Friday, April 12, 2013

DIVORCE: Basics - What You Should Know

A dissolution of marriage is almost always upsetting and delicate in nature.  Every case is different and requires individual attention.  The general information in this informational post is presented to help you understand the court process and answer some questions you may already have.  We have posted four blog articles devoted to this assistive tool we call “Divorce: What You Should Know”.  In this first article, we will provide information about the “Basics”.  Please refer to the other articles in the series: Money, Parenting, and Process.  For more information, please feel free to contact Flaherty Legal Group, LLC. 
* Connecticut statutes use the legal term "dissolution of marriage" to mean divorce.  While the two terms may be used interchangeably in informal discussions, legal documents will use "dissolution of marriage".
* The only practical effect of Connecticut's "no‑fault" dissolution of marriage law is that it is now only necessary to prove that a marriage has broken down irretrievably to obtain a divorce.  However, other causes for the breakdown of a marriage, such as intolerable cruelty, habitual intemperance, or adultery, may be brought to the court's attention and may be considered by the court in determining the award of property and alimony, if any.  (See our article titled “10 Grounds for Divorce in Connecticut” for more information about causes that may be considered by the court.)
* Commencement Of Suit:  A dissolution of marriage action is started by one party filing with the court legal papers called a "summons" and a "complaint".  The party filing is called the "plaintiff" and the other party the "defendant."  Before filing the summons and complaint with the court, the plaintiff has these papers served on (delivered to) the defendant by a sheriff.
The summons tells the defendant that he or she is being sued for dissolution of marriage.  The summons also states a "return date", or date by which the defendant must file with the court an "appearance", which is a legal paper stating the name of the defendant's attorney or whether the defendant will act as his or her own attorney ("pro se").  It is not necessary for anyone to appear in court on the return date. 
The complaint states the date and place of the marriage, the number of minor children the parties have, the reason for the dissolution, and whether either of the parties has received state support.  The complaint also states the relief sought by the plaintiff, such as alimony, child support, custody and counsel fees.
Length Of Time To Finalize:  Connecticut law provides that ninety days must pass after the return date before a dissolution action can proceed to a final hearing.  Because the courts must process a great number of dissolution cases, the earliest a case can be heard is usually about four months from the date of the sheriff's service.
There are many other factors that may delay a case, especially when the parties cannot reach a settlement and it is necessary to have the court decide the custody of minor children, the division of property, the amount of support or alimony, and other matters.  Disputed cases often can take a year or longer to finalize. 
* Temporary Orders: After the lawsuit is started, either party may ask the court for orders which, if entered, will be in effect until the dissolution hearing.  These temporary orders are often called by their Latin name, "pendente lite," which means "during the litigation".
A party must file a motion with the court stating what pendente lite orders are sought.  A hearing will then be scheduled at which the parties must appear.  The court will rule on the motion after hearing argument and perhaps testimony.
The most common pendente lite orders are for custody of the children, alimony and/or support, and exclusive possession of the home.  These orders may be modified before the final hearing.  Failure to follow these orders will make a party liable to be charged with contempt of court.
* Automatic Orders: Effective October 1, 1997, automatic orders are entered in all family cases during the pendency of the action.  These orders shall apply to both parties.  The service of these automatic orders shall be made with the service of process of a complaint for dissolution of marriage, legal separation, annulment, custody of visitation.  The automatic orders shall be effective with regard to the plaintiff upon the signing of the complaint and with regard to the defendant upon service and shall remain in place during the pendency of the action, unless terminated, modified or amended by further order of the court  upon motion of either of the parties. 

Please continue to the other sections of this four-part informational blog series titled “Divorce: What You Should Know”.  Other sections include: Money, “Parenting, and The Process

Attorney James Flaherty of Flaherty Legal Group in West Hartford, CT practices divorce and family law and can help guide you through divorce.
Attorney James Flaherty
Attorney James T. Flaherty practices Divorce and Family Law with Attorneys Pamela Magnano and Sandi Girolamo at Flaherty Legal Group in West Hartford, Connecticut.

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