Getting Divorced In Connecticut
Entering into any legal situation can be extremely stressful. In order to reduce your stress, it is essential to retain an experienced attorney who will guide you through the legal system. You can trust the attorneys at The Law Offices of Conti, Levy & Salerno, LLC, to provide you with information that will help you win your case.
* Searching for the right attorney to handle your divorce?
* Seeking advice about obtaining legal custody of your child or grandchild?
* Wanting to adopt a child and don’t know where to start?
* Needing to prove paternity?
* Facing a juvenile delinquency proceeding?
* Considering a prenuptial, postnuptial or cohabitation agreement?
* Involved in a high-conflict family situation?
Marriage dissolution or divorce requires an understanding of the client’s marriage, family relationships and financial intricacies that are a part of the marital relationship. Clients need counsel regarding these complex issues and a strong legal advocate on their behalf through settlement negotiations and, when necessary, litigation.
Connecticut is a no-fault state, which means a couple does not have to prove one party was at fault or did something that has caused the breakdown of the relationship. But that does not mean fault is not a factor considered by the court. There are decisions that need to be made regarding the division of assets accumulated during the marriage. These assets may include property (house, cabin, land), furniture and other personal property, jewelry, antiques, vehicles (autos, boats, motorcycles), pensions, bank accounts and businesses. Assets need to be valued and divided in a manner that is fair and equitable to both parties.
There are also decisions to be made regarding alimony and/or educational financial assistance, especially when one spouse may not have worked outside the home during the marriage and is not able to be immediately self-supporting. If the couple has children, there are decisions to be made about legal and physical custody, parenting time, health care, insurance, education, religious upbringing, dependency exemptions and financial support. Business ownership, instances of domestic abuse and mental health concerns are just a few of the other issues that may complicate a divorce case.
The Traditional Approach
The traditional approach to a divorce generally involves each party obtaining his/her own attorney who attempts to negotiate agreement on various issues that need to be addressed in that particular case. If an agreement cannot be achieved, then the issue in dispute will be resolved by a hearing or trial before a judge who will render a decision resolving the issue. The advantages associated with the traditional approach is that each party is represented by competent attorneys, and when an agreement cannot be achieved, the issue will be resolved by a judge. The disadvantages of the traditional approach is that it provides an opportunity for the parties to engage in warfare rather than in resolution, in which case, it can also be financially and emotionally expensive.
Mediation provides an avenue for parties to negotiate the terms of their divorce themselves while also having the opportunity to utilize the services of consulting attorneys outside the mediation process. The mediator does not provide legal advice, does not advocate nor protect either party. The mediator’s role is to introduce the topics that need to be addressed and attempts to assist the parties in reaching an agreement on each issue. The advantage of mediation is that it allows each party to be completely responsible for negotiating the terms of their own divorce. The disadvantage of mediation is that the parties are required to negotiate directly between themselves without the benefit of an attorney to insulate the parties from the potential negativity that direct negotiations may cause.
Collaborative divorce is a process by which the parties retain their own attorneys and commit themselves to resolving all of the issues of the divorce through a negotiation process without engaging in any court proceedings. The parties and their attorneys voluntarily produce financial information and negotiate through four-way conferences in an attempt to arrive at an agreement that is good for the family rather than for an individual. The advantage of a collaborative divorce is that each party has his/her own attorney, and the parties and attorneys are committed to resolving all issues outside of court. The disadvantage of a collaborative divorce is that if an impasse occurs, there is no alternative available to the parties other than proceeding in court in which case the collaborative attorneys are no longer permitted to represent the parties through the court process.
Custody of children is often one of the most important issues to parents in a divorce. Parents often misunderstand that there are various categories of custody. Child custody really means decision-making. A parent who has sole custody of a child has the responsibility of making all of the decisions for that child. Parents who share joint legal custody are required to attempt to agree upon all major issues affecting a child. Major issues generally fall under three categories: health, education and religion. Connecticut Statutes presume that joint legal custody is in the best interest of a child. Joint custody or “shared custody” is a parenting plan where the children reside with both parents for significant periods of time each month. It does not require that the parents share the children equally but that both parents have significant time with the children each month.
