and to address any related procedural/administrative matters that have arisen in the case.

In Connecticut, most divorce petitions are subject to a "90 Day cooling-off period" (a waiting period) before they are eligible to get divorced.  [The most common exemption to "90 day cooling off period" occurs with uncontested divorce where the parties reach a full agreement and petition the court to waiver the waiting period.]

Pretrial conferences are part of  an overall  Case Management Agreement formed between the parties by their legal representatives.  Case Management Agreements are formed at the end of the "90 Cooling-off period" and mark the first day of "eligibility" for the parties to get divorced.

A Case Management Agreement gives the court an overview of  your case and a summary of open issues (e.g. financial, custody, etc.).   A Case Management Agreement further includes a procedural timeline that includes: discovery requests and deadlines, depositions, property appraisals, business valuations, and other professional reports/evaluations, etc.) -- as well as the dates for Pre-Trial Conferences.  Case Management Agreements are typically filed with the court along with sworn affidavits from the parties and any temporary agreements (if applicable).  The included dates are flexible (and frequently move) and are generally intended as an outline/guideline to keep the process moving forward at a reasonable pace.

Prior to a pretrial conference, both parties must exchange memorandums that summarize the case and its open issues to the judge.  Financial affidavits of the parties must be fully updated and submitted.  Parties must also offer "proposed" orders that reflect what the parties' seek -- including proposed Parenting Plans and Child Support Guidelines.

If you have reached a full agreement before/at the pretrial, the attorneys will request an Uncontested Divorce Hearing so that the judge can approve and enter final orders (a.k.a. your Divorce Decree).

If there are still open disputes, the judge will rule on motions and enter orders to keep the process productively moving forward.

What happens at a pretrial conference?

Prior to a pretrial conference, both parties are required to exchange memorandums that summarize the case and its open issues to the judge.  Financial affidavits of the parties must be fully updated and submitted.  Parties must also offer "proposed" orders that reflect what the parties' seek -- including proposed Parenting Plans and Child Support Guidelines.

The pretrial conference will generally go in one of two directions:

  • If you have reached a full agreement before/at the pretrial, the attorneys will request an Uncontested Divorce Hearing so that the judge can approve and enter final orders (a.k.a. your Divorce Decree).
  • If there is no agreement and there are still open disputes, the judge will rule on motions and enter orders intended to move the process productively forward.

Automatic Orders are restraining orders that go into effect automatically at the beginning of a Marriage Dissolution case when a Summons and Complaint is validly "served" along with a Notice of Automatic Court Orders AND those "papers" are filed along with "proof of service" from a State Marshall. This filing must occur at least (6) days prior to your Return Date for the court to review and approve.

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.

Automatic Orders go into effect for the Plaintiff when the complaint is signed.  Automatic Orders go into effect for the Defendant when a copy of the Summons and Complain (with Notice of Automatic Orders) is validly "served" to the Defendant.

Automatic Orders remain in effect for the full duration of the divorce action (unless changed by another court order);

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.

Two dates are immediately established in the Court Calendar when a petition for divorce is filed (and served):

