What Is the Divorce Process in Connecticut?
One of the most common questions we receive from new clients is, “What will the court process entail?” While every divorce case is unique, and the complexity of financial and parenting issues can vary widely, the following is a general overview of the current process.
Commencing the Case
Divorce cases typically begin with one spouse preparing the initial paperwork, including a divorce complaint and summons, and arranging a State Marshal to serve the paperwork on the other spouse. The filing spouse also serves a notice of “automatic court orders” on the other party, which are Court Orders that both sides must follow during the case and which are intended to maintain the “status quo” for the family while the divorce is pending. After service is complete, the paperwork is filed with the Superior Court for the town where the parties live. Parties might also file motions at the start of the case or any other time while it is pending, such as requests for child support, custody, alimony, or exclusive use of the home.
During divorce proceedings, each spouse is entitled to “full and frank disclosure” regarding the financial circumstances of the other spouse. This usually occurs at the outset of the case, with each side formally requesting documents such as tax returns, pay stubs, bank statements, and retirement account statements. Each party also prepares a financial affidavit disclosing their income, expenses, debts, and assets. More in-depth discovery can include appraisals of real estate, businesses, pensions, or other assets, if the parties desire. Discovery also can extend beyond financial issues into other topic areas, particularly in the use of depositions or interrogatory questions to the other party.
Resolution Plan Date
The resolution plan date (RPD) is the key feature of Connecticut's divorce process. The RPD is usually your first court date, where the parties and their attorneys meet privately with a Family Relations Counselor to review your case. Some purposes of the RPD are to determine areas where you agree and disagree, how likely you are to reach an agreement on disputed issues, and what steps you and the court should take to move the case forward. The RPD is often viewed as a “triage” for your case since it is scheduled early on and the court uses it to determine the needs of your case and schedule future court services, deadlines, and hearings based on those needs. The RPD generally is not intended to become a contested hearing before a judge, although some issues might be resolved that day by agreement or brief appearance in the courtroom.
Court Dates and Services
After the RPD, no two cases proceed exactly alike and no two courthouses operate exactly the same. The next steps are based on the needs of the case, as requested by either party or determined by the court. For example, one or more “case dates” or “motion calendars” are typically assigned, which are hearings before a judge to resolve short-term issues while the case is pending. These hearings could relate to issues such as child support, parenting time, payment of household expenses, violation of court orders, or the improper conduct of a party. Additionally, in some cases with parenting disputes, a family relations officer or a guardian ad litem may be appointed in your case to evaluate the family and make recommendations to the Court about the best interests of the children. If settlement is possible, the court might also schedule mediation sessions with a judge or a family relations counselor to help resolve disputed issues.
Settlement or Trial
In each case, parties are divorced either by reaching an agreement on all issues or by having a trial before a judge who decides the outcome. Stated broadly, the main issues to decide in divorce cases are custody and parenting, child support, alimony, and the distribution of the parties’ assets and debts. The goal is always to try to reach an amicable agreement, and the vast majority of cases do. In those cases, the parties or their attorneys prepare a comprehensive agreement on all issues, which is then typically accepted by the Court as your divorce judgment. It is essential that this agreement is carefully drafted and reviewed, since it can have a lifelong impact on your finances and your relationship with your children. If settlement fails, the case proceeds to a contested trial before a judge, with each side presenting witnesses and evidence in support of their claims, after which the judge issues a decision with the divorce orders. The divorce orders become a final judgment unless a party appeals by the deadline, which is usually 20 days.
An Attorney’s Role
Each case is unique and this overview is only a general summary of the family court process. Many variables factor into each case. While Connecticut's divorce process, known as “Pathways,” is designed to meet the individual needs of each family, it can also make the process unpredictable. Scheduling a consultation with an attorney will allow you to obtain advice on the unique aspects of your case and help you decide how to proceed.
At KKC, our experienced and compassionate family law attorneys guide you through each step of the divorce process and handle the intricacies for you, minimizing your stress and advocating for you toward a favorable result. Our attorneys can be helpful whether the parties are working cooperatively or there is conflict. If you are interested in learning more about the process and how KKC can help, please feel free to contact our office at 860-646-1974 for a consultation. We are happy to assist.