Overview of Divorce Laws in Connecticut
If you are considering a divorce in Connecticut, it is important to understand the divorce laws and how they apply to your situation. This guide will help you understand the rules and procedures so that you can equip yourself with the information you need to get through a divorce in Connecticut.
Here are some of the important legal issues that are common to many divorces in Connecticut:
- Equitable Distribution and Asset Division
- Alimony and Child Support
- Child Custody and Visitation
- Divorce Process
- Other Divorce Issues
Equitable Distribution and Asset Division
Marital Property and Division of Assets in Connecticut
Connecticut is an equitable distribution state. This means that all marital assets are divided in a fair and equitable way. It does not mean that they are always divided equally on a 50/50 basis.
Prior to dividing assets, it must be determined which assets qualify as marital property in Connecticut. Most assets spouses accumulate during a marriage are considered marital property, but there are exceptions, such as with gifts or an inheritance. Separate property is awarded only to the spouse who owns it and will not be a factor in dividing assets.
Courts will look at several factors in determining an equitable distribution. This will include the length of the marriage, the reason why the marriage ended, the contributions of each spouse, tax consequences, if one spouse will be responsible for taking care of minor children, sources of future income and employability of each spouse, and the contribution each spouse made in acquiring, maintaining or appreciation of martial assets, among others.
Courts divide debts in Connecticut the same way they divide assets. They are split in a fair and equitable way, but not always on a 50/50 basis.
Unless both sides can agree, the court will make a binding determination on both the assets and liabilities.
Creditors are not bound by a divorce, so if a debt is assigned to only one spouse, the other could still legally be held responsible for it until they take action to have their name removed from the obligation.
Gifts and Inherited Property
In Connecticut, if you inherit money or real property, and if you keep that separate and do not commingle it into the family’s finances, you will have a much better chance of keeping that asset to yourself in a divorce. The same applies to gifts given specifically to only one person.
Another way to protect a gift or inheritance is to have a spouse sign a pre- or postnuptial agreement agreeing that the asset belongs exclusively to the other spouse, no matter how it is characterized in the marriage.
Pensions, IRAs, 401Ks and Retirement Plans
Pensions and retirement accounts are considered marital property in Connecticut. This means they are and subject to equitable distribution laws. But this applies only to the amounts accumulated during marriage. Any amounts before a marriage or after separation are considered separate property.
Retirement plans are split by executing a qualified domestic relations order, or QDRO. A spouse may receive a share greater or less than 50% depending on the other terms of how assets are divided. It may be decided to keep the marital house in exchange for giving up interest in a retirement plan, for example.
The QDRO must be drafted by an attorney and approved by the courts. Then it is submitted to the plan administrator who must also approve it. After approval, the account is divided according to the specifics of the QDRO.
To get a QDRO online, we recommend utilizing the services of QDRO Counsel. As the leading brand in online QDROs, QDRO Counsel is dedicated to making sure you get the most out of your Qualified Domestic Relations Order.
Determining the exact value of pensions and retirement accounts can be a complex process, and many times an expert such as an accountant, business appraiser, pension valuator, actuary, or a certified divorce financial analyst is retained to make an accurate assessment.
Before assets can be divided in Connecticut, it must be decided which assets are marital assets and which assets are separate assets.
Generally, any property acquired before a marriage or after a date of separation is considered separate property. Separate property may also apply to certain items like gifts or inheritances, regardless of whether or not it was received during the marriage.
It is important to understand that any separate property that is commingled with marital property during a marriage may be claimed as a marital asset. For example, depositing inherited money or a gift into a joint bank account may be seen as commingling. The same might apply for both spouses living in an inherited house.
Alimony and Child Support
Alimony in Connecticut
Alimony may be requested on a temporary basis as soon as a divorce action is filed or requested on a permanent or long-term basis as part of a settlement.
