A typical high income Fairfield County resident who is considering divorce needs to consider the divorce laws of Connecticut and their impact upon the unique issues facing the wealthy. While a divorce in Fairfield County must follow Connecticut State Law, the manner in which you choose to divorce can greatly affect the outcome within the state’s legal parameters. It pays to be aware of the options available to you and to choose wisely. The method you choose can have a large impact on the cost of your divorce and the ultimate outcome.
The Impact of No Fault Divorce in Fairfield County
Connecticut is a “no fault” divorce state, but that does not mean that fault is never considered. It means that it is possible to file for a divorce based on the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage without alleging the fault of one spouse or the other. If however, you choose the traditional two-lawyer method of divorce in Connecticut, and if the case is litigated, the fault of the parties is one factor that a judge may consider in both the division of the couple’s assets and the awarding of alimony. This is a powerful reason for many couples to choose a non-adversarial divorce method such as collaborative divorce or divorce mediation in Fairfield County.
The conventional wisdom is that couples with large assets and high incomes should take the traditional, adversarial route to divorce. The thinking is that when there is so much to gain or lose, it is necessary to have a zealous advocate protecting your interests. On the contrary, where the stakes are high, couples have an increased incentive to choose a non-adversarial method which allows the couple’s own sense of fairness, and not a judge’s conception of fault, to be the primary factor in deciding financial issues. When the divorcing couple earns just enough to get by day to day, the judge has less flexibility because both parties need to be left with enough to survive. Where there is more than enough money to go around, as in most Fairfield County divorces, fault may more readily be used by a judge to punish the offending party and skew the results.
The Increased Need for Privacy in Divorce in Fairfield County
Even where fault does not directly influence the financial outcome of a divorce, both parties stand to lose if the monied spouse risks the public exposure of his or her bad behavior. The typical executive going through a divorce in Fairfield County may have a high profile position or business that cannot withstand the airing of dirty laundry. Both parties (and the children) lose if the primary income earner ‘s livelihood is compromised by the divorce process. In collaborative divorce and divorce mediation there are no court hearings other than the one perfunctory uncontested dissolution hearing at the end of negotiations. Personal misdeeds are not discussed in open court and do not become public record. The fear of such exposure need not come into play in negotiations.
Equitable Distribution in the Fairfield County Divorce
Asset division in Connecticut is based upon the principal of equitable distribution. Many people who divorce in Fairfield County have substantial assets. How they are divided is often quite contentious. In some states, there is a presumption that assets received by a spouse through inheritance or gift from family members are to be retained by that spouse in divorce. A party anticipating a divorce in Connecticut needs to be aware that all of the couple’s assets can be subject to distribution in the divorce proceedings, regardless of their source. For that reason, in a typical Fairfield County divorce, a party may benefit from the use of collaborative divorce or divorce mediation, where the parties’ own sense of the equity of distributing such assets is primary. As with the issue of fault, in collaborative divorce or divorce mediation, the couple can allow their own values to determine the outcome instead of relying on legal presumptions. For example, in an adversarial divorce, one party’s attorney might “go after” the other spouse’s inheritance, even if the parties have always treated such inheritance as the personal property of the inheriting spouse. In collaborative divorce or divorce mediation, the result is more likely to respect the couple’s intent.
In addition to the above, many couples choose divorce mediation in Fairfield County for the cost savings. Even a typical high earning Fairfield County resident, who can afford high priced lawyers, would like to minimize divorce costs. Only the most acrimonious couple would prefer to give their money to their lawyers rather than their children. It is easy to understand how divorce mediation is economical. First of all, fees are usually billed on an hourly basis and usually no retainer is required. Collaborative divorce, even though it involves the use of two lawyers (and other divorce professionals in the case of the team method of collaborative divorce) and usually requires a retainer, is significantly less costly than an adversarial divorce for several reasons.
First, in both collaborative divorce and divorce mediation, negotiations take place face to face with both spouses and either the mediator or the two attorneys present. This avoids the time and money-wasting “telephone tag” that often occurs in the adversarial divorce. It also avoids the costly misunderstandings inherent in hearing a spouse’s thoughts as interpreted first through his lawyer and then through yours. There can be no “spin” put on communications that are face to face. The negotiations in collaborative divorce and divorce mediation focus on efficient and effective problem solving rather than on fighting and blame.
Second, by using collaborative divorce or divorce mediation, a couple completely avoids the filing of motions and the related court appearances. If you have ever waited with your attorney in court for your motion to be heard, you have heard the clock ticking and seen your legal bills growing by the minute. To add insult to injury, you are losing valuable time when you could be earning money to pay for these mounting legal fees.
In conclusion, despite popular wisdom, the couple who is anticipating divorce in Fairfield County would be well served by considering a non-adversarial method such as collaborative divorce or divorce mediation.
Attorney Vicki Volper, a Westport family lawyer, has extensive experience working with high net worth couples in both divorce mediation and collaborative divorce.