Does It Matter Who Files for Divorce First in Connecticut?

by McConnell Family Law

The process of divorce can be complex and emotionally challenging, and it’s natural to have questions about how certain decisions may impact the outcome. One common query that arises is whether it matters who files for divorce first in Connecticut. Understanding the potential implications of being the first to initiate the divorce proceedings is essential for individuals contemplating this step. 

If you’re going through a divorce and need legal support and guidance, McConnell Family Law Group is here to help. Our team of experienced Connecticut divorce lawyers has extensive experience helping clients navigate the complexities of divorce proceedings. Whether you need help with child custody disputes, property distribution during the divorce, alimony, or other related matters, we are here to provide the guidance you need. We also offer assistance for couples who would like to consider divorce mediation and other alternatives to litigation. Contact us today at (203) 541-5520 to schedule a consultation and take the first step towards a brighter future.

Divorce Laws in Connecticut

Divorce in Connecticut is governed by the state’s divorce and family laws. These laws dictate the processes, requirements, and conditions that must be met in order for a divorce to be legally granted after being filed in a Connecticut court. The divorce process in Connecticut can include various aspects such as the distribution of property, alimony, child support, custody, and parenting plans. Each divorce case is unique, and the outcome can vary according to the specifics of the marriage, the circumstances leading to the divorce, and the decisions of the court.

In Connecticut, the legal term for divorce is “dissolution of marriage” and can be obtained through the state’s judicial system. In a divorce, the court grants a “decree of divorce,” which legally dissolves the marriage, allowing both parties to return to single status and potentially remarry.

Grounds for Divorce

There must be a legally recognized reason, or “ground” for a divorce to be granted in Connecticut. The state allows for both no-fault and fault-based grounds for divorce.

These grounds include:

  • No-fault: Irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, which means that the couple has experienced an irreparable rift in their relationship and there is no possibility of reconciliation. This is the most common ground for divorce in Connecticut.
  • Although rarely alleged, fault-based grounds include:
    • Adultery
    • Fraudulent contract (marriage based on deception)
    • Cruelty, abuse, or violence
    • Desertion for at least one year
    • Imprisonment of a spouse
    • Habitual intemperance (excessive alcohol or drug use)
    • Mental illness and confinement in a mental institution for at least five years
Greenwich divorce attorney

No-Fault vs. Fault-based Divorce

A no-fault divorce in Connecticut is based on the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, meaning that the couple agrees that their marriage is beyond repair and there are no reasonable prospects of reconciliation. All that is required is for one-party to make this claim, and the court will grant the divorce. In a no-fault divorce, the parties do not need to prove that either spouse was responsible for the breakdown of their marriage.

On the other hand, a fault-based divorce involves proving that one spouse caused the marriage’s breakdown by engaging in certain behaviors or actions, such as adultery or abuse. In a fault-based divorce, the spouse seeking the divorce must prove their allegations with evidence. 

In Connecticut, it is important to note that even if a fault-based ground is established, the court may still consider the parties’ conduct during the marriage when determining factors such as property distribution, alimony, and child custody.

Residency Requirements

To file for divorce in Connecticut, at least one of the spouses must meet the state’s residency requirements. These requirements include:

  • One spouse must have been a Connecticut resident for a continuous period of at least 12 months immediately before filing for divorce, or for 12 months immediately preceding the date of dissolution. Note, how the complaint or cross-complaint alleges this factor is important. 
  • The couple got married in Connecticut, and one spouse has resided in the state continuously since the marriage.
  • The grounds for divorce occurred in Connecticut, and one spouse has resided in the state continuously since the grounds occurred.

Once the residency requirements are met and the divorce is filed, there is a 90-day waiting period before the court hears the case; however, this period may be waived, but requires the correct forms and affidavits to be filed to obtain the court’s approval.

Understanding the divorce laws in Connecticut can help guide you through what can be a complex and emotionally challenging process. It is advisable to consult with a family law attorney to help navigate the legal aspects of divorce and ensure that your rights and interests are protected.

