Property Division: The Comprehensive Connecticut Guide

Table of Contents

White rectangle with a gold border and blue word “property division” in script, then the dark gray words “Comprehensive Connecticut Guide” with the Freed Marcroft family law firm logo in the lower right corner.

Property division is one of the most important issues in divorces.  And, it’s one of the most confusing.  There are no set formulas or rules on how property will be divided.  The good news is that this means there is tremendous flexibility for experienced divorce attorneys to craft an individualized approach.  In order to prepare to make solid and informed decisions, you need to understand how property division works.  This guide tells you everything you need to know about property division in Connecticut.

Why Property Division is Important

At their core, divorces contain financial decisions and parenting decisions.  Financial issues fall into two categories: alimony and property division.

Alimony (like child support) represents an ongoing financial relationship between the spouses following the divorce.  Child support concludes when children are grown, whereas alimony has the potential to last a lifetime.

In contrast, property division divides the assets (and debts) as of the end of the marriage, leaving the spouses independent financial futures.

How spouses (or the court) handle property during divorce has a long term impact on both people’s finances. This is especially true given the difficulty of making any changes to property division orders down the road.  That’s why it’s highly critical that property division is thoughtfully and skillfully addressed and structured during the divorce.  Property division should be custom-tailored to set both spouses up for strong financial futures.

Deciding on Property Division

Before we move on to the nuts and bolts of property division, a brief word on how people reach decisions on property division (and all the other issues in a divorce.)

Agreements Between Spouses

Spouses always have the opportunity to reach agreements on the issues in their divorce.  These resolutions are reached via negotiation in litigated divorces or in litigation alternatives like mediation and collaborative divorce.  In many cases, the spouses are able to resolve all issues in the divorce, resulting in a full settlement agreement.  Then, lawyers present this comprehensive settlement agreement to the judge at an uncontested divorce hearing.  The judge reviews the agreement, determines it is fair and equitable under Connecticut law, and verifies both spouses (1) understand the terms and consequences and (2) have not been forced to enter into the agreement.  If all is in order, the judge finalizes the divorce that day, and the settlement agreement becomes an enforceable order.

Watch: “How To Choose Your Approach.”

Rulings by the Court

It’s also possible that spouses will reach agreements on some but not all issues.  In that case, judges decide unresolved questions at a hearing or trial.

Advantages of Reaching Agreements

One of the greatest advantages of reaching their own agreement on property division is that spouses maintain control.  Judges do not know a couple or their situation personally.  Therefore, it’s impossible for a judge’s ruling to be as dialed into the spouses and their goals.

Another advantage of reaching an agreement is that it allows an experienced family lawyer not only to be creative and tailor property division to her client, but also to anticipate and prepare for the future.  Spouses can agree to include a structure in their divorce agreement  for handling inevitable but unknown future circumstances.  This creates predictability and avoids future conflict.

Language in this Guide

Sometimes in this Guide, I’ve written “the court” or “judges” rather than “the spouses” can decide, etc.  This is simply my shorthand intended to enhance your reader experience.  It should not be taken as an indication that the spouses are not free to reach their own agreement.  Ultimately, the court does have to approve the agreement to make it an enforceable court order.  But under the Connecticut divorce statutes, judges will grant all fair and equitable agreements.

I also want to clarify that property is divided in legal separations and annulments as well as divorces.  Also for brevity, I have used the term “divorce” to refer generally to all legal actions with a property division component.

What is Property Division

In order to order a divorce in Connecticut, the court needs to determine how assets will be distributed and debts will be allocated.  The main purpose of property division is to “unscramble existing marital property in order to give each spouse his or her equitable share at the time of dissolution.”

Equitable Distribution

Connecticut courts’ goal is to divide marital property according to what is fair, or equitable, for both spouses. This isn’t the same as equal distribution.  Equitable does not necessarily mean 50/50.  The focus of equitable distribution is the needs of each spouse and the facts of the case.

The keyword when you think of equitable distribution is equitable.

Read: What is Equitable Distribution?

Three Property Division Questions: Definition, Valuation, and Distribution

Generally speaking, there are three stages of property division analysis: (1) definition, (2) valuation, and (3) distribution.

In other words:

  • Does an item meet the definition of property under Connecticut law?
  • What is the appropriate method for determining the value of the property?
  • What is the most equitable distribution of the property between the Spouses?

Property Definition

The first stage of property division analysis is to make sure something meets the definition of property for purposes of a Connecticut divorce.

Read: What is the Definition of Property?

