Grounds for Divorce in Connecticut

Learn about the no-fault and fault-based grounds for divorce in Connecticut, and which ground will make your divorce easier and less hostile.

By , Retired Judge

If you're seriously considering divorce, you probably have a good idea why. But there's a difference between the relationship problems that lead to divorce and the legally accepted reasons, or "grounds," for divorce in your state. When you file for divorce in Connecticut, you may claim either a "no-fault" or "fault-based" ground for your divorce. We'll explain what those grounds mean, as well as how they can affect the divorce process.

No-Fault Divorce in Connecticut

When you file for a no-fault divorce, you aren't claiming that your spouse was to blame for the end of your marriage. That tends to reduce conflict (and expense) in the divorce process. Connecticut law includes two different no-fault divorce grounds:

  • Breakdown of the marriage. In your divorce complaint (the document that starts the divorce process in court), you may simply declare that your marriage has "broken down irretrievably." Basically, this means that you believe your marriage is broken, and you don't see any reasonable chance of getting back together.
  • Separation because of incompatibility. Connecticut also allows you to file for a no-fault divorce based on the fact that you've been living apart from your spouse because the two of you are incompatible and aren't likely to reconcile. But when you choose this ground, you must have been separated for 18 months before you file your divorce papers.

(Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-40(c) (2022).)

Not surprisingly, most people who file for divorce in Connecticut choose the irretrievable-breakdown ground. It's the easiest and quickest way to end your marriage.

Do Both Spouses Have to Agree Their Marriage Is Broken?

When one spouse files for divorce based in the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, the other spouse doesn't necessarily have to agree that's the case. As long as at least one spouse clearly wants to end the marriage, that's usually enough for the judge to assume that there's no chance for reconciliation.

However, when couples file for an uncontested divorce or Connecticut's streamlined procedure for nonadversarial divorce, they will need to agree on this ground—that their marriage is broken beyond repair.

What's the Difference Between No-Fault Divorce and Uncontested Divorce?

Just because you've filed for a no-fault divorce, that doesn't necessarily mean that you won't have legal disputes in your case. If you want to file for an uncontested divorce in Connecticut, you and your spouse will need to agree about all of the relevant issues in ending your marriage, including alimony (spousal support), division of property and debt, child custody, and child support. Without a complete agreement on these issues, your case will proceed as a contested divorce. That will probably mean that your divorce will cost more and take longer.

Grounds for a "Fault-based" Divorce in Connecticut

The fault grounds for divorce in Connecticut include any of the following:

  • adultery
  • fraudulent contract (such as when a spouse hid some important information at the time of the marriage, like being a drug addict)
  • willful desertion for at least 12 months with a total neglect of duty
  • at least seven years absence from the marriage, without any communication
  • habitual intemperance (alcohol or drug addiction)
  • intolerable cruelty
  • one spouse's imprisonment (under certain conditions), and
  • a spouse's mental illness (again, under certain conditions, including legal confinement to a psychiatric institution for at least five years). within the six year period preceding the date of the divorce complaint.

(Conn.Gen. Stat. § 46b-40(c) (2022).)

Pursuing a fault-based divorce usually triggers a lot of hostility, prolongs the process, and increases attorneys' fees. You'll need to provide specific evidence proving your claims, and your spouse is likely to fight back. Unless you're unable to meet either no-fault divorce requirement, there's often no good reason to pursue a fault-based divorce.

That said, Connecticut divorce laws allow judges to consider the causes of the divorce when dividing marital property or awarding alimony (Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 46b-81(c), 46b-82(a) (2022.) But whether that happens depends on the particular circumstances of each case, and it might not depend on the legal ground that you used when you filed for divorce. With so much as stake, it's a good idea to consult a local divorce lawyer to see whether your situation warrants filing for a fault-based divorce.

Are There Alternatives to Divorce in Connecticut?

Yes. For one thing, you may request a legal separation in Connecticut. Couples sometimes pursue this option if they want to have some legal issues decided while they live apart (like custody and support), but they aren't ready to end their marriage formally. The process for getting a legal separation is similar to the divorce process.

In limited circumstances, you might be able to get a legal annulment. When you file for an annulment, you're asking the court to declare that your marriage is void, which basically means that you were never legally married. There are just a few grounds for annulment in Connecticut, such a bigamy and incest. Annulment laws can be quite complex, so it's best to consult with a local divorce lawyer before taking any action.

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