Couples using divorce mediation in Connecticut are sometimes surprised to learn that they cannot entirely avoid the involvement of the court system. A divorce can be initiated in Connecticut only by the filing of a Summons and Complaint with the Superior Court.
While that may sound imposing, in mediation this process is defused by the way it is handled. The mediator prepares the Court documents in partnership with the divorcing couple. Sometimes one spouse prefers to be the plaintiff (the initiator of the divorce action), or the defendant (the party against whom the action is brought), because of the circumstances of their divorce. A spouse who did not ask for a divorce often does not want to be the plaintiff in the court filings. Other times neither spouse has a preference and a coin toss will decide who will initiate the divorce action.
Once the Summons and Complaint are prepared, they must be “served” upon the defendant by a State marshal before the papers can be filed. In divorce mediation, the marshal often comes to a mediation session to perform this process, which is simply a matter of handing a copy of the Summons and Complaint to the defendant. While being served with papers can sound intimidating, having the marshal appear at a mediation session in plain clothes is usually a low-key event.
Once a couple has reached agreement on all issues through divorce mediation, the mediator will draft a document reflecting their agreement. In Connecticut divorces this document is known as a Separation Agreement. This document is ultimately reviewed by a judge at what is called an Uncontested Dissolution Hearing. The hearing is a very brief meeting in which the judge will read through the Separation Agreement and ask the couple questions about it. The goal is to be sure that each party understands the agreement into which they have entered.
While the divorcing spouses appear in Court “pro se”, meaning they are not represented by counsel, the divorce mediator will make sure that they are well-prepared for their hearing. They will be especially versed on the terms of their Separation Agreement because they were active participants in its creation. In the vast majority of cases, the terms of the mediated Separation Agreement will be acceptable to the judge. Judges generally appreciate that a couple has chosen to mediate their divorce, and will respect their agreement as written.
Except for the need to serve and file the Summons and Complaint, and to appear at the Uncontested Dissolution Hearing, the Court is generally not involved in divorce mediation. The divorce mediation process takes place in the mediator’s office and the couple is able to make decisions based upon their own values and sense of fairness. It the role of the divorce mediator to help the couple get in touch with their values, and incorporate them into their divorce agreement.