Frequently Asked Questions about Connecticut Divorce
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For a Connecticut court to have jurisdiction, or the authority to preside over your case, one or both parties must meet certain statutory residency requirements. Pursuant to C.G.S.A. § 46b-44, a decree dissolving a marriage or granting a legal separation may be entered if: (1) one of the parties to the marriage has been a resident of the State of Connecticut for at least twelve months prior to the date of the filing of the divorce or the date of dissolution; (2) one of the parties lived in the State of Connecticut at the time of the marriage and subsequently returned with the intention of permanently remaining here before filing the action; or (3) the cause of the divorce arose after either party moved to this state. Importantly, it is only necessary for one spouse to meet the residency requirement.
The general rule in Connecticut is that a spouse is not required to allege or prove fault in order to obtain a divorce. A court is permitted to grant a divorce on the ground that the marriage has simply “broken down irretrievably with no reasonable prospect of reconciliation.” That being said, there are instances in which one party has caused the marriage to breakdown. Will a court take this into consideration?
The answer is: yes. Although a spouse is not required to allege fault, it is permitted. If a party is able to prove that fault (e.g., adultery, physical or verbal abuse, drug or alcohol abuse) has contributed to the breakdown of the marriage, it may impact the division of marital property and/or alimony. Although many court decisions mention that fault has been alleged, judges usually find the parties equally responsible for the breakdown of the marriage.
Automatic Orders are restraining orders which go into effect at the outset of every divorce action in Connecticut. Automatic Orders become binding on the plaintiff (the person who files for the divorce) when the papers are filed with the clerk and are binding on the defendant spouse at the time the papers are served. The purpose of the automatic orders is to maintain the status quo with respect to both the parties’ finances and custody of the parties’ children. These orders serve to prevent the parties from emptying bank accounts, running up debts, or otherwise taking advantage of the other spouse while the divorce is pending. Since these orders are entered automatically (and since the defendant is notified of them as soon as he or she is served with the initial papers), neither party is required to file motions in court to prevent the other spouse from engaging in the prohibited conduct. The basic prohibitions set forth by the automatic orders prevent divorcing spouses from doing the following:
- Withdrawing large amounts of funds;
- Incurring major, atypical expenses;
- Selling or mortgaging property;
- Removing on another from assets, such as real property titles, bank accounts and life insurance policies;
- Permanently removing children from the state; or
- Locking a spouse out of the house.
- The parties, by their own specific agreement, may waive any of the Automatic Orders and a court may have reason and discretion to modify them based on the circumstances of the parties.
Generally speaking, there are two main components of a divorce action: financial issues and custody related matters. Where both aspects of the case are in dispute, it is referred to as a fully contested matter. Where parties are in disagreement with respect to only one component, the matter is referred to as a limited contested matter. In either case, a trial may be required in order to resolve the disputed matters.
Where parties are able to reach an agreement on both financial and custody issues, the matter is considered “uncontested.” In such cases, the parties will enter into a written separation agreement, which memorializes the terms of the dissolution. Provisions typically address custody and visitation, alimony and child support, the division of real property and personal property, as well as the division of liabilities and assets, including bank, brokerage and retirement accounts. Parties may also include a provision addressing each party’s responsibility to pay for their children’s college expenses. Once an agreement is formally executed by both parties, they will present it to a judge during an uncontested hearing. This hearing typically takes anywhere between ten and twenty minutes, depending on the complexity of the case. The judge will listen to the salient terms of the parties’ agreement and, as a prerequisite to granting the divorce, determine whether it is both fair and equitable, and in the best interests of the children.
An alimony award is based primarily upon a spouse’s “continuing duty to support” the other spouse, even after the breakdown of the marriage. There is no formula for alimony in Connecticut. Many judges, family law attorneys, and even family relations counselors employ different guidelines, and the length, amount, and terms of alimony are made on a case-by-case basis. That being said, in formulating alimony awards, courts must take into consideration certain factors enumerated in C.G.S.A. § 46b-82. Those factors include: 1) the length of the marriage, 2) the causes for the divorce or legal separation, 3) each party’s age, health, station, and occupation, 4) the amount and sources of each party’s income, 5) the party’s respective vocational skills and employability, 6) the estate and needs of each of the parties, 7) the property distribution ordered, and 8) in the case of a parent to whom the custody of minor children has been awarded, the desirability of such parent’s securing employment. Importantly, in Connecticut, courts may only enter alimony awards during dissolution proceedings. If a party does not request alimony during the initial proceedings, he or she will be precluded from returning to any court to seek an award in the future.
