A Matter of Right, Alimony, At Fault, Collaborative Divorce, Connecticut, Divorce, Fair and Equitable, Fault, Financial Settlement, Martial Asset Distribution, Mediated Divorce, No-Fault Divorce, Punitive Award, Regina Wexler, Sections 46-B 81, Sections 46-B 82
In Connecticut, fault matters, but not as much as clients think it should! Connecticut is a no-fault divorce state. This means that a married person doesn’t have to prove fault in order to get a divorce. In Connecticut, a married person only has to allege that his or her marriage has irretrievably broken down with no hope of reconciliation and that person can get divorced. Sometimes a spouse doesn’t want to be divorced, for religious or other reasons. Divorce will still be granted as a matter of right, as the separation of church and state in Connecticut is very clear.
That being said, who was “at fault” is not irrelevant. One of the statutory criteria a judge must take into consideration when deciding whether or not to issue an order of spousal support under Sections 46-B 81 and 82, or distributing assets, is the “cause” of the marriage breakdown. Unfortunately, those issues are what parties want to spend 95% of their time talking, arguing and litigating about. It’s what they want most to present to the court, in terms of evidence.
Although the court will consider and apply all the criteria of those statutes, the facts concerning the “cause” have the least impact on the final financial outcome. The statute indicates that the cause of the marriage dissolution is one of many factors that must be considered. In an apparent contradiction, though, Connecticut courts have also held that financial awards cannot be “punitive” in nature.
Given the highly subjective nature of assigning blame for the failure of any marriage, and the prohibition of assigning financial “punishment” due to fault, courts rarely give these factors much consideration when deciding how to distribute assets or whether to award alimony.
Generally it takes two parties to create relationship unhappiness. Words like ‘blame’ and ‘fault’ have very little place in our judicial system at this point. It’s difficult, however, to redirect couples away from that concept, as it’s the most important thing in their minds when getting divorced. The history of the relationship may be relevant when crafting an appropriate parenting plan for minor children. In terms of a financial settlement, however, apart from children, the courts want to look forward, not backwards.
In mediated or collaborative divorces, where parties agree to settle their differences outside of court, it is important to focus on the future financial situation of both parties rather than rehashing the past. In litigated divorces, time and money spent presenting evidence of cause or fault usually far outweigh any financial benefit. Encouraging clients to keep this balance in mind helps preserve assets for distribution rather than spent on excessive legal fees.
While these are general guidelines, and the opinions of Attorney Wexler, every divorce has its own unique set of circumstances. If you live in Connecticut and are considering a divorce, make sure to consult with a qualified matrimonial attorney to discuss your individual case and consider all options available to you.