  • Case Management Date - Case Management Dates are scheduled/assigned according to each family court's administrative schedule and are generally prioritized as a function of your Return Date.  Each family court in Connecticut schedules these administrative days according to a regular operating/administrative schedule.  For example, the Stamford Family Court schedules Case Management Dates on Thursdays...and the Bridgeport Family Court uses Tuesdays.
    • Divorcing Parties must present a Case Management Agreement to the Court by the Case Management Date.  Case Management Agreements typically mark the end "90 Cooling-off period" and represent the first day of "eligibility" for a divorced;
      • The Case Management Agreement gives the court an overview of  your case and a summary of open issues (e.g. financial, custody, etc.).   A Case Management Agreement further includes a procedural timeline that includes: discovery requests and deadlines, depositions, property appraisals, business valuations, and other professional reports/evaluations, etc.) -- as well as scheduled dates for Pre-Trial Conferences.
      • Case Management Agreements are typically filed with the court along with sworn affidavits from the parties and any temporary agreements (if applicable).  The included dates are flexible (and frequently move) and are generally intended as an outline/guideline to keep the process moving forward at a reasonable pace.
  • Return Date - The Return Date is the technical start date for your divorce action.  A Return Date is a procedural reference point--Nothing actually happens in court on the Return Date AND no appearances are required.
    • NOTE:  A Return Date is automatically set and reflected as the "Date of Filing" (a.k.a. "Filing Date") in the Summons and Complain.  In Connecticut, Return Dates are always set on Tuesdays.  Return Date are generally scheduled/timed four (4) weeks out from the initial service. A (4) week lag allows for proper "valid" service to be documented by the State Marshalls and the papers "returned" to the Court -- "service" can sometimes get complicated if a party lives either out-of-state or internationally;  The "return" of "the papers" (e.g.  Summons and Complaint, Notice of Automatic Orders, and proof of service) is required to be filed with the Court six (6) days prior to the stated Return Date.
    • To be clear, the "Filing Date" is NOT the date that you or your spouse is physically served with the Summons and Complaint, but rather the date that those papers are filed will the court along with proof/documentation that the Summons and Complaint was validly "served" by a State Marshall (along with a Notice of Automatic Orders.)  And so once valid "service" is established and accepted by the Court, your action "technically" commences as of the Return Date.

What is a Return Date in a Connecticut Divorce?

Two dates are immediately established in the Court Calendar when a petition for divorce is files (and served):  Return Date and a Case Management Date:

  • A Return Date - The Return Date is the technical start date for your divorce action.  Specifically, a Return Date is a procedural reference point--nothing actually happens in court on a Return Date AND no appearances are required.
    • NOTE:  A Return Date is automatically set and reflected as the "Date of Filing" (a.k.a. "Filing Date") in the Summons and Complaint.  In Connecticut, Return Dates are always set on Tuesdays.  Return Date are generally selected/timed four (4) weeks out from the commencement of "service."   A (4) week lag allows for "valid" service to be documented by the State Marshalls and the papers "returned" to the Court -- "service" can sometimes get complicated if a party lives either out-of-state or internationally;  The "return" of "the papers" (e.g.  Summons and Complaint, Notice of Automatic Orders, and proof of service) is required to be filed with the Court six (6) days prior to the stated Return Date.
    • To be clear, the "Filing Date" for your divorce is NOT the date that you or your spouse is physically served with the Summons and Complaint, but rather the date that those papers are filed will the court along with proof/documentation that the Summons and Complaint was validly "served" by a State Marshall (along with a Notice of Automatic Orders) and subsequent acceptance/approval by the Court.  And so once valid "service" is established and accepted by the Court, your divorce action "technically" commences as of the Return Date.
  •  A Case Management Date - Case Management Dates are scheduled/assigned according to each family court's administrative schedule and are generally prioritized as a function of your Return Date.  Each family court in Connecticut schedules these administrative days according to a regular operating/administrative schedule.  For example, the Stamford Family Court schedules Case Management Dates on Thursdays...and the Bridgeport Family Court uses Tuesdays.
    • Divorcing Parties must present a Case Management Agreement to the Court by the Case Management Date.  Case Management Agreements typically mark the end "90 Cooling-off period" and represent the first day of "eligibility" for a divorced;
      • The Case Management Agreement gives the court an overview of  your case and a summary of open issues (e.g. financial, custody, etc.).   A Case Management Agreement further includes a procedural timeline that includes: discovery requests and deadlines, depositions, property appraisals, business valuations, and other professional reports/evaluations, etc.) -- as well as scheduled dates for Pre-Trial Conferences.
      • Case Management Agreements are typically filed with the court along with sworn affidavits from the parties and any temporary agreements (if applicable).  The included dates are flexible (and frequently move) and are generally intended as an outline/guideline to keep the process moving forward at a reasonable pace.

Automatic Orders in a Connecticut Divorce prohibit a wide range of potential actions (of bad actors).  Automatic Orders are intended to maintain the status quo with respect to property, finances (including debt obligations), domicile, custody, and well being of the parties during the pendency of a divorce.