Courts in Connecticut look at several factors when it comes to determining alimony:
- Age, physical and emotional health of both spouses
- Existing debts and assets
- Child custody arrangements and whether or not the primary care spouse can hold a job while taking care of the children
- The present and future earning capacity of each spouse
- Was a spouse’s ability to earn an income impacted by being a stay-at-home caretaker.
- The needs and standard of living of each spouse
- Tax consequences
- Any agreements that are in place between the spouses
- Any other factors that are appropriate to consider before reaching a decision.
In determining an award of permanent alimony, a court may also look at the cause of the divorce as well. If there are some kinds of spousal misconduct present in the marriage (adultery, abuse, abandonment, etc.) then this may affect the amount of the award. There is no formula used. A judge has a wide degree of discretion when it comes to determining alimony.
Child Support in Connecticut
In Connecticut, both parents are responsible for meeting the financial needs of their children. This may require one parent to pay child support.
Support is determined by the court looking at the parent’s combined net weekly income and then using state guidelines to determine what the basic child support obligation should be.
By way of example, as of 2018, the basic child support obligation for parents earning $1,000 per week is:
- $229 (or about 23%) of the combined net weekly income for 1 child
- $322 (or about 32%) for 2 children
- $385 (or about 39%) for 3 children
Percentages will change depending on if a parent earns more or less than $1000 per week.
Child support is usually paid until the child graduates from high school or turns 19, whichever happens first. A parent will probably continue paying even if:
- the child’s other parent gets married or lives with someone else
- you don’t see the child
- you are in prison or unemployed (it’s possible to ask for the support amount to be lowered).
Modifications to the amount of child support a parent pays can be requested based on if there have been major changes in either parent’s life since the previous child support order was put in place.
Child Custody and Visitation
Child Custody in Connecticut
Just as it is all other states, custody and visitation issues in Connecticut are primarily decided by what the best interests of children are in a divorce. Courts are gender neutral and do not give preference to a mother or father based. They are also reluctant to separate siblings whenever possible.
To determine the best interest of the child, by law, a judge may consider any of the following factors:
- the personality and developmental needs of the child
- the ability and willingness of each parent to understand and meet the needs of the child
- the child’s preference, if the child is mature enough to have a preference
- the past and current relationship of the child with each parent and the child’s siblings
- the willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a relationship between the child and the other parent
- any attempts by either parent to involve the child in the parents’ disputes
- the involvement of each parent in the child’s life
- the child’s adjustment to his or her home, school, and community environments
- the length of time that the child has lived in a stable environment and the desirability of continuing that environment
- the stability of the child’s existing or proposed residences
- the mental and physical health of each parent
- the child’s cultural background
- the effect on the child of the actions of an abuser, if any domestic violence has occurred between the parents or between a parent and another individual or the child
- whether the child or a sibling of the child has been abused or neglected, and
- whether each parent completed a parenting education program.
Pro Tip: There are online services that help ex-spouses co-parent more effectively! Our favorite resource for this is Our Family Wizard. Their platform allows for all kinds of communication and scheduling without the hassle and stress of the court room.
Even if substance abuse is a contributing factor to the break-up of a marriage in Connecticut, it cannot be cited as a ground for divorce. Connecticut is strictly a no-fault state.
However, substance abuse can play a major role is with child custody. If it is determined that a child is at risk due to a parent’s substance abuse problem, a court may grant only limited or supervised visitations, or deny contact completely. This may change if a parent can prove they are no longer affected by an abuse problem.
Courts may require an addicted parent to submit to periodic drug and alcohol screens, attend Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings, or receive addiction treatment.
Substance abuse may also factor into the division of property when it can be shown that the abuse directly impacted a couple’s finances. A spouse who spent large amount of money on drugs or alcohol may be penalized to some degree when assets are divided.
Bifurcation of marital status
Bifurcation of marital status means that both parties can legally divide their divorce into two parts.
