Two years ago, inspired by an episode of Boardwalk Empire, I wrote a post about how there is no (and never has been any) such thing as federal divorce.
Boardwalk Empire is one example of the many television shows and movies depicting a character signing divorce papers in the comfort of his or her lawyer’s office or own home, without ever having to appear in court.
In Sweet Home Alabama, when Melanie wanted to marry her JFK, Jr.-esque fiancée, Andrew, she realized she still needed get her husband, Jake, to sign the divorce papers she sent him seven years ago. (To set matters straight, she headed down to Alabama to make Jake sign the papers. Instead . . . well, I won’t spoil it for you.)
As a result of popular culture’s common portrayal, many people assume, or hope, that they will be able to finalize their divorce without ever having to appear in court — what lawyers refer to as “on the papers.”
Accordingly, one of the questions we are frequently asked by new clients is whether divorcing spouses are required to appear in court to finalize their dissolution if they have reached an agreement about the terms of their divorce, such as the division of assets, allocation of debts, alimony, child support, or the custody of children (referred to as an “uncontested” case). Especially at the beginning of the divorce process, the thought of appearing in court — and of seeing one’s spouse in that environment — is understandably very upsetting to many clients.
However, in Connecticut, parties must come to court at least once for a final dissolution hearing before a judge — even when they are moving forward on an uncontested basis and have no children. At the uncontested final dissolution hearing the parties present to the court their updated financial affidavits, signed dissolution agreement, and other necessary documents for the Judge’s review. Typically a party’s attorney asks him or her questions about some key portions of the agreement. The Judge often also asks the parties questions, after which — assuming the Judge finds the agreement acceptable — he or she will incorporate the agreement into the court’s order and finalize the dissolution. Although in some cases only the Plaintiff is required to attend the uncontested hearing, for a variety of reasons it is preferable that both parties attend.
There is some suggestion that Connecticut’s hearing requirement will change. As we wrote here, the judicial branch is currently considering a proposal that would institute a simpler, more streamlined procedure for people whose divorce is uncontested, have no children, and have limited assets. Under the proposed model, judges could grant the divorce “on the papers,” without the parties having to go to court. The proposed change would also reduce the mandatory waiting period from 90 days down to 30 days.