Generally speaking, child support is calculated in accordance with the Connecticut Child Support Guidelines. A parent may consult the Guidelines to determine which sources of income should be taken into consideration when calculating gross income and which deductions are allowed when calculating net income. The basic child support obligation is based on both parents’ total combined income, and each parent’s share is directly proportional to their percentage share of the total combined income.
Although an amount calculated under the Connecticut Child Support Guidelines is presumed to be correct, the presumption may be rebutted by specific facts demonstrating that such amount would be inappropriate in a particular case. Parties may deviate from the presumptive child support obligation only under a very limited set of circumstances. As set forth in Connecticut Regulations §46b-215a-3(b), those criteria include, but are not limited to:
- Other financial resources available to a parent, including substantial assets (e.g., both income producing and non-income producing property), a parent’s earning capacity, hourly wages for overtime in excess of forty-five hours per week (but not to exceed 52 total paid hours per week), and/or regular recurring contributions or gifts of a spouse or domestic partner;
- Extraordinary expenses for the care and maintenance of the child;
- Extraordinary parental expenses; and
- Coordination of total family support (i.e., child support is considered in conjunction with a determination of total family support, property settlement, and tax implications provided such considerations do not result in a lesser economic benefit to the child).
- Importantly, the Guidelines also provide a limited catchall provision allowing for a deviation in “special circumstances” not otherwise specifically enumerated, but in which deviation from presumptive support amounts is warranted for reasons of equity. For example, a deviation may be warranted where a shared physical custody arrangement exists and that arrangement substantially reduces the custodial parent’s expenses for the child, or substantially increases the noncustodial parent’s expenses for the child.
Generally, parents must support a child until he or she reaches the age of majority. That being said, if a child has attained the age of eighteen, but is still a full-time high school student and is in need of continuing maintenance, the parents must provide support until the child completes the ninth grade or attains the age of nineteen, whichever occurs first.
In the absence of an agreement, a parent may be restricted from moving with minor children after a divorce is finalized where the proposed move would have a significant impact on the existing parenting plan. In such cases, the moving parent must demonstrate that: (1) the relocation is for a legitimate purpose, (2) the proposed location is reasonable in light of such purpose, and (3) the relocation is in the best interests of the child. In determining whether to approve a parent’s request to relocate with a child, the court must consider: (1) Each parent’s reasons for seeking or opposing the relocation; (2) the quality of the relationships between the child and each parent; (3) the impact of the relocation on the quantity and the quality of the child’s future contact with the nonrelocating parent; (4) the degree to which the relocating parent’s and the child’s life may be enhanced economically, emotionally and educationally by the relocation; and (5) the feasibility of preserving the relationship between the non-relocating parent and the child through suitable visitation arrangements.
During a divorce proceeding, the court’s decision is considered an initial determination of custody, and it must determine solely whether the move is in the best interests of the children. In doing so, the court will consider the various factors set forth in C.G.S.A. §46b-56. Where a proposed relocation is in dispute, parties are well served by consulting with an experienced family law attorney as relocation cases often involve complex issues requiring a custody evaluation, expert involvement and extensive discovery.
In Connecticut, retirement accounts are generally considered marital property subject to division. Although courts have the authority to divide retirement accounts, it may not be appropriate to do so in some cases. For example, where parties each have their own retirement accounts of relatively equal value, it may be easier for each party to simply retain their own. Additionally, as with other assets, courts will consider the statutory criteria of C.G.S.A. § 46b-81 when dividing the marital estate. It is important to understand the characteristics and value of each retirement plan at issue before drafting proposed orders or entering into a final separation agreement.
Connecticut courts are authorized to enter orders defining how parents will handle “necessary educational expenses.” Necessary educational expenses include application costs, registration costs, room, board, dues, tuition, and fees up to the amount charged by the University of Connecticut for a full-time, in-state student at the time the child is registering for classes. The order may account for the cost of books and medical insurance for the child as well, and parents are permitted upon agreement to increase the limit beyond the amount charged by the University of Connecticut. In some cases it may be appropriate for the parties, or the court, to define at the time of the divorce how such expenses will be handled. In other case, however, particularly where children are very young, it may be more appropriate to defer the issue until the children reach high school. In the event the parties wish to defer the issue, they must request during the trial or uncontested hearing that the court retain jurisdiction. If they fail to do so, the court will not be permitted to hear the issue in the future.