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Connecticut Divorce Process
Preparing the Divorce Papers
To start, the plaintiff begins with two forms: the Summons Family Actions (form number JD-FM-3), and the Divorce Complaint/Cross Complaint (form number JD-FM-159).
The Summons tells the defendant about the divorce proceeding and when to come to court. The Complaint provides more personal information about both parties, and their children, if any. The Complaint states the grounds for the divorce – either because the marriage has “broken down irretrievably,” or based on one of the fault grounds listed in the Connecticut statute. The complaint may ask the court to determine custody of children, award child support or alimony, divide marital property and debts, and restore a prior name.
Attached to the complaint is the Notice of Automatic Orders (JD-FM-158) and the Affidavit Concerning Children (JD-FM-164), if there are children involved.
Automatic Orders inform the defendant about the orders that automatically go into effect at the beginning of every divorce case to prevent either party from doing anything that would negatively impact marital property or children without the other’s consent, like selling the house or moving the children out of state, spending a large amount of money, changing life or medical insurance beneficiaries, mortgaging or selling a home, or locking the other spouse out of the home. The court can change these orders if necessary.
The Affidavit Concerning Children requires information about where and with whom the children have lived for the last five years and whether there have been prior custody or visitation cases about the children.
Filing the Paperwork with the Court
There is a filing fee to file a complaint, but the court may waive it in cases where the plaintiff is unable to afford it. The clerk assigns a Return Date, which is the date that determines when papers have to be served and filed. Neither party must come to court on the Return Date, which must be a Tuesday and should be at least four weeks after the filing of the original paperwork. The clerk puts the Return Date on the Summons, the Complaint, and any other divorce papers, and signs the Summons and returns the papers to the plaintiff. The plaintiff must bring the paperwork to a State Marshal who serves the paperwork to the defendant.
Serving the Documents
In Connecticut, a state marshal must serve the defendant with the divorce papers. The marshal charges a fee for serving the paperwork, but like the filing fee for the divorce papers, the plaintiff can ask the court to waive this fee by filling out and filing the Application For Waiver of Fees/Appointment of Counsel Family (JD-FM-75). Depending on the plaintiff’s income, the court might waive some fees.
Once the defendant has been served, the marshal completes the Return of Service, which is proof that the papers were served. The plaintiff mails or brings the Return of Service and all of the original paperwork to the clerk’s office along with the filing fee.
Disclosing Financial Information
The spouses each complete and exchange Financial Affidavits (JD-FM-6) within 30 days of the Return Date. The form requires the inclusion of all income (from employment or any other source), all expenses, and assets and debt.
Uncontested vs. Contested Divorce
Most divorces in Connecticut are uncontested, no-fault actions. To obtain a no-fault divorce, one spouse must simply state a belief that the marriage has broken down irretrievably, which means that there is no realistic chance of reconciliation.
Connecticut also permits fault actions on the traditional grounds of adultery, fraudulent contract (lying about a serious criminal history, for example), willful desertion for at least one year, habitual intemperance (drunkenness that interferes with financial responsibilities), intolerable cruelty, imprisonment for certain crimes, and confinement in a mental hospital for at least five out of the six years before filing the divorce complaint.
An attorney can give advice about the benefits or liabilities of choosing a fault ground.
The Connecticut dissolution takes a minimum of about four months; in a complicated case - that includes one that is contested - it may take much longer. The court sets two dates when a complaint is filed. The first is the return date, which is at least four weeks away to give the defendant a chance to answer the complaint, file a cross complaint, or simply enter a pro se appearance. The second date is the case management date, which is at least 90 days after the return date and is the earliest date a divorce can be finalized.
The court takes no action before the case management date so that the spouses have some time to settle issues out of court. Couples with children must also complete a court-approved parenting education program within 60 days of the return date.
Couples can limit conflict in a divorce, even with disagreements, by turning to a neutral third party (called a “mediator”) to help settle the case in a confidential proceeding called mediation. The mediator provides information rather than legal advice and helps a couple understand all available options. There are both court-sponsored and private mediation options available in Connecticut. The Connecticut judiciary’s Mediation Programs / Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) webpage includes additional information about these options.
Finalizing the Divorce
The parties must wait at least 90 days after the Return Date for a judgment of divorce, which is usually called the Case Management Date, and is listed in the Notice of Automatic Orders.
During this waiting period, they try to reach an agreement about custody of the children and financial issues, and they document any agreement in the Dissolution Agreement (JD-FM-172) form.
During the waiting period, the plaintiff completes a Case Management Agreement/Order (JD-FM-163), and sends it to the clerk's office. If the defendant has filed an Appearance Form, he or she also needs to sign the Case Management Agreement form before it is sent to the Clerk’s office. The Case Management Agreement form is important because the parties choose an actual divorce hearing date and they appear in court on that date. If they can’t agree on a divorce date and have not filed a Case Management Agreement, then they must come to court on the Case Management Date, and the judge will set a hearing date.
If the court refuses to award alimony at the final hearing, and if alimony is not included in the final judgment, neither spouse can return to court in the future and request alimony due to a change in circumstance. Many final divorce judgments in Connecticut award $1 a year in alimony because this preserves the right to revisit the alimony issue if circumstances change.
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