When divorcing, one of the first hurdles a client must overcome is deciding whether to immediately file the complaint for divorce, or to wait until his or her spouse can be made aware of the intent to divorce. While this choice can only be made by the client, there are pros and cons with both options.
A husband decides to file for divorce. Not wanting the divorce process to become a battle with his wife, he informs her of his intent. The following morning as he heads to work, where he plans to contact his attorney upon arrival, the wife is already packing up the kids to head to her mother’s home three states away – outside the jurisdiction of the Connecticut courts – but not before emptying the personal safety deposit box and bank account on her way out of town.
In Connecticut, automatic orders are attached to every complaint for divorce, effective upon being signed by the Plaintiff and being served to the Defendant. Instituted by the Court, these orders aim to maintain the status quo – legally and financially – while the divorce case is pending.
Financially, neither party may sell, exchange, gift or dispose of any real estate or personal property, brokerage accounts or bank accounts, without the written agreement of the other or without a court order. There are, however, exceptions to this “freeze” order. Necessary spending in the ordinary course of business is allowed, as is payment of customary household expenses, or withdrawal of funds for reasonable attorney fees. In addition to these financial orders, neither party can prevent the other from use of the family home if the residence was shared at the time the papers were served.
In cases involving children, automatic orders also protect their best interests and strive to maintain their stability. Neither party may permanently take the children from the state of Connecticut while the divorce is pending. While they may still leave the state for vacation, Connecticut maintains jurisdiction over the children, and the Court requires that they return home. Neither party may remove the children or their spouse from existing insurance policies including health, auto, home or life insurance policies. If either party vacates the family home, that party must provide 48-hours notice of a new address.
Parents are required to participate in a parenting education program within 60 days of the complaint return date, and parents of minor children must complete a court-ordered parenting education program. Children must be encouraged to spend time with both parents barring any safety concerns.
Ambushing your spouse with an unforeseen divorce complaint can set the divorce process onto a confrontative path best avoided – yet legally, it has some advantages. In many cases, filing the complaint instead of waiting is the best way to protect a client’s interests and any children from issues which may arise before the Court can get involved or before an agreement can be reached, whether through mediation, a collaborative process or litigation.
Regina M. Wexler