Property Basics

The legal definition of “property” is something that a person can own.  Ownership is the right of one or more persons to possess and use the property to the exclusion of others.  There are two main types of property: “real property” and “personal property.”

Real property is essentially what we think of as real estate.  In other words, it is land plus everything on it (for example buildings, crops, or ponds) or under it (for example wells, mines, or minerals).  Personal property is everything that isn’t real property.

Personal property is divided into two basic types — “tangible” and “intangible.”  Tangible property is personal property that you can touch and move (for example, cars, clothing, jewelry, furniture, or art).  Intangible property is the opposite of tangible property.  You cannot touch or move tangible property.  Intangible property is a representation or evidence of value (for example, stocks, bonds, intellectual property, digital files, or websites).

All Property Divorce State

Some states’ laws establish two categories of property — “separate property” and “community property.”  Generally speaking, in those states, courts can distribute community property between the spouses. But, each spouse keeps his or her separate property.

In contrast, when spouses divorce in an “all property” state, the court can distribute practically all of their property, including:

  • Property that each spouse acquired prior to the marriage
  • Property in the name of one spouse only
  • Inheritances and gifts

It does not matter what type of property is involved; all property includes all property types — real, personal, tangible, and intangible.

Read: What is an “All Property” Divorce State?

Read: What Types of Employer Retirement Accounts Are Divided in Connecticut Divorces?

Expectancies

The vast majority of property falls under the “all property” definition and is subject to division in a Connecticut divorce.  “Expectancy” is the exception to the rule that Connecticut courts can divide all property owned by either spouse.

Generally speaking, a spouse’s property rights fall into the “expectancy” exception when he or she doesn’t have a clear right to or ownership of the property.  In other words, the spouse’s ownership is contingent on something happening.

Some examples of types of things where an ownership interest might be considered contingent under certain circumstances include:

  • inheritance
  • interest in a trust
  • pension
  • advanced degree
  • stock options contingent on future services

Whether that contingency rises to the level of an expectancy that the court cannot divide is very fact-specific and decided on a case-by-case basis.

Read: Inheritances, Gifts, and Divorce

Read: Stock Options and Divorce

Read: What Happens to Trusts in Connecticut Divorces?

Determining Whether an Expectancy Exists

Determining whether property is an expectancy that cannot be divided is a very dynamic area of Connecticut divorce law.  Connecticut courts have recently looked to the nature of the contingency to decide whether it was, either:

  • So speculative that it’s merely an expectancy, or
  • Sufficiently concrete, reasonable, and justifiable as to constitute a presently existing property interest for equitable distribution purposes.

If you think there might be “expectancy” property involved in your case, it’s important you retain experienced divorce counsel. You want a divorce attorney familiar with all of the nuances of the current law on the definition of property.

Property Valuation

Now that we know that the vast majority of property is subject to division in Connecticut divorces, we turn to the next stage of property division analysis: valuing that property.

Read: How is Property Valued in a Divorce?

Timing of Valuation

Generally speaking, courts value assets when a divorce is final, not when it is filed.  That said, Connecticut law does not require that all assets be valued as of the exact date of the judgment.  Sometimes it is too difficult to value an asset on the precise date that the court orders the divorce.  In those cases, spouses should value the asset as reasonably close to the divorce date as possible.  This happens, for example, when an appraisal is required to determine an asset’s value.

Determining Value

There are a few different valuation methods spouses commonly used in Connecticut divorces.  Often it is very easy to place a value on an asset, but sometimes it’s quite complex.  For example, the value of a bank account, IRA, or 401(k) is its balance on a given day.  For other assets — such as a pension or a home — the courts ask what the “fair market value” is of the property.  The fair market value is the “price at which the property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither being under any compulsion to buy or to sell and both having reasonable knowledge of relevant facts.”

Determining the fair market value depends on the nature of the asset.

Valuing Real Estate like the Family Home

The family home can be a complicated part of a divorce because it has such significant emotional and financial aspects.  The financial piece itself is complex because the home is the only financial asset that you also live in.  And, how to value the home isn’t always immediately obvious to spouses.

property owner is allowed to testify about the value of that real estate.  More often than not, though, spouses bring in other professionals to help determine the home’s fair market value.

Read: How to Value the Family Home and Other Real Estate

Appraisers

Often the spouses will have professional appraisers value the real estate.  In many cases, spouses will agree to jointly hire one expert to do an appraisal.  This is generally the most comprehensive and formal of the valuation methods.

Real Estate Agents & Brokers

Realtors can provide spouses with two different valuations: a Broker Price Opinion (“BPO”) or a Comparative Market Analysis (“CMA”).  Both provide an estimated value, but the CMA estimates the value based on comparable properties that have sold recently.