The first half of the bifurcation satisfies the grounds for divorce. The second part deals with things that may have become sticking points such as child custody, visitation, child support, alimony or other issues that are keeping the divorce from being finalized.
As part of the divorce process in Connecticut, each spouse must disclose their marital assets and separate assets so that a fair and equitable distribution can take place.
Disclosing assets is also important in figuring out child support and alimony issues as well.
Spouses can be reluctant to release this type of information. When that happens, legal remedies may may include a subpoena served directly on a financial institution to get all of the required information.
Also, if a spouse lies on a financial disclosure document, they may be liable for both criminal and civil penalties.
When a spouse files for divorce in Connecticut, the other spouse has 30 days to respond to the complaint after paperwork is served. If they do not file a response, then the original filer can ask for a default judgment.
The spouse who does not respond forfeits their right to contest terms of the divorce, including child custody and support, alimony a division of assets and debts and other related issues.
In some circumstances, an extension may be granted, such as due to a health or family emergency, or if a respondent is on active military duty.
Other Divorce Issues
Domestic violence goes way beyond any impacts it may have on divorce. It includes any kind of physical abuse, emotional abuse, stalking, or any other kind of harassment including those made through phone calls, mail, or social media inflicted on one spouse by the other.
When domestic violence is present in a marriage, the immediate safety of all family members is the primary concern. Family members who are at risk need to take legal actions such as implementing a restraining order and making arrangements to leave the family home as soon as possible. When in doubt, call law enforcement immediately for help.
For example, it can have an impact on child custody. Because the best interests of a child always come first, if domestic violence by one parent can be demonstrated, it could place restrictions on custody or visitation privileges.
Virtually all employers dictate that a spouse can no longer remain on the other’s health insurance plan after a divorce. This means they must get their own healthcare coverage if it is not covered as part of a settlement agreement.
Some settlements do provide that one spouse will need to continue paying for coverage for the other after a divorce. This is also especially true when children are involved. Coverage for children is mandatory more often than not and may be split by both spouses.
An ex-spouse can apply for COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) benefits if their spouse was covered by an employer during the marriage. But this is often a very expensive proposition because an employer no longer covers any portion of the premium.
Infidelity and Adultery
Infidelity and adultery don’t have a bearing on whether a divorce will be granted or not in Connecticut.
But these issues may become an issue in things such as alimony or a division of assets if it can be shown that they had a direct impact on a couple’s finances.
Also, if it can be shown that adultery has created a negative environment for children in a marriage, then custody and/or support may be affected to some degree.
Military Divorces in Connecticut
Military divorces follow several of the same procedures as civilian divorces in Connecticut. But there are also some notable differences.
Service members and their spouses can file for divorce in:
- The state where the nonmilitary spouse resides
- The state where the service member is currently stationed
- The state where the service member claims legal residency
Under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, active military members are protected from default judgements while on active duty. This protection was put in place because no servicemember should be distracted by legal issues such as a divorce while actively serving in another state or country. A servicemember can choose to waive delaying the divorce by agreeing to allow the divorce to proceed uncontested.
How debts, assets and retirement benefits are divided is governed by the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act. A key element is that the former spouse must have been married to the former servicemember for a minimum of 10 years while the military member has served on active duty. However, normal Connecticut property division laws are used to determine who gets which assets.
Former spouses who have not remarried can get medical, commissary, exchange and theater privileges under the Morale, Welfare and Recreation program if he or she meets the requirements of what is known as the 20/20/20 rule:
- The former spouse was married to the military member for at least 20 years at the time of the divorce, dissolution or annulment.
- The military member has performed at least 20 years of service that is creditable in determining eligibility for retired pay (the member does not have to be retired from active duty).
- The former spouse was married to the member during at least 20 years of the member’s retirement-creditable service.
Former spouses may also be entitled to TRICARE medical coverage if he or she meets certain requirements as well.
Looking for more advice about divorce? Here are a few of our favorite resources: