Along with the emotional and practical issues involved in ending a marriage, the divorce process itself requires navigating the legal system in Connecticut. While that might seem overwhelming, it doesn't have to be all that difficult, particularly if you and your soon-to-be ex can cooperate. Here's what you need to know to get started with a Connecticut divorce.
Before you begin the process of filing for divorce (also known as "dissolution of marriage" under Connecticut law), you should figure out the answers to a few preliminary questions.
You may file your initial divorce papers in Connecticut any time after either you or your spouse have established a residence in the state. However, you won't be able to finalize your divorce unless:
(Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-44 (2022).)
Also, if your divorce is going to deal with any issues related to child custody (including a parenting or visitation schedule), the Connecticut courts must have the legal authority to issue orders on those issues. The general rule is that your minor child or children must have lived with a parent in the state for the six-month period just before your filed for divorce (or since birth if a child is less than six months old). If you have minor children and don't meet the six-month requirement, you should speak with an experienced family law attorney so see if you may qualify for one of the complicated exceptions to the rule. (Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 46b-115a(7), 46b-115k (2022).)
As in all states, you need a legally accepted reason (or "ground") for divorce in Connecticut. Although the state allows divorce based a spouse's misconduct (like adultery or intolerable cruelty), pursuing a fault-based divorce requires proving that misconduct—which can involve a lot of time and money.
The quickest and easiest way to get a no-fault divorce in Connecticut is simply to declare that your marriage "has broken down irretrievably," which means there's no reasonable hope that you'll fix the problems. You and your spouse should agree on this. (Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 46b-40, 46b-51 (2022).)
If you can file for an uncontested divorce in Connecticut, the entire process will be much easier, quicker, and less expensive than a traditional, contested divorce. But you and your spouse will need to have a marital settlement agreement (or "dissolution agreement") that covers all of the legal issues involved in ending your marriage, including:
Connecticut also has a special streamlined procedure for getting an uncontested divorce (known as "nonadversarial divorce"), but you need to meet a long list of requirements to qualify. (Learn more about those requirements and uncontested divorce in Connecticut.)
If you have a settlement agreement and a relatively uncomplicated case, you should be able to handle filing for divorce yourself. A do-it-yourself divorce will be the cheapest route to ending your marriage, but it will take some time and attention to detail to make sure you have all the right forms, have filled them out correctly, and have followed all of the steps and requirements for divorce in Connecticut.
Short of having an attorney represent you in the divorce, there are other ways of getting help with the process. For example, you could do one or a combination of the following:
Without an agreement, you'll need to file for a traditional, contested divorce. Because that will almost certainly require hiring a lawyer—who will take care of the forms, filing, and all other legal matters during the divorce—the information outlined below is mainly focused on the filing process for folks who are handling their own divorce.
You can find the forms you need to file for divorce, along with instructions and FAQs, on the Connecticut Judicial Branch's webpage for Divorce, Custody and Visitation. For most divorces, you'll need to complete these basic forms:
When filling out the forms, the spouse who starts the divorce process is the "plaintiff." The other spouse is the "defendant."
You'll also attach a Notice of Automatic Orders (JD-FM-158), which has information about the court orders that go into effect at the beginning of every divorce case in Connecticut. The aim of these orders is to prevent both of you from doing anything that would negatively impact marital property or children without the other spouse's consent, like selling the house or moving the children out of state.
If you need to ask for temporary court orders that will apply until your divorce is final (such as orders for temporary child support or temporary custody), complete and attach the Motion for Orders Before Judgment (Pendente Lite) in Family Cases (JD-FM-176).
The forms and procedures are different if you're filing for a nonadversarial divorce. Instead of the complaint, you and your spouse will complete and sign a Joint Petition-Nonadversarial Divorce (JD-FM-242), and you won't need a summons. Along with the notice of automatic orders, you'll also attach:
Regardless of the type of divorce you're seeking, if you can't afford the filing and other fees (discussed below), fill out the Application for Waiver of Fees/Payment of Costs/Appointment of Counsel - Family (JD-FM-75).
You can find versions of the main forms in Spanish, Polish, and Portuguese on the Judicial Branch's page with all of the official state forms for family law matters. If you need help with the forms, you can contact one of the Connecticut Court Service Centers. Staff members won't give you legal advice, but they can check your forms to make sure they're filled out properly, and they can answer other questions about court rules and procedures.