Other Methods

City or towns use a property tax assessment to value your property and determine what your property taxes are going to be.  Property tax assessments aren’t frequently updated and may not be a good indicator of the current fair market value.

Zillow and other online price estimators aren’t generally a good indicator of the true value because they may not take into consideration the many details of the property.

Valuing Pensions and Other Defined Benefit Retirement Plans

Even though very few companies still provide a traditional defined benefit pension to employees, pensions remain a common type of “defined benefit” retirement plan.  This is because virtually all city, State of Connecticut, and federal employees are currently eligible for a defined benefit pension.

Defined benefit plans — like pensions or cash balance plans — are retirement accounts for which an employer contributes all the money and promises employees a defined monthly income at retirement.  Sometimes employees are enrolled when they’re hired, sometimes there is a waiting period.  Defined benefit plans generally require that employees work in a position for several years before they vest. “Vesting” means employees are eligible to receive pension benefits.  (This is why sometimes pensions are an “expectancy,” as discussed above.)

There are three methods often used to determine both the value and distribution of pension benefits:

  • Present value
  • Present division
  • Reserved jurisdiction

Spouses can agree to select which method to apply or, if they cannot agree, the judge will select the approach.

Read: How Are Pensions Valued in Connecticut Divorces?

Present Value Method

Under the present value method, the pension funds are valued at the time of the divorce. The employee spouse’s life expectancy, account interest rate, and projected retirement date are all taken into consideration. The non-employee spouse is then granted different marital property to offset the amount of pension benefit to which he or she would have otherwise been entitled. This method’s advantage is that it provides a clean break.  Because the valuation and offset can be made prior to the finalization of the divorce, spouses are financially untangled.

Present Division Method

The present division method delays the actual distribution until the pension matures.  At the time of the divorce, the spouses agree (or the judge decides) the respective percentage each spouse will receive once the pension begins paying out.

Reserved Jurisdiction

The final method, reserved jurisdiction, can only be used in Connecticut courts for vested pensions. This approach delays both (1) division until the pension has matured (as with the present division method), and (2) the percentage determination. Jurisdiction to make these later determinations stays with the trial court until the benefits are to be paid out, typically at retirement. The former spouses then return to court for these decisions

Valuing Small or Closely-Held Businesses

The U.S. Small Business Administration reports that small, closely-held businesses comprise 99.4% of all businesses in Connecticut. Small businesses can play a significant role in divorces — especially high net worth divorces.

A closely-held business is defined as one owned by only a few people who also control its operations. Because its shares aren’t publicly traded, it’s difficult to value. In fact, some closely held-businesses have no value because they can’t be sold.  For example, a sole-proprietorship that exists to serve only one client cannot be valued because it’s impossible to sell.

When small businesses do have value, due to the complexity, generally experts are retained to come up with that value. Sometimes spouses will agree to hire one joint expert in mediations and collaborative divorces.  In litigations, it’s more common for each spouse to have an expert.

Read: Small Business and Divorce

Read: Business as Usual?: Changes to the Business You Own with Your Spouse After a Divorce

The three of the most common business valuation approaches are:

Income-Based Method

The company’s value is based on its current or future earnings.

Market-Based Method

The appraiser values the business by referring to other transactions. This can include a comparison of financial data, stock prices, sales prices of similar companies, and past stock transactions.

Asset-Based Method

The company is valued using the fair market value of its liabilities and assets.

Valuing Stock Options & Other Employee Plans

Valuing stock options is often difficult because they are usually subject to restrictions or the benefits accrue over a number of years.  They may be forfeited if employment is terminated or become worthless if the employer goes out of business.

There are two basic ways to value stock options:

  • Intrinsic value
  • Black-Scholes method.

To determine the intrinsic value you subtract the cost of the stock option from the current market value of the stock.  The Black-Scholes method is a more complicated actuarial method.

Read: Stock Options and Divorce

Valuing Life Insurance

One major purpose of life insurance is that it pays a death benefit if the insured dies.  This is critical for securing alimony and child support.  In addition, some types of life insurance also have a cash value that is subject to division during divorce.  The type of life insurance impacts how and whether Connecticut courts will handle it when it comes to property division.

Different Types of Life Insurance

The main types of life insurance that are sometimes included in property division are:

  • Whole life insurance
  • Universal life insurance
  • Annuities
Whole life insurance policies have a cash value that increases over time as premiums are paid.  In addition, the policy owner often may borrow