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Automatic Orders – CT

Automatic Orders in a Connecticut Divorce

Westport family law attorneys advise on ground rules in divorce and family law proceedingsAutomatic Orders and Connecticut Divorce

Automatic Orders in a Connecticut divorce maintain the status quo with respect to marital property, finances (including debt obligations), domicile (the marital residence), child custody, and well-being of the parties during the pendency of a divorce. Automatic orders are triggered when one spouse files for divorce against the other in family court. Once triggered, automatic orders govern the parties’ actions unless and until a specific term is amended, modified or revoked.

At Needle | Cuda, we explain the specific provisions of the automatic order and how they specifically apply to your situation. Our attorneys, located in Westport, will answer your questions and help you avoid the risk of an inadvertent violation.

What are automatic orders in a Connecticut divorce?

The automatic order imposes a set of legally enforceable restrictions on parties to a divorce. Individual provisions address key issues such as property transactions and cooperation in parenting matters. One of the overall objectives of the automatic order is to maintain the status quo regarding potential divorce terms until they can be resolved by the court or a settlement among the parties. Along with divorce actions, automatic orders are also used in the following types of domestic relations cases:

  • Legal separations
  • Annulments of marriage
  • Child custody disputes

Our Connecticut divorce lawyers have a thorough understanding of the application of automatic orders in every kind family law case and will advise on your options if you believe a particular term or terms should be changed to fit your circumstances.

Scope of automatic orders in Connecticut

Not all language contained in the standard automatic order applies to every case. Many terms relating to parenting, such as a prohibition on removing children from the state without the written consent of the other parent and requirement that the parties attend a parenting education program. Other parts of the order relate to property matters, including bans on the following actions:

  • Transferring or concealing property, other than securities
  • Incurring unreasonable debts
  • Changing the beneficiaries of insurance policies
  • Denying the other party access to any primary residence in which they live without a court order

The automatic order will also require you and your spouse or partner to exchange sworn financial statements. However, you might already have a specific order in place concerning financial issues which would take precedence.

Prohibited actions covered by automatic orders in a Connecticut 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 of a property (without mutual consent; a court order; or to cover “normal” household expenses and/or reasonable attorney’s 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 renter’s 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 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 in a Connecticut divorce

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)

Duration and “effective dates” for automatic orders in a Connecticut divorce

An automatic order takes effect for a plaintiff in a divorce case as soon as they file the divorce complaint and it takes effect for the defendant as soon as they are served with the complaint. It remains in effect until the divorce is finalized by court decree, except to the extent that the court modifies or revokes one of the automatic order’s provisions.

Modifications and enforcements of automatic orders in Connecticut

Because of its one-size-fits-all nature, an automatic order might be inappropriate for your case. If that’s true, we will bring a motion in court to modify it to make appropriate exceptions to its requirements. In doing so, we will need to convince the judge that the circumstances in your case justify diverging from the standard terms.

When parenting terms are involved, the petitioning party must show that the proposed change is in the children’s best interests. This task will be easier if both parties agree to the modification, but if not, both sides will be able to present evidence and arguments in support of their position before the court decides. If your spouse refuses to comply with the order, we will ask the court to enforce the order or hold them in contempt.

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 and 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

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. 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 the automatic order became effective, if there is a belief that the violations were committed in contemplation of the filing of the divorce actions (e.g., preemptive divorce planning).

Contact a Connecticut divorce lawyer to discuss the effects of an automatic order

If you are going through a divorce in Fairfield County or somewhere else in Connecticut, Needle | Cuda is ready to help. We provide highly responsive service and effective counsel relating to automatic orders and every other aspect of the marriage dissolution process. To arrange a consultation, call us today at 203-557-9500 or contact our Westport office online.

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