If you’ve seen television programs or read magazine articles about divorce and alimony (known as “spousal maintenance” or “spousal support” in other states), you may have wondered how the courts decide whether to grant alimony. Or you may have asked yourself how judges decide on the amount and duration alimony. This article covers that basics of alimony in Connecticut and whether adultery has an impact on spousal support.
Alimony is the money that one spouse pays the other during and after a divorce. The purpose of alimony is to prevent major inequalities by ensuring that neither spouse is impoverished by a divorce. The goal is to equalize the financial picture and help both spouses to live as closely as possible to the standard of living they enjoyed while they were married.
People generally think of alimony as something that’s awarded when a divorce is finalized. That’s how it often happens, but frequently the family courts will order a paying spouse to pay “temporary” alimony to a supported spouse before the divorce is finalized, too. That way, the supported spouse won’t fall into a deep financial hole while waiting for the proceedings to conclude.
Get more detailed information how the amount of alimony is determined, see Understanding and Calculating Alimony in Connecticut.
In much of America, states have transitioned to a strict “no-fault” divorce model. In that kind of framework, all a spouse has to show in order to obtain a divorce is that the marriage is broken down and beyond repair. Based on the spouse’s statement, a judge will grant a divorce without having to look at any evidence about why the marriage broke down or who was at fault.
Connecticut, on the other hand, employs a hybrid model that allows divorces based on fault or no-fault “grounds” (legal justifications). There is a no-fault divorce option for marriages where one or both spouses agree that their relationship has “broken down irretrievably” and are willing to leave it at that. But Connecticut also recognizes eight other grounds for divorce that are based on who’s guilty and who’s innocent of marital wrongdoing. One of those grounds is adultery, which is officially defined as “voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person other than such person’s spouse.”
Adultery can be an important component when obtaining a divorce. If you prove to the judge that your spouse committed adultery, then you are entitled to a divorce. The question then becomes whether the court will also consider adultery when it makes decisions about the terms of your divorce—and more specifically, whether alimony should be awarded.
Historically, if a wife committed adultery, the courts deemed her to have forfeited her right to alimony. Later, the courts determined that any person who committed adultery, regardless of gender, was not entitled to alimony.
Today, things in Connecticut have changed, and the courts employ a more flexible approach. Adultery can be considered when a family judge makes decisions about alimony. It’s up to the judge to decide whether and how it should be considered. The following are all factors that the court must consider when deciding whether alimony should be awarded and the duration and amount of the award:
As stated above, judges in Connecticut are allowed to consider the cause of the divorce when deciding alimony issues. This means that they can consider evidence of adultery and the impact it had on the marital estate (meaning, the total assets and liabilities) as well as the effect it had on the breakup of the marriage. For example, the judge can increase the amount and duration of alimony owed by an adulterous spouse to an innocent spouse. If the supported spouse is the adulterous party, the judge could decide to decrease the amount and duration the paying spouse has to pay.
There is an exception to this rule, and it applies only to post-decree (meaning, after the divorce is finalized) hearings. If the spouses want to modify (increase, decrease, shorten, or lengthen) an alimony order, they will not be able to introduce evidence about adultery or any other kind of misconduct. Adultery is only relevant when the court makes its initial determination about whether to award alimony, in what amount, and for what duration.
If you have questions about alimony and adultery in Connecticut, please contact an experienced family law attorney for help.
For self-help purposes, you can look at the Connecticut Judicial Branch's Self Help Section and Connecticut’s official court forms. You can also browse the CTLawHelp.org site for resources and assistance from a network of nonprofit legal service providers dedicated to helping low-income Connecticut residents with legal problems.