Does It Matter Who Files For Divorce First?
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 dispell 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 “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 behaved badly.”
In fact, the vast majority of divorces in Connecticut are “No Fault,” which means neither spouse has to prove that the other caused the breakdown of the marriage in order 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 breakdown of the marriage is one of several factors considered when deciding property division and alimony.)
Now, onto some of the things 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.
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 upon 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 will be able to retain the divorce firm lawyer of your choice before your spouse has a chance to hire that divorce attorney.
Filing for Divorce and Who Goes First at Trial
One thing to think about when considering potential advantages to filing first for divorce in Connecticut is that the Plaintiff puts on his or her case first at trial. Whether this is an advantage or not is debatable. First, it’s important to remember that very few Connecticut cases have a full trial. Some might argue that it’s an advantage to go first at trial because yours will be the first version of the story that the judge hears. That said, judges are trained to not make any decision until the evidence and arguments are complete. Plus, others might argue that it’s an advantage to go second at trial because you and your legal team will have heard the Plaintiff’s case before you present yours.
By controlling the date of filing, you will also have an opportunity to gather documents and records that you will need before the divorce gets going. 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 a negative reaction).
Filing First and Timing the Automatic Orders
By taking the lead, you have the strategic advantage timing the Automatic Orders, which essentially prevent spouses from making any financial moves that are outside of 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.)
Filing First for Divorce and the Impact on Jurisdiction
In a case where 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 there are not two states or countries with 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 do 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.
Emotions and the Need to Move Forward
It’s hard to make the decision to move forward with a divorce. It ultimately comes down to a decision about where you are versus where you want to be. But how do you determine what you want? How do you decide if what you have is better than the alternative? How do you think through 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 is a framework to help you start thinking about (1) where you are and (2) where you want to be in terms of time, money, and relationships.
At Freed Marcroft, we have helped hundreds of people move forward to 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 need to do to get you to the future you want, we can help you. If it isn’t, we will support you and 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 how to overcome this fear.
- There is no implication to the court that a spouse is “at fault” for the marriage ending just because he or she is a Plaintiff or Defendant.
- It often makes sense to assemble your legal team even before you’ve decided to divorce.
- Your goals are what should drive legal strategy, including whether or when to file.
You have learned how to weigh the advantages to filing first for divorce in Connecticut. Our first step at Freed Marcroft, the Goals & Planning Conference, is designed to get to the heart of your problem and unveil your true goals for your life. Once we discover your goals at the Goals and Planning Conference, we are able to take our collective experience with divorce, law, the available ways to divorce, strategy, courts, judges, and other lawyers, and build a divorce customized for you.