How is the division of property within divorce cases decided in Connecticut?
Connecticut General Statutes Section 46(b)-81(a) broadly defines the court’s powers with respect to equitably dividing marital property between divorcing spouses:
“At the time of entering a decree annulling or dissolving a marriage or for legal separation pursuant to a complaint under section 46b-45, the Superior Court may assign to either the husband or wife all or any part of the estate of the other. The court may pass title to real property to either party or to a third person or may order the sale of such real property, without any act by either the husband or the wife, when in the judgment of the court it is the proper mode to carry the decree into effect.”
In essence, this subsection sets forth the very generous authority of the Superior Court in family matters to fairly divide assets, and even order the sale of property, in order to accomplish what the court finds to be fair and equitable in a divorce action.
Connecticut is sometimes defined as an “all property distribution state,” or a “kitchen sink jurisdiction.” Divorcing spouses can and should expect that the court will consider allocating any and all property – including premarital or inherited property — by and between the parties, regardless of how that property was acquired. This does not, however, mean that inherited property, for example, will necessarily be equally divided in all cases. As with all property, the court will consider a number of statutory factors in determining what a fair division of the assets would be. These factors, set forth in Connecticut General Statutes Section 46b-81, are:
(1) The age of the parties;
(2) the health of the parties;
(3) the station of the parties;
(4) each party’s occupation
(5) the amount and sources of the parties’ respective income;
(5) each party’s vocational skills and employability;
(6) the party’s liabilities;
(7) relevant special needs;
(8) each party’s future earning capacity and prospects for acquisition of capital assets and income; and
(9) the contribution of each of the parties in the acquisition, preservation, or appreciation of the assets.
In determining whether a party has a likelihood of retaining a certain asset after trial (or in order to advance such a position during negotiation), capable counsel will be familiar with recent court decisions and engage in discovery so they may advance the best possible presentation and position at trial. Nevertheless, due to the broad discretion afforded to the Superior Court to divide marital property by statute, no spouse – and no attorney – should expect or guarantee that a certain item of property will be insulated from equitable distribution to the other spouse in any and all circumstances.
It should be further noted that C.G.S. § 46b-81 only permits the courts to enter orders regarding the distribution of property during the dissolution proceedings. The court is not permitted to modify its original orders or enter additional orders providing for the distribution of property after the divorce is finalized. That being said, there are three limited exceptions where a court may revisit its original property orders. Firstly, a party may seek to open a judgment if, for example, one of the parties engaged in fraud, or the judgment was based upon a mutual mistake of the parties. Secondly, a court may enter orders to effectuate a previously ordered property distribution. Thirdly, parties may agree to have the court retain jurisdiction to resolve disputes that arise while parties are attempting to carry out orders related to the division of property. The last two scenarios may occur, for example, where the parties reach an impasse with respect to terms regarding the sale of a home (e.g., selecting a broker, reducing the price, etc.), or the division of specific retirement accounts.
If you have any questions, contact Joseph Maya, Managing Partner at Maya Murphy, at (203) 221-3100 or directly via email at JMaya@Mayalaw.com for a complimentary consultation with an experienced Divorce Lawyer to discuss your case.