If you're thinking about ending your marriage in Connecticut, it helps to learn about the basics of divorce so you are better prepared to make decisions about alimony, child custody and support, and property division. You do not have to live in Connecticut for any specified time before starting a divorce, however, one of the spouses has to have lived in Connecticut continuously for 12 months before the divorce decree can be issued to satisfy the residency requirements.
Grounds for Divorce
Connecticut is what is known as a mixed grounds state, which means it allows both fault-based and no-fault divorce. Many couples prefer no-fault divorce because it allows you to file without assigning blame or bringing up embarrassing details. Instead, you simply state that your marriage is "irretrievably broken" and beyond repair. If you can't agree on a no-fault complaint, however, you can file under one or more of the following fault-based grounds (see page 4):
- Willful desertion
- Absence for at least seven years
- Separation for at least 18 months
- Habitual intemperance (drunkenness)
- Intolerable cruelty
- Confinement due to mental illness
How to Start a Divorce in Connecticut
Connecticut offers residents a do-it-yourself guide to help people who have no legal training, navigate their way through divorce. However, keep in mind that the guide does not represent legal advice, and you should seek a qualified attorney if you have any questions. You can find the guide online, or in any Superior Court Clerk's office in Connecticut.
- Whether or not you have children, you will need to fill out three forms: Summons, Family Action, Divorce Complaint/Cross Complaint, and a Notice of Automatic Orders. If you have children, you will also need to fill out the Affidavit Concerning Children form.
- Take your finished forms to the court clerk where you are filing. The clerk will review your forms to make sure everything is in order, and then return them to you.
- You then must have a state marshal serve your spouse a copy of the divorce papers.
Your served spouse will have to respond to the divorce summons, and may file the following forms:
- The Appearance form tells the court that your spouse is acting as his own attorney.
- The Answer form lets the court know if your spouse agrees or disagrees with the numbered items listed in the divorce complaint.
- Your spouse can also file a Divorce Complaint/Cross Complaint form to let the court know what he wants.
Once all the paperwork has been filled out, it will get returned to the county clerk's office and filed. You and your spouse will have to file a Case Management Agreement. This form sets the actual divorce date, and you and your spouse will have to appear in court on this date, with your attorneys if necessary.
Alimony is awarded at the judge's discretion to either spouse. If alimony is awarded, it is either awarded in the amount of $1.00 per year (for the purpose of modifying later), as a one-time, lump sum payment, or as periodic alimony to be paid regularly over a longer period of time. According to current Connecticut law, the court considers a number of factors when deciding whether to award alimony:
- How long you were married
- The cause for the dissolution of the marriage
- The requesting spouse's health, age, station in life
- The requesting spouse's occupation and potential sources of income as well as earning capacity, vocational skills and education
- Any liabilities and needs of either spouse
- Perceived opportunity to acquire future income
Although Connecticut is primarily a no-fault divorce state, courts will consider the reason why the marriage broke down when deciding whether to award alimony. If one side engaged in serious misconduct, such as abuse or adultery, the court might be more inclined to award support.
Dividing the Property
Connecticut's approach to property division is relatively unique. Although Connecticut is officially an "equitable distribution" state, it is also one of a minority of states known as an "all-property" state. Most equitable distribution states make a distinction between assets that were acquired during the marriage and those that were acquired before the marriage. Generally, assets acquired before the marriage, or in one spouse's name only (like inheritance for example), do not get divided in the divorce. However, in Connecticut, the court has the authority to redistribute any and all property acquired during the marriage regardless of whose name it is in. In the Constitution State, everything the couple owns is up for grabs -- including money from grandma.
As is the case with all other states, courts will consider the best interests of the child when deciding who gets custody. The court may consider several factors when awarding custody, including (but not limited to):
- The child's wishes if he is old enough to articulate them.
- Continuity and the child's adjustment to his environment.
- The parent's behavior during the divorce, and whether or not either spouse tried to manipulate the child during the divorce.
- Each spouse's ability to meet the needs of the child.
Parent education classes are mandatory, and the court will look at whether or not each spouse attended said classes before awarding custody.
Under Connecticut divorce law, the final divorce judgment must also resolve any issues of child support. Child support is calculated using tables found in the publication, Child Support and Arrearage Guidelines (starting on page 27).
Looking to the Future
Divorce can be a devastating stage in life. When you have worked hard to create a life with another person, it's difficult to dismantle years of effort. Understanding the fundamentals of Connecticut divorce, however, can make you feel confident about navigating the process.