Divorce and Family Law FAQ

What is a divorce action, and how does it begin?

The legal term for divorce in Connecticut is “dissolution of marriage.” A complaint for the dissolution of marriage commences a divorce proceeding when filed in the appropriate court. A complaint need not allege fault on the part of either spouse. “No-fault” grounds for legally dissolving a marriage exist when (i) the marriage has broken down irretrievably, or (ii) the spouses have continuously lived apart for at least the 18 months immediately preceding the date of filing because they are incompatible, and there is no reasonable prospect that they will reconcile. If fault is alleged and proven, marital fault may play a role in the court’s financial award. The fault-based grounds for divorce include:

  1. Adultery
  2. Fraudulent contract
  3. Willful desertion for one year with total neglect of duty
  4. Seven years’ absence, during all of which period the absent party has not been heard from
  5. Habitual intemperance
  6. Intolerable cruelty
  7. Life imprisonment or conviction of an infamous felony involving violation of conjugal duty
  8. Legal confinement for mental illness during five of the most recent six years

How does the court determine child custody?

Child custody determinations involve decisions regarding legal and physical custody of a child, as well as who has the right to make decisions about all aspects of the child’s life, including decisions about education, religion, medical issues, and discipline. When the court has jurisdiction over the children of a marriage that is being dissolved, a decree of dissolution must make a determination regarding the custody of the children. The court will make this determination, as well as any determination regarding visitation, using the “best interests of the child” standard. The court will consider whether the parties completed a mandated parent education program, and may consider the child’s preferences and the cause for the dissolution of the marriage in arriving at its decision. Connecticut has a statutory presumption in favor of joint custody if both parents agree to it.

How is child support determined?

Both parents have an obligation to support their children before and after a divorce. Child support is a court-ordered sum of money that the non-custodial parent must pay to the custodial parent for the child’s expenses, including housing and utilities, food, clothing, education expenses, and other costs. Connecticut requires both parents to support their children in accordance with their respective abilities to provide such maintenance, and the court will issue a child support order after fully considering each parent’s ability to support the child.

How are marital assets divided?

Connecticut is an “equitable distribution” state. This means that all marital property that is subject to distribution will be divided in an equitable fashion. It is important to understand that “equitable” does not mean “equal.” Instead, equitable means what is fair after consideration of the following factors: the length of the marriage; the causes for the dissolution of the marriage; the age, health, occupation, amount, and source of income of each party; the parties’ vocational skills and ability to be employed; the size of the estate; the liabilities and needs of each of the parties; the opportunity of each party for future acquisition, preservation and/or appreciation of the value of the marital assets. The court will also consider the value of the homemaker’s services in dividing assets. Generally, the court will encourage the parties to reach a settlement on property and debt issues before issuing an order to distribute marital assets.

How does the court determine if a party is entitled to alimony and, if so, how much?

In Connecticut, alimony may be awarded to either party; however, if it is not awarded at the final hearing in the divorce proceedings, alimony cannot be awarded thereafter. The decision as to whether alimony will be awarded is a matter solely within the court’s discretion. The court can consider many of the factors it considers when determining the distribution of marital assets as well as the property distribution itself. Typically, alimony consists of a fixed sum that is paid according to a regular schedule (i.e., weekly or monthly) for a limited period of time.

Can the court award attorney fees?

Either spouse may be required to pay the counsel fees and disbursements of the other spouse, based upon the same factors that are taken into account when an alimony award is considered. Generally, a party with enough funds to pay his or her own attorney’s fees will not receive an award for those fees; however, Connecticut law provides that a court can allow the spouse of lesser means to recover counsel fees from the other spouse in certain circumstances.

What if I am a victim of domestic violence?

Connecticut law (Connecticut General Statutes Section 46b-15) provides that a family or household member who has been subjected to a continuous threat of present physical pain or physical injury by another family or household member, or a person who is in or recently in a dating relationship who has been subjected to a continuous threat of present physical pain or physical injury by the other person in such relationship, may make an application to the Superior Court for an order for Relief from Abuse. The court can either grant your application immediately or set the matter down for a hearing on a date not later than fourteen (14) days from the date that the hearing is ordered. You will then need to contact a state marshal to serve a copy of the application and your affidavit as well as the notice of hearing date on the other party not less than five (5) days before the hearing.

If I am served with an Application for Relief from Abuse, what should I do?

You should read it very carefully and then consult with an attorney. It is important to remember that if the court grants the application, with or without a hearing, and issues an order, you will need to refrain from contact with the protected parties if the order so requires; otherwise, you may be violating Connecticut law. Generally, you will be given the opportunity to return to the premises accompanied by a police officer for one (1) visit to collect personal belongings and other essentials.

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