Divorcing your spouse is an emotional and oftentimes confusing process. If there are difficult issues that need to be addressed, or you are concerned about your legal rights, you should speak with an attorney. But if you and your spouse agree on most things and can interact in a civil manner, you may be able to represent yourself.
In Connecticut, each court has a clerk’s office and many courts have a court service center (or self-help center) with staff that can answer your questions and give you information about court procedures (but can’t give legal advice).
To start a divorce in Connecticut, you have to fill out two forms:
The "Summons" is the document that tells your spouse about the divorce proceeding and when to come to court.
When you fill out the "Complaint," you'll need to provide more personal information about you, your spouse, and your children, if you have any. In the Complaint, you say why you’re seeking a divorce – either because the marriage has “broken down irretrievably,” or based on one of the fault grounds listed in the Connecticut statute.
In addition to asking for divorce, you can also ask the court to determine custody of children, award child support or alimony, divide marital property and debts, and restore a prior name.
Along with the Complaint, you'll have to attach a “Notice of Automatic Orders (JD-FM-158)” and the “Affidavit Concerning Children (JD-FM-164),” if you have children with your spouse.
The Notice of Automatic Orders informs your spouse about the orders that automatically go into effect at the beginning of every divorce case in Connecticut. They prevent both of you from doing anything that would negatively impact marital property or children without the other’s consent, like selling the house or moving the children out of state.
The Affidavit Concerning Children asks for information about where and with whom your children have lived for the last five years and whether there have been prior custody or visitation cases about your children.
Once you’ve filled out the paperwork, take it to the Superior Court Clerk’s office in the judicial district where you or your spouse lives. The clerk can assist you in determining a “Return Date.” Neither you nor your spouse has to come to court on the Return Date. It’s really just a date that determines when papers have to be served and filed.
The Return Date must be a Tuesday and should be at least four weeks after the day you file your original paperwork. You have to put the Return Date on the Summons, the Complaint, and any other divorce papers. The clerk will sign the Summons and return the forms to you. You then have to bring the paperwork to a State Marshal who will “serve,” or deliver, the paperwork to your spouse.
In Connecticut, a State Marshal must serve your spouse with the divorce papers. A list of State Marshals is available here.
The marshal charges a fee for serving the paperwork. You can ask the court to waive this fee, as well as the fee to file the case, by filling out and filing the “Application For Waiver of Fees/Appointment of Counsel Family (JD-FM-75).” Depending on your income, the court might waive some fees for you.
Once your spouse has been served, the marshal will prepare a document called 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.
You have to wait at least 90 days after the Return Date to get a judgment of divorce. This is usually called the "Case Management Date," and is listed in the Notice of Automatic Orders.
During this waiting period, you and your spouse should try to reach an agreement about custody of your children and financial issues. If you reach an agreement, you should document it using the “Dissolution Agreement (JD-FM-172)” form.
During the waiting period, you should also fill out and send a “Case Management Agreement/Order (JD-FM-163)," and send it to the clerk's office. If your spouse has filed an Appearance Form, he or she also needs to sign the Case Management Agreement form before you send it to the Clerk’s office. The Case Management Agreement form is important because it’s where you choose your actual divorce hearing date - you must appear in court on that date. If you and your spouse can’t agree on a divorce date and have not filed a Case Management Agreement, then you must come to court on your Case Management Date, and the judge will set a hearing date.
You and your spouse each have to fill out and exchange “Financial Affidavits (JD-FM-6)” within 30 days of the Return Date. You have to include all of your income (from employment or any other source), your expenses, your debt, and your assets.
If you have children with your spouse, you both have to take a court-approved parenting education program within 60 days of the Return Date. You can obtain a list of court-approved courses from the clerk’s office.
On your final divorce hearing date, you’ll have to bring the following completed forms:
There are two ways the divorce can be finalized: through agreement between you and your spouse, or after a trial in front of the judge. If you and your spouse have agreed on all of the issues in your divorce (child custody and support, alimony, division of property and debts), then come to court on your divorce hearing date with your court forms completely filled out. The judge will review and approve your Dissolution Agreement (unless it violates some provision of the law) and declare you divorced.
If you and your spouse don’t agree on all issues, the judge will schedule a trial date for you and your spouse to come back and present evidence. You’ll probably need to hire an attorney for a trial. Trial usually takes much longer and costs a lot more than reaching a settlement with your spouse, so you should try your best to work things out.