By Attorney Louise R. Zito
Dissolving your marriage is one of the most serious decisions you'll ever have to make. It is also likely to be your first and only contact with the Court system in Connecticut. The issues and concerns that led to your consideration of divorce may still exist or they may have been replaced by new concerns, perhaps more urgent than before. You are most likely confused, angry, hurt and unsure of your next step. You don't know who to confide in, what to tell your spouse and how to tell your children.
You need guidance concerning legal, emotional and financial issues. You need the support of family and friends and you need to distinguish between good advice and bad. Once you start to talk about a divorce, you will be inundated with conflicting and often unsolicited advice. It's time to consult with professionals!
If you are not sure the marriage is over, seek the advice of a professional, to explore the possibility of marriage counseling and/or personal counseling. This is not the time for a knee-jerk reaction. If you determine that your marriage cannot be saved, you may need the services of a therapist to help you find a way to talk to your spouse. As difficult as this discussion may be, the alternative is far worse.
A consultation with a family law (divorce) attorney, even at this early stage would be beneficial to clear up common misconceptions about the legal process. For example, many people do not realize that there are four ways of divorcing in Connecticut:
- Litigation - the traditional method of divorce where issues, both prejudgment and final are brought before the court for determination by a Judge. Each party is represented by Counsel.
- Mediation - divorcing and separating couples resolve their differences through negotiation with the help of a neutral Mediator.
- Collaborative - Each spouse has her/his own attorney and enlists the aid of other professionals who work as a team to reach solutions with dignity and respect.
- Arbitration - Like litigation, a third party makes decisions concerning the issues to be resolved, but the hearing is in a private setting, and the Arbitrator has been jointly chosen.
An experienced family law attorney can explain the various ways to obtain a divorce so that you choose the process that is best for you. No matter which process you choose, you will have to meet certain conditions so that the Court can determine it has jurisdiction to grant the divorce. Either you or your spouse will have had to reside continuously in the State of Connecticut for 12 months prior to your dissolution. You must be convinced that your marriage has broken down irretrievably without hope of reconciliation (no-fault divorce). If either spouse or children have been the recipients of State or Municipal aid, the State must be given notice of your pending divorce. One spouse (the "Plaintiff") must bring a lawsuit gainst the other (the "Defendant") in order to commence the action to dissolve your marriage. There is a 90 day "cooling-off" period the follows the filing of the divorce papers (the "Complaint") and Automatic Orders, that in essence "freeze assets and debt" go into effect immediately upon signing of the Complaint by the Plaintiff and service of the Complaint on the Defendant. All of the above and more should be explained and understood prior to bringing your lawsuit. If there are minor children, then each parent must take parenting education classes.
If you decide that a divorce is your best solution, then knowing the choices and support systems available to you will make the process easier. It will also be helpful when speaking with your spouse. You should decide together what and when to tell your children. A Child Specialist or Co-Parenting/Family Counselor can help you with this conversation. Many couples realizing the harmful effect that a bitter, protracted trial can have on their children (as well as themselves) are opting for Collaborative Divorce and Mediation as methods for Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).
If you are in a high-conflict family, have a child with special needs, have an abusive spouse or family member, or a family member with an addiction, make sure to tell your attorney and therapist at your first consultation. It is essential to choose the right method for you and to ensure you have adequate support. It is also essential that you choose the right Professional; someone with experience and training to meet your needs and someone with whom you feel comfortable. (For further information see, 10 Key Questions To Ask In An Initial Divorce Consultation)
In addition to obtaining sufficient knowledge of the process, you must have an understanding of the costs involved. Your Attorney can provide you with estimates covering a range of possibilities. Most Attorneys and Therapists charge for their initial consultations. You should find that the amount of knowledge you receive is well worth the fee paid. The more you know in advance, the better prepared you will be to face your divorce. Do your research, consult with professionals and become ready to move forward.