The Anatomy of a Connecticut Divorce

Like fingerprints and snowflakes, every divorce is different with a unique fact pattern and a singular set of circumstances.

Learning options, understanding processes and procedures, developing an overall strategy and focusing on facts/issues that will “move the needle” will build confidence, help control emotion and volatility and guide you on a clear path forward.

Divorce in Connecticut revolves around three “buckets” or categories. Each bucket must be fully dealt with in a “separation agreement”. This agreement must ultimately be approved by a family court judge. It must meet Connecticut legal requirements and reflect the mutual agreement and formal understanding between the divorcing spouses. If they can’t reach an agreement, a family court judge will decide.

The “buckets” that generally frame a divorce in Connecticut are:

— Child custody (including the nuances of legal and physical custody as well as practical day-to-day guidelines).

— Division of property (marital property or estate).

— Disposition of income (including alimony and child support, largely determined by a statutory formula).

There are approximately 17 factors that could affect child care and these factors run the gamut from a child’s physical and emotional safety, a child’s temperament and developmental needs, and a child’s informed preferences. , for example.

There is no “one size fits all” solution. The guiding principle in framing child custody is what is in the “best interests of the child”. It sounds simple and straightforward, but family courts and judges have extremely wide discretion in deciding what is best for a child. There is no guarantee that the judge will see or feel the issues the same way as either spouse, so reaching an agreement with your spouse is less risky than letting the court decide the issues. problems with your child. Child custody disputes tend to be volatile, emotional and a source of great anxiety – and the biggest and most consequential.

In Connecticut, all property is generally considered divisible upon divorce – even property owned before marriage, some inherited property, and in certain circumstances family trust distributions (when certain criteria are met). By law, marital property is subject to an “equitable distribution” in Connecticut — which doesn’t mean 50/50, but rather fair.

Again, family courts and judges have wide discretion to determine “equitable sharing” when disputes come before them. To avoid any risk, it is useful to reach an agreement with your spouse. Simply assuming that everyone can keep what they earned, bought, or owned before marriage is a wrong assumption, and it rarely is. This reflection is erroneous and often unproductive.

The value and extent of marital assets generally determines the complexity and length of your individual journey.

Marital assets typically consist of real estate, retirement accounts (like 401(k)s and IRAs), bank accounts, brokerage/investment accounts, ESOPs, restricted stock units and fictitious (subject to vesting), annuities and insurance policies. Sometimes marital assets include works of art, jewelry, rare coins, automobiles, pets, and wine collections.

Financial assets can be complex, such as hedge funds or private equity investments that involve “deferred interest” or emerging asset classes like cryptocurrency holdings (hard to find, opaque, volatile and sometimes illiquid ). High net worth deals with multiple real estate and exotic asset classes simply require more time, sophistication, and experience to fully review, appraise, and split.

High net worth cases require extensive due diligence and discovery as well as the involvement of an “expert witness”. Detailed histories and information about the acquisition, preservation and title of these assets must be clearly understood (including how the assets were titled, administered and managed during the marriage) before a full decision can be made. taken for “equitable distribution”.

Also note that the allocation of assets must be weighed against the allocation of responsibilities between the parties. Experts should also consider things like mortgages, liens, personally secured loan obligations, credit card debt, and tax obligations, for example.

The third bucket in a Connecticut divorce concerns the division of income. This “bucket” can be straightforward for W-2 earners when income is simply and easily quantified. On the other hand, some forms of income can be more complex, when, for example, income is reported on a Schedule C (individuals who have interests in flow-through entities and LLCs), deferred compensation plans which may or may not vest, restricted stock units and distributions from family trusts. Thorough discovery and due diligence is required to properly define, inventory, understand and project future revenues. Depending on the complexity, input from tax professionals may be required.

Elusive and speculative questions may arise, such as assigning earning capacity to a spouse who may have stepped back from a career to focus on the caretaker/housewife role. Conversely, equitably assessing and bridging the gaps between the “secured” and “unpaid” spouse in a long-lasting marriage can be quite difficult due to the entrenched positions held by the “paid spouse” in the position of power. . Maintaining a level playing field throughout the duration of a divorce is essential.

There are, of course, always aggravating factors that can add layers of complexity to a divorce, such as substance abuse, domestic violence, restraining orders, and narcissistic personality disorder. That said, the anatomy of a divorce still comes down to resolving the three buckets: custody of the children, division of assets, and disposition of income.

Connecticut lifelong resident Melissa Needle is the founder of Westport-based law firm Needle Cuda. She has been practicing exclusively divorce and family law for over 30 years. She can be reached at 203-557-9500 or through the company’s website.

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