Benefits of Filing First in a Connecticut Divorce

Filing first in a Connecticut divorce can offer certain advantages to the party initiating the process. Some of the benefits of being the first to file for divorce include establishing jurisdiction, early opportunities for negotiation, and gaining control over the process.

Establishing Jurisdiction

In Connecticut, jurisdiction refers to the authority of the court to hear and decide a divorce case. By filing first, you can ensure that the divorce is heard in a Connecticut court, providing you meet the minimum residency requirements. This way, you can avoid having your divorce heard in another state where your spouse may have moved, which might have different laws that you are not familiar with.

Opportunities for Negotiation

Filing first provides you with the opportunity to present your desired terms of the divorce to your spouse at the outset of the process. This can include matters such as child custody, child support, alimony, and distribution of assets. By putting these terms forward first, you can set the stage for negotiation and potentially reach a more favorable outcome. 

Gaining Control Over the Process

By being the first to file, you can set the timeline for the divorce proceedings. Filing first allows you to start organizing your case and preparing your arguments, giving you a head start over your spouse. Also, being the first to file can be beneficial psychologically, as it shows you are taking initiative and control in the situation. Whenever there is a hearing or trial you get to present your evidence first.

Potential Disadvantages of Filing for Divorce First

While there are benefits to filing first, there can also be potential disadvantages you should consider. These may include costs and fees associated with initiating the process and the possibility of provoking opposition from your spouse.

Costs and Fees Associated With Initiating the Process

Filing for divorce in Connecticut requires payment of filing fees and other associated costs. By filing first, you are responsible for covering these initial expenses. Additionally, if you decide to hire an attorney, you may incur legal fees from the outset.

Possibility of Provoking Opposition

Taking the first step in filing for divorce may provoke a strong reaction from your spouse. This may result in your spouse becoming more antagonistic, potentially leading to a longer and more contentious divorce process. In some cases, a more collaborative approach may be beneficial, with both parties working together to file for divorce jointly.

Negotiating Strategy

Typically but not always, the Plaintiff will send over the first proposed term sheet to start the negotiation process. In some cases, it is beneficial to have the opposing party start the process. 

Preparing to File for Divorce

Gathering Documents and Information

Before filing for divorce, it is important to gather all necessary documents and information. This includes financial records, property deeds, tax returns, vehicle titles, loan documents, insurance policies, and other relevant documentation. Having a complete and organized set of documents can help ensure a smoother divorce process, and can be particularly important if the division of assets and debts is contested.

Understanding the Divorce Petition

The divorce petition, also known as a complaint for dissolution of marriage, is the initial document filed in the divorce process. It outlines the grounds for the divorce, as well as the requested terms regarding child custody, child support, alimony, and property division. It is important to understand the contents of the divorce petition, as it sets the foundation for the entire divorce process. If you are unsure about any aspect of the petition, it is advisable to seek legal guidance.

While it is possible to file for divorce without the assistance of an attorney, it is generally recommended to consult with a legal professional, particularly if there are complex issues involved. An experienced divorce attorney can help you navigate the legal system, protect your rights, and negotiate on your behalf. Additionally, there are resources available, such as mediation services and financial planning experts, that can be helpful in ensuring a smoother divorce process. Ultimately, the decision to seek legal representation and utilize resources should be based on your individual circumstances and the complexity of your divorce case.

Effects of Filing First on the Divorce Process

When one spouse files for divorce before the other, they have the opportunity to request temporary orders from the court, which can address various aspects of the divorce process. These temporary orders can help to provide stability and direction in the early stages of divorce and may include the following:

  • Protective Orders: If there are concerns about violence or abuse, the spouse filing first may request a protective order. This can help protect the filing spouse and any children involved by limiting communication and contact with the other spouse. Additionally, the judge may order the abusive spouse to vacate the family home as a condition of the protective order. Filing first allows you to take control and ensure your safety during the divorce process.
  • Child Custody and Visitation: Temporary orders related to child custody and visitation can be extremely important, especially in contentious divorces. By filing first, you can ask the court to grant you temporary custody of your children, as well as establish a visitation schedule. This can help to provide consistency and stability for the children during a difficult time, as well as allow you to maintain control over important decisions related to their care.
  • Financial Concerns: Filing first also allows you to request temporary financial support, such as spousal support or child support. This can be crucial if one spouse is financially dependent on the other, or if there are concerns about one spouse dissipating assets during the divorce process. Additionally, temporary orders can be used to determine who is responsible for various household expenses, such as mortgage payments. It is common to seek contributions from another spouse for attorneys’ fees. 
Requested Temporary Orders Description
Protective Orders Filing first allows for the request of protective orders, vital in cases involving violence or abuse. These orders can safeguard the filing spouse and children by limiting contact with the other spouse and potentially mandating the abusive spouse to leave the family home.
Child Custody and Visitation Initiating the divorce process first enables the filing spouse to seek temporary custody of children and establish visitation schedules, ensuring stability and consistency for the children amidst the divorce turmoil and retaining decision-making authority.
Financial Concerns By filing first, one can request interim financial support like spousal or child support, crucial for financially dependent spouses or to prevent asset dissipation. Temporary orders can also allocate responsibility for household expenses and may involve seeking contributions for legal fees.

Timeline and Procedure

Filing first also has an impact on the timeline and procedure of the divorce process, which may provide certain strategic advantages.

  • Discovery process: In many cases, the spouse filing first can initiate the discovery process, which involves the exchange of information and documents related to assets, liabilities, income, and other relevant factors. By starting the discovery process, the filing spouse may be able to control the flow of information, and potentially uncover important evidence to support their case.
  • Court hearings and mediation: The spouse who files first will typically have the upper hand when it comes to scheduling court hearings and mediation sessions. They can choose dates that are convenient for them, and potentially disadvantageous for the other spouse, which can create additional pressure on the other spouse to settle or concede on certain issues.
  • Trial and Judgment: As previously stated, in the event that the divorce proceeds to trial, the spouse who filed first has the advantage of presenting their case first. This means that they have the opportunity to shape the narrative of the divorce and set the tone for the trial. Furthermore, the filing spouse may be considered more credible by the judge, as they were the one who initiated the legal process.

In conclusion, filing first in a divorce can provide numerous benefits, including control over temporary orders, the timeline of the divorce process, and the potential for a more favorable outcome. However, the decision to file first should be made after careful consideration and consultation with an experienced divorce attorney, as each case is unique and there may be circumstances where filing first is disadvantageous.

Getting the Help of an Experienced Connecticut Divorce Attorney from McConnell Family Law Group

In Connecticut, filing for divorce first may provide certain advantages, but it is not a decisive factor in the outcome of the divorce. The spouse who files for divorce first is known as the “plaintiff,” while the other spouse is known as the “defendant.” Being the plaintiff may allow for more control over the initial stages of the divorce process, including the choice of jurisdiction and the timing of court appearances. However, ultimately, the court will base its decisions on the facts and circumstances of the case, regardless of which spouse initiated the divorce. Therefore, while filing for divorce first may provide some benefits, it is not a guarantee of a more favorable outcome.

It may be more helpful to ensure that you have skilled legal help to guide you through the process and ensure that your rights are protected. By working with a competent Connecticut divorce attorney, you can be sure that any legal paperwork and considerations such as your and your children’s financial and emotional well-being are in safe hands. 

At McConnell Family Law Group, we understand the challenging nature of going through a divorce and the strain it can put on you and your family. We work diligently to provide legal services that are tailored to our clients’ specific needs and circumstances. Our experienced attorneys are here to guide you through every step of the way and protect your rights. Don’t wait to take action – contact us today at (203) 541-5520 to schedule a consultation and get the legal support you need.

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