There is no “common-law” marriage in Connecticut and there is no “common-law” divorce. Regardless of whether a couple chooses an adversarial or non-adversarial divorce method, a couple can only divorce through the court system by following the steps set forth by statute.
Service of Process
To initiate a divorce, one party, either the husband or the wife, must complete a summons and complaint and have a State marshal serve them upon their spouse. The marshal’s fee is generally between $55-$60. The one initiating the divorce is the plaintiff and the other is the defendant. It does not matter which party is the plaintiff and which is the defendant. The defendant may respond to the Complaint by filing an answer or cross-complaint, agreeing or disagreeing with the matters described in the complaint. Serving papers as described assures that the defendant has legal notice of the plaintiff’s divorce action. The attorney-mediator will help you prepare all of the required documents and contact the marshal. In addition, the mediator will arrange for the service of process to occur in the privacy of our office.
Filing Papers and Timing
After service of process, the plaintiff must then file the completed papers with the court along with the marshal’s proof that the papers were served upon the spouse, and a $350 filing fee. There are specific time periods to comply with regarding when the papers must be served and when they must be filed with the court. The attorney-mediator will help you determine how these time periods apply to you. The day that the summons and complaint are effectively filed with the court, and the action is officially initiated, is called the Return Date. Service of process must occur at least 12 days prior to the Return Date and the papers must be filed with the Court at least 6 days prior to the Return Date. The Return Date also begins the running of the mandatory 90-day waiting period before the divorce can be finalized. The day that the waiting period ends is the Case Management Date, upon which the parties must notify the Court of the status of their divorce. Generally, parties can file a Case Management Agreement with the Court on the Case Management Date, in lieu of appearing in Court. If, however, the parties continue to have unresolved issues regarding child custody and parenting, they must appear in Court on the Case Management Date.
Serving the Complaint upon the defendant triggers the application of certain rules called Automatic Orders that bind both parties. In general, the Automatic Orders set forth a list of restrictions that prevent the husband or wife from drastically altering their current financial situation. For example, absent the other party’s consent or a court order, neither party may sell the marital home or clean out joint bank accounts. Parties also may not upset the family situation by relocating children out of state or changing the locks on the marital home. A copy of the Automatic Orders is attached to the Complaint so that both parties are fully aware of what they are. The attorney-mediator will explain these rules so that you understand your rights and responsibilities.
During the 90-day waiting period, the couple must decide the issues of their divorce, including asset and debt division, parenting obligations and responsibilities, child support and spousal support. These agreements must be memorialized in the form of a written separation agreement. In addition, the parties must perform certain other tasks prior to divorcing. Within 30 days of the Return Date, the husband and wife must each prepare and exchange, a detailed financial affidavit disclosing his or her financial situation. In addition, couples with minor children must attend a mandatory state-approved parenting education course. The mediator will help you gather the necessary data and forms.
Finalizing the Divorce
Once the waiting period has expired, if the husband and wife are in agreement about all of their divorce issues, they can bring their separation agreement, updated financial affidavits and certain other required ancillary documents to court for an uncontested dissolution hearing. A judge will review the separation agreement and ask questions to be sure the parties understand its terms. After the expiration of 21 days following the dissolution, the parties can obtain a certified copy of the divorce judgment for their personal files.
The above is a general discussion of the basics of the divorce process in Connecticut and how it applies to mediation. For more specific information about divorce in Connecticut, you may refer to the website of the Connecticut Judicial Branch.