Third-party custody occurs when custody is granted to someone other than the parents. Issues of foster parent custody, third-party non-relative custody, relative and grandparent custody, access rights and other proceedings outside of marriage dissolution are the cutting edge litigation of today’s ever-changing definition of family.
Connecticut has mandatory child support guidelines. Child support is determined by a mathematical formula based upon the combined net income of the parents. The Child Support Guidelines also provide for a percentage contribution by each parent toward the unreimbursed medical expenses incurred for the children as well as work-related day care expenses. A joint legal custody or shared parenting plan could result in a deviation from the Child Support Guidelines resulting in a lower child support order. There are several deviation criteria contained in the Connecticut Child Support Guidelines that could affect a strict application of the Child Support Guidelines.
Alimony And Division Of Assets
Divorce in Connecticut is governed by statutes by the legislature. The statute relating to alimony is found in Connecticut General Statutes Section 46b-82 and the statute relating to the distribution of assets is found in Connecticut General Statutes Section 46b-81.
Each statute sets forth a series of criteria that must be evaluated when determining whether alimony is appropriate and if so, the amount of alimony and its duration, as well as the appropriate manner of dividing assets. The statutes require the court to consider the length of the marriage, the causes for the divorce, the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate and needs of each of the parties and the opportunity of each of the parties for future acquisition of capital assets and income. The court shall also consider the contribution of each of the parties and the acquisition, preservation or appreciation in value of their respective estates.
Special Masters Program
One of the most successful pretrial programs initiated in Connecticut is the Special Masters Pretrial Program. The Special Masters Program involves an informal Pretrial before a male and female team of experienced family lawyers who provide their feedback and input to assist the parties in reaching an agreement.
Attorney Steven H. Levy has served as a special master in the Litchfield, Waterbury and Hartford Judicial Districts, and also serves a special master at the Regional Family Trial Docket that deals exclusively with contested custody cases. Attorney Levy is also responsible for running the Special Masters Program in the Litchfield Judicial District.
Restraining orders in Connecticut can be obtained pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes Section 46b-l5. That statute provides that any 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 person in, or has recently been 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 apply to the Superior Court for a restraining order. Upon an Application for a restraining order, one of three things will occur: it will be granted, ex parte, upon the paperwork and be in effect for up to 14 days, which then requires a hearing; will not be granted but a hearing will be scheduled to address the issues; or will be denied. If a restraining order is granted it may remain in effect for up to six months and is renewable thereafter.
Some terms of a divorce judgment are modifiable and some are not. Property distributions are not modifiable. Child custody, child support and alimony are generally modifiable.
Child custody is determined by an examination of what is in a child’s best interests. The best interests of a child can change over time and when the noncustodial parent believes it is not in the best interests of the child to reside with the noncustodial parent he or she may move to modify custody.
Child support in Connecticut is based upon the Connecticut Child Support Guidelines, which is a mathematical formula involving the combined net income of the parents. If a major change occurs in one of the parent’s financial circumstances that would change the child support payment upward or downward by more than 15 percent, then a modification of child support may be warranted.
Alimony or spousal support is modifiable upon a substantial change of circumstances unless the original order of alimony was made non-modifiable.
In our mobile society, it is not uncommon for people to relocate either within or outside of Connecticut. Oftentimes, this occurs when parents are in the process of divorcing or have already been divorced. If the relocating parent has physical custody of the children, the nonrelocating parent can seek to prevent the relocating parent from moving.
The relocating parent shall bear the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, 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.
The court shall consider: (1) each parent’s reason 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 quality of the child’s future contact with the nonrelocating parent; (4) the degree to which the relocating parent and child may be enhanced economically, emotionally and educationally by the relocation; and (5) the feasibility of preserving the relationship between the nonrelocating parent and the child through suitable visitation arrangements.