What to Expect
A guide to the divorce process in Connecticut
At Louden, Katz & McGrath, our goal is to help clients be well prepared and familiar with the scope of legal work to be done on his/her behalf. In this section is a rough timeline of the main events of the divorce process in Connecticut, as well as answers to frequently asked questions and links to publications on topics related to divorce and family law.
It’s important to know that Connecticut is a "no-fault" state. Simply put, this means that, in order to terminate a marriage, it’s no longer necessary to prove that one spouse has been at fault for the breakdown of the marriage (for such reasons as "intolerable cruelty" or adultery).
In this respect the law treats the dissolution of a marriage much as it would the dissolving of a business partnership; each party entered into the relationship in good faith, but things did not work out. In Connecticut, 95 percent of divorce cases are settled, sparing both parties the time, expense and emotional hardship of a trial. Settling requires that each party act reasonably and in good faith by not demanding too much or offering too little.
Here are the significant steps and an approximate timeline:
Summons and Complaint. After a spouse decides to proceed with divorce, one party becomes the plaintiff (the one bringing suit) and the other is the defendant. The initial legal papers are a Summons (summoning the defendant to court) and the Complaint (background facts and legal claims).
Suit papers are served. The Summons and Complaint are served on the defendant by a marshal acting on the plaintiff’s behalf, or, in some cases, suit papers can be mailed to the lawyer for the defendant. We prefer that this not be done by surprise, but by a mutually agreed-upon time and method.
Return Date. The return date is the first official day of a case.
Case is opened. After the suit papers are served, they are sent to the Superior Court and a court file is opened. The case then becomes a public record.
Financial Affidavits. The exchange of Financial Affidavits is supposed to occur within one month after the return date. Latitude is given here, as in other timing areas.
Temporary orders. After the suit papers are served, certain court orders become automatically effective (for example, restricting specified financial transactions or removing a child from Connecticut). Either spouse may ask for temporary court orders concerning such matters as alimony, child custody, a parenting plan, child support and exclusive possession of a residence. These orders are known as “pendente lite,“ meaning while the “litigation is pending.”
Case Management Agreement. The Case Management Agreement outlines the proposed schedule for the case and is filed with the court about three months after the return date. The proposed schedule is generally approved by the court. The Connecticut Family Court has a policy that all divorce cases are to be concluded within one year.
Custody-parenting study. If couples disagree about child custody or parenting arrangements, the court can order a family study, including psychological evaluations. The study is done by court personnel or mental health professionals, resulting in specific recommendations. A study may lengthen the case by several months.
Gathering facts. Generally the most time-consuming phase of a case is the gathering of facts. It largely is accurate to say that “as go the facts, so goes the case.” That is, divorce cases are resolved by basically applying legal criteria and the principle of fairness and reasonableness (“equity”) to the facts relevant to a case. We at Louden, Katz & McGrath have found ourselves unique in that we prepare a brief summary of relevant facts for key reference by our clients and us.
Case evaluation. Once the facts have been determined or agreed upon, we perform a case evaluation and give clients our best estimate of what we believe would happen if there were a court trial. Because of the many subjective factors present, divorce cases do not lend themselves to preciseness. However, we consider case evaluations to be fundamental to our representing and advising clients, in helping clients come to an informed decision on issues.
Negotiations. The parties and their lawyers enter into negotiations.
Court pretrial program. If settlement negotiations fail, the parties and their lawyers may appear in court before two “special masters,” one of each gender, who are experienced divorce lawyers that volunteer their time and are designated by the court. Cases are presented and the special masters make a recommendation on how they believe the case would be resolved after a trial. If necessary, a second pretrial session may be held before a judge. Parties generally will not be directly involved in the judicial pretrial proceeding.
Private pretrial process. If both parties agree, we can enter into private pretrial mediation. In contrast to the court program, we choose the “private special master.” Although private special masters are paid, this process has the advantage of handpicking the master(s), generally lowering overall costs, speeding up the proceedings, and giving the opportunity for follow-up sessions.
Settlement. If the parties come to a settlement, an agreement is signed and an uncontested final hearing is held. The judge pronounces the couple divorced and makes the provisions of the settlement agreement the orders of the court (“final decree” or “judgment”).
Trial. If negotiations and pretrial sessions do not produce a settlement, the case will be scheduled for trial. All trials are solely before a judge; there are no juries in divorce cases.
Time overview. Most cases take from six months to a year, with more highly contested cases taking longer. Timing depends upon the complexities of the case, the degree of agreement or conflict, and the reasonableness of the parties and lawyers. As of 2015 we now have an expedited process whereby if parties come to a written agreement, they can be divorced in less than 90 days.