Does It Matter Who Files For Divorce First?

  •   |   Meghan Freed

We are often asked whether it matters who files for divorce first in Connecticut.  Like so many things in divorce, it really depends on your individual goals. That’s exactly why the Goals & Planning Conference is our first step at Freed Marcroft.

After your Goals & Planning Conference, when to file for divorce is one of the very first strategy decisions that you will make with your attorney at your Strategy Session.

Please read on to learn more.

Does it Matter Who Files First for Divorce in Connecticut?

First, let’s dispel a common myth.  Many people think that a court reads some significance into who files for divorce.  It’s important to know that they do not.

In Connecticut divorces, you still must have a “Plaintiff” (the person who files first) and a “Defendant” (the spouse of the person who files first.  But there is no implication to the court that the Plaintiff or Defendant is “at fault” for the marriage ending.  The Plaintiff isn’t “the one who left,” and the Defendant isn’t “the one who misbehaved.”

The vast majority of divorces in Connecticut are “No Fault,” which means neither spouse has to prove that the other caused the marriage breakdown for the court to order a divorce.  Instead, either spouse’s testimony that the marriage has irretrievably broken down is sufficient for the court to order the divorce.  (The cause of the marriage breakdown is one of several factors considered when deciding property division and alimony.)

Now, I want you to know that I want you to be prepared to discuss with your legal team at your Strategy Session as you make your plan for whether to be the one to initiate the divorce formally and, if so, when.

Read: Alimony: The Comprehensive Connecticut Guide

Read: What Should I Expect at My Initial Divorce Consultation?

Filing First and Your Choice of Divorce Attorney

Hiring a lawyer is not the same thing as filing for divorce.  We work with many clients before they are ready to file — it all depends on the strategic plan we develop for your case based on your goals.  It often makes sense to be the first to assemble your legal team.  This allows you the flexibility and control over the plan.  And you can retain the divorce firm of your choice before your spouse can hire that divorce attorney.

Read: Four Things to Know Before Hiring a Divorce Attorney in CT

Read: What’s an Appearance in a Divorce?

Filing for Divorce and Who Goes First at Trial

One thing to consider when considering potential advantages to filing first for divorce in Connecticut is that the Plaintiff puts on their case first at trial.  Whether this is an advantage or not is debatable.  First, it’s important to remember that few Connecticut cases have a full trial.  Some might argue that going first at trial is advantageous because yours will be the first version of the story the judge hears.  However, judges are trained not to decide until the evidence and arguments are complete.  Plus, others might argue that going second at trial is advantageous because you and your legal team will have heard the Plaintiff’s case before you present yours.

Read: What Is a Divorce Trial?

Getting Prepared

By controlling the filing date, you will also have an opportunity to gather documents and records that you will need before the divorce.  For example, you can scan or copy financial data, such as account statements and tax returns, ahead of time and get them to your lawyer. This avoids a time crunch once the divorce begins (and potentially avoids difficulty getting access to documents if your spouse has an adverse reaction).

Filing First and Timing the Automatic Orders

By taking the lead, you have the strategic advantage of timing the Automatic Orders, which essentially prevent spouses from making any financial moves outside the ordinary course of what was done during the marriage.  (Plaintiffs are bound by the Automatic Orders when the complaint is signed, Defendants when it is served.)

Read: What are the “Automatic Orders” in a CT Divorce?

Filing First for Divorce and the Impact on Jurisdiction

If at least one spouse has a potential residency in another state or country, filing first may mean a greater chance of keeping your selection of one place over another.  This can have practical advantages (eliminating the need to travel for court appearances) and strategic advantages (one state’s laws may be more favorable to your goals.  Even when no two states or countries have competing jurisdictions, multiple residences may mean more than one Connecticut court that can take the case.  While the law is the same throughout Connecticut, custom and practice vary from court to court.  Freed Marcroft practices divorce and family law throughout Connecticut and is familiar with the nuances of different courts and judges.  Once we know your goals from the Goals & Planning Conference, we will give you the lay of the land at the Strategy Session as we build your legal strategy around your goals.

Read: CT Jurisdiction Over Divorce for Non-Residents

Emotions and the Need to Move Forward

It’s hard to decide to move forward with a divorce.  It ultimately comes down to determining where you are versus where you want to be.  But how do you choose what you want?  How do you decide if what you have is better than the alternative?  How do you think about what future do you want to create?

When you think about your goals for your future, you want to think about time, money, and relationships.  Your present and your future are all built on those three things.  Here’s a framework to help you start thinking about (1) where you are and (2) where you want to be. At Freed Marcroft, we have helped hundreds of people achieve a better life.  At our first step, the Goals & Planning Conference, we start by working through these questions with you to help you figure out your goals.  If you decide that divorce is part of what you must do to get you to the future you want, we can help.  In the event that it isn’t, we will help you figure out what you need to get you there instead. If you have decided that you are ready to divorce but are worried about how you will be perceived, here is a discussion between Freed Marcroft Founding Attorney Meghan Freed and Dr. Dori Gatter about overcoming this fear.

Key Takeaways

  • It doesn’t imply a spouse is “at fault” for the marriage ending just because they are a Plaintiff or Defendant.
  • It often makes sense to assemble your legal team even before you’ve decided to divorce.
  • Your goals should drive legal strategy, including whether or when to file.

Next Steps

You have learned how to weigh the advantages of filing for divorce in Connecticut first.  We designed our first step to get to the heart of your problem and unveil your true life goals. After the Goals and Planning Conference, we can take our collective experience to build a divorce customized for you.

Schedule your Goals & Planning Conference today, or contact us here or by phone.

Freed Marcroft LLC

Freed Marcroft LLC