How is marital property divided in Connecticut?
If you're getting divorced in Connecticut, a superior court judge will preside over the matter and oversee your divorce until it's complete. When the final divorce decree is entered, the judge will give each spouse "all or any part of the estate of the other." This means that the judge has to divide up the couple's assets and debts.
When a couple divorces in Connecticut, the law requires judges to make an "equitable" division of the marital property. An "equitable" division is one that's fair, but not necessarily equal. The judge has a great deal of leeway to make a reasonable decision.
What kinds of property are divided?
There are two basic categories of property: "real property" and "personal property." Real property consists only of buildings and land, including cabins, commercial lots, acreage, rental houses, and marital homesteads (the house where a married couple lives). "Personal property" is everything else. Personal property includes bank accounts, stocks and bonds, trusts, retirements, collectibles, business interests, receivables, profit sharing, automobiles, furniture, jewelry, clothing, household goods, pension and retirement interests—everything that isn't land or a building.
From time to time, a divorce involves title to real property that's located outside the State of Connecticut. The U.S. Constitution says that courts in one state don't have power to directly affect title to land in another state, so the Connecticut court can't order a direct change in title.
However, if a Connecticut court has personal jurisdiction against both spouses in a divorce (meaning, the court has the power to make legal decisions affecting each person), then a Connecticut judge can order a spouse to change title.
The difference is that a court order can require people to take actions regarding land, but it can't make direct changes to land that's located out of state. Therefore, if a court has personal jurisdiction over both parties to a Connecticut divorce, it can make orders affecting all of the spouses' property, even if some of it is outside Connecticut. But, if the court only has personal jurisdiction over one spouse, then it can only issue an order affecting property that's located in Connecticut.
Can the court issue a temporary order?
Yes. A superior court judge can issue a temporary order while your divorce is pending. The purpose of temporary orders is to stabilize your financial situation and prevent either spouse from "dissipating" (wasting or wrongfully spending) assets.
Can I stop my spouse from selling our property?
Yes. As soon as the summons and complaint (the legal documents that initiate a divorce) are served, an automatic order goes into effect that prevents both spouses from selling, hiding, transferring, or giving away any joint property without a court order or the written consent of the other spouse. The only exception is if the transaction is in the usual course of business or it's for necessary and ordinary household expenses or reasonable attorney's fees in connection with the divorce. This order remains in effect until the divorce is final.
Will the court divide only our marital property?
Not necessarily. Unlike many other states, in Connecticut, divorce courts have the authority to divide both "marital property" (all property acquired during the marriage) and "nonmarital" or "separate" property (property that a spouse acquired before the marriage or by gift or inheritance). Although courts may look to all assets in the division of property, judges typically award spouses their separate property, unless it would be inequitable or unfair to do so under the circumstances of a particular case.
What about our marital home?
The marital home, or the house where you've lived together as a married couple, is not treated differently than any other asset. However, if your children live there, the court will consider their best interests when it decides how to dispose of the home.
What about my retirement?
Pension and retirement benefits are not exempted from property division, generally speaking. They are assets subject to the judge's decision.
How about an expensive gift or family keepsake?
Connecticut law doesn't limit the kinds of assets that are subject to property division in a divorce. Everything is up for grabs, and that includes gifts and inheritances. The judge may or may not decide to let you keep the gift. But if you're allowed to keep it, your spouse will get an offset for the gift's value, so that in the end, the division is equitable and each of you receives a fair proportion of the total available assets.
There is one exception. An inheritance that hasn't yet been received is not subject to property division. This is because it's entirely speculative whether the inheritance will come to fruition or not—it's only something that might happen in the future.
Will the court divide our debts?
Yes. In addition to dividing assets, the judge will also determine which debts exist and assign responsibility for their repayment. The judge can consider fault—or who was responsible for deciding to incur the debt—when apportioning it. Debts occurring after the date of separation are often, but not always, deemed to belong to the spouse who incurred them. Fairness is always the guiding virtue for the court, though, and if a debt was incurred for something that the whole family needed, the spouse who incurred it won't necessarily be held solely accountable.
How do judges decide how to divide property?
In trials where the value of property is an issue for the court to decide, the parties will frequently bring in expert witnesses, like appraisers or real estate agents, to provide testimony and evidence about the value of items. This helps the court to decide the worth of certain property. In addition, when the judge must decide which assets and debts to allocate to each spouse, the court must consider all of the following factors:
- the length of the marriage (this can't be treated as the most important factor)
- the cause of the divorce
- the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate and needs of each of the parties
- the property award the court might make, and
- in the case of a parent to whom the custody of the minor children has been awarded, the desirability of such parent's securing employment.