Don't sign the summons until you take it to the court. Pay attention to the other forms that require signing in front of a notary or the court clerk. You don't want to have to start all over again because you signed them at home.
Once you've completed the forms, take them to the Superior Court Clerk's office in the judicial district where you or your spouse lives. The clerk can help you pick a "Return Date," which is simply the date when your divorce case officially starts. It should be on a Tuesday that's at least four weeks away. If you've submitted an application to have the fees waived, the clerk will tell you whether a judge will make a decision about the waiver that day, or if you have to come back for the decision. Also, be sure to ask the clerk about any extra forms and steps that will be needed if you or your spouse ever received public assistance.
Unless you've filed for a nonadversarial divorce, the clerk will sign the Summons and return the forms to you. Your spouse may agree to accept the paperwork from you and file a signed, notarized Certification of Waiver of Service of Process (JD-FM-249). Otherwise, you should bring the paperwork to a State Marshal in the judicial district where your spouse lives or works. (You can get a list from the clerk.) (Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-45 (2022).)
You'll have to pay a fee to have the state marshal serve your spouse with the divorce papers (unless you've received a fee waiver). Once your spouse has been served, the marshal will prepare a Return of Service, which is proof that the papers were served. You have to either mail or bring the Return of Service and all of your original paperwork to the clerk's office, along with the filing fee (which is currently $360 but subject to change). Sometimes, the marshal might file the papers for you. In that case, you'll have to ask how to pay the filing fee.
If the marshal isn't able to serve your spouse, ask the court clerk about alternative methods of service.
After you've filed and served the divorce papers, pay attention to the next steps needed to move along your case.
Unless you've filed for a nonadversarial divorce, your spouse may file two or more forms after being served with the complaint and other paperwork:
There's no court fee for filing an appearance or answer, but there is a fee for filing a cross-complaint unless you apply for and receive a waiver.
If the defendant doesn't file an Appearance or Answer, the court will treat the case as an uncontested divorce.
If your case will involve any financial issues (such as dividing property, child support, or alimony), you and your spouse need to fill out and exchange a Financial Affidavit (JD-FM-006-SHORT of JD-FM-006-LONG). You must file the affidavits before your "Resolution Plan Date" (discussed below) or before any hearing in your case.
If you and your spouse have a minor child or children, you both have to take a court-approved parenting education program. You can obtain a list of court-approved courses from the clerk's office. You'll have to pay a fee (no more than $200) for the program, unless you've received a fee waiver (Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-69b (2022).)
You should complete the parenting program as soon as possible if you want to get your final divorce before the normal waiting period (more on that below), but you must do so at least within 60 days of the Return Date.
For a nonadversarial divorce in Connecticut, the court will schedule your case for a "disposition date" no later than 30 days after you filed the joint petition. A judge will review your paperwork and, if you've met all of the requirements and your settlement agreement is fair, will enter your final divorce decree on the disposition date or within the following five days. If the judge can't determine whether your agreement is fair and equitable, the court will schedule a hearing. (Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 46b-44c, 46b-44d (2022).)
In other types of divorce, Connecticut normally has a waiting period of at least 90 days after the Return Date before you can have a hearing and get your final divorce. However, if you have a settlement agreement and your spouse hasn't filed an Appearance, you may file a formal request (a "motion") to waive the 90-day waiting period. Still, you must wait at least 30 days after the Return Date to file the motion.
Usually, you will need to attend a hearing on your request. At the hearing, the judge may decide to waive the 90-day waiting period and sign your final divorce decree, as long as your paperwork is in order and you've met all the legal requirements.
Even if you haven't filed for a nonadversarial divorce, you might be able to get your final uncontested divorce without a hearing if you filed for a waiver of the waiting period and meet all of the following requirements:
(Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-67 (2022).)
In 2021, Connecticut started a "Pathways" process for divorce that's meant to help couples resolve the issues in their cases without going to trial. When you file your divorce complaint, you'll be scheduled for a "Resolution Plan Date" at least 90 days after the Return Date. Unless you've already reached an agreement and gotten a waiver of the 90-day waiting period (discussed above), you and your spouse will meet with a Family Relations Counselor to review your case together.
If you and your spouse reach a complete agreement at this meeting, you might be able to get a court hearing that same day to finalize your divorce. Otherwise, you'll receive a plan of action in your case.