Prohibited Actions covered by Automatic Orders include:

  • Sale, exchange, or disposition of title or ownership of any property (without mutual consent; a court order; or to cover "normal" household expenses and/or reasonable attorneys fees in the case);
  • Obfuscation of, or deceit with respect to, the ownership of any property and/or titles to any property;
  • The mortgage a property (without mutual consent; a court order; or to cover "normal" household expenses and/or reasonable attorneys fees in the case);
  • Changes to and/or assignment of  "title" to ownership of any asset (without written agreement);
  • Changes in the beneficiaries with respect to any and all insurance policies related to home, auto, property, and/or renters insurance coverages, etc.;
  • Changes or discontinuation of  health insurance and supplemental coverages (e.g. dental, vision, accidental death, STD/LTD, etc.);
  • Taking physical custody of a any child or children (without written consent or a court order);
  • Denial or restricted access to the marital residence (without a court order);

Actions compelled by Automatic Orders include:

  • Completion and exchange of sworn financial affidavits (within thirty (30) days of the Return Date;
  • Mandatory participation in a Parenting Education Class (if you have minor children);
  • Appearance/attendance in court on your scheduled Case Management Date;
  • Filing a Case Management Agreement (if you and your spouse have not reached full agreement);
  • In the event that you move or change your mailing address, written notice of your new address must be provided to the court and the opposing party within forty-eight (48) hours of your move;
  • Maintenance of normal contact and communication with the children for both parents (in any and all forms in the normal course);

How are Automatic Orders enforced in Connecticut Divorce Actions?

If Automatic Orders are violated, a Motion for Contempt can be filed with family court to hold the violating party responsible.

A Motion for Contempt must meet a specific burden of proof.

A Motion for Contempt must show the following:

  1. A clear and unambiguous order was issued by the court;
  2. There was a violation of that order;
  3. The party who violated the order did so willfully;
  4. A specific request for the relied being sought must be presented;

Motions for Contempt in Connecticut Divorce are filed during two distinct phases of your Divorce:

Pendente Lite  Motions for Contempt - These Motions for Contempt revolve around violations of court orders made during the pendency of your divorce--such as Automatic Orders, and temporary alimony, custody, or child support;

Post Judgment Motions for Contempt - If you divorce has been finalized and entered as a court order (a Divorce Decree) enforcement actions for violations the final divorce orders by your ex-spouse are referred to as Post Judgment Motions for Contempt.

Potential court ordered penalties when found in Contempt (in a divorce action) include: Compliance with the previous order (the main goal of a Motion for Contempt), but also might include an order for the party held in contempt to pay some or all of the legal fees associate with the proceeding, and/or jail time.

Note also that in some cases, a judge may extend a finding of contempt to the period before Automatic Order became effective, if there is belief that the violations were committed in contemplation of the filing of the divorce actions (e.g. preemptive divorce planning);

What does the term Pendente Lite mean in Connecticut Divorce?

Pendente Lite refers to the period during which your divorce is pending in Connecticut family court;

It is the period during which Automatic Orders; and "temporary" alimony, custody, or child support orders are issued.

When a the parties reach a final Separation Agreement, and that agreement is submitted to the family court in an uncontested divorce hearing, and entered at the end of that proceeding as a formal court order (Divorce Decree), the Pendente Lite period ends (and the Post Judgement Period begins);

What does the term Post Judgement mean in Connecticut Divorce?

Post Judgment refers to the period after which your divorce has been finalized in Connecticut family court and entered as a final order (a.k.a. Divorce Decree);

By contrast, the period during which you divorce action is pending is referred to as its' Pendente Lite phase;

Any petitions (motions) for modification after a divorce has been finalized are referred to as Post Judgment Modifications;

Any petitions (motions) for contempt or failure to comply with your final orders are referred to a Post Judgments Motions for Contempt;

Frequently Asked Questions about negotiating a Connecticut divorce

The preferred way to resolve any issue is through an agreement between the divorcing Parties. But that may not always be possible, especially if the other side is not being reasonable. There is likely an extensive emotional history with your spouse. If there was abuse or manipulation, it might not be good to negotiate directly with your ex. Relying on your lawyer to be the point of contact for negotiations is recommended as they will be able to listen openly and communicate your demands without emotion or bitterness.

When you have counsel, the first step will be consulting and explaining your goals and expectations for the divorce to your attorney. This is not about blame or revenge but rather what you envision as a satisfactory outcome. Your attorney will then communicate with your spouse's attorney (if they have retained one) and begin the negotiation process. If your goals align with your spouse's, a settlement agreement will be drafted. If you cannot agree on issues, initial offers may be countered, and counteroffers will likely be made. It is not unusual for couples to disagree on custody or the division of marital assets. Your law firm will propose compromises or arrangements to give both sides what they are looking for and reach a settlement.

Negotiation is an ongoing process. Stalled negotiations are typical and do not necessarily signal that litigation is in the future. The discovery process is likely to begin if a trial date is set. When this happens, the disclosure of financial documents and asset valuation can tip the scales in favor of one party. This can have the effect of bringing the parties back to the negotiation table and restarting the process. In some cases, the passage of time between negotiation sessions can soften a firm position once held by a party, making them amenable to compromise.

While neither party can be forced to negotiate, some things can be done to pressure one side to be open to the possibility of a settlement. If either party refuses to negotiate, there are limited options for how the divorce can proceed. Litigation is one option, but so are arbitration and mediation. For many couples, the cost and uncertainty of litigation may cause them to at least listen to what is being offered by the other side. Similarly, arbitration cannot begin unless the parties first agree to submit to it and agree on who will be the arbitrator. If a party is firm that they will not negotiate, then it is unlikely that they will be amenable to agreeing to arbitration and all the rules attached to it. This leaves only litigation as the way to resolve the divorce completely.

When your assets or time with your children are at stake, you will want a trained family law attorney fighting for your interests. While it is possible to negotiate a divorce settlement without an attorney, it is not advisable. Many people are unfamiliar with the negotiation process and are not comfortable making demands or using leverage to arrive at a compromise. Again, divorce, for many couples, is an emotional experience. That emotion often clouds judgment and can result in someone holding on to an untenable position. Having an experienced family law attorney can help bring both parties down to earth and remind them to detach their emotions from the legal process to get the best result.

The discovery process can require both sides to disclose their full financial history. Your lawyer can gather the information necessary to get a complete picture of your spouse's income and assets through court-ordered subpoenas and depositions. If your spouse refuses to comply with a subpoena, the court can issue sanctions to force their cooperation. Your lawyer can also hire private investigators and forensic accountants to get to the bottom of your spouse's finances. Once the discovery process is complete, the fears surrounding hidden assets can resolve, and the negotiation process can begin.

A divorce settlement agreement  is a document that describes how the issues like the division of marital property, child custody and support, and alimony will be resolved. The terms and conditions of the agreement must comply with Connecticut law. As the name implies, both parties must agree upon a settlement. A settlement agreement is not the end of the divorce process, however.  It still must be approved by the court before the divorce can be finalized.  When your divorce settlement agreement is approved by the court and "entered" into the record, it is referred to as a Divorce Decree.

What you consider a favorable settlement depends on how you define your goals and aspirations. Being transparent and upfront with your lawyer about your expectations is the first step toward getting what you feel entitled to from your settlement. It is important to note that it is unlikely that any party will get everything they request. Compromises and concessions are a part of the process, but you must have a clear vision for your future.   Keeping an open mind and appropriately calibrating your expectations can clear the path toward a fair and favorable settlement.

The settlement agreement will become a court order once the court accepts and approves it. If your spouse or any other party mentioned in the order does not comply, they can be brought up on contempt of court charges. The judge hearing that case has judicial powers to force a party to comply. This can be done by fines and, in some cases, jail time.

This is practice area referred to as a Post Judgment Modification.

Some aspects of a divorce settlement agreement can be modified in the future. Issues like child custody, child support, and alimony are usually ongoing and, as such, may need to be modified. But they can only be altered by agreement or due to a substantial change in circumstances. If the parties cannot agree to change the settlement, then the party asking for the modification must petition the court. While there is no uniform definition of a substantial change in circumstances, the court will likely look to a list of factors to determine if a change is necessary. Usually, a significant change in income can warrant a reduction in support or alimony. Still, that is not the only factor the court will look at, and if it can be shown that there was an intentional attempt at reducing income, a modification of the settlement agreement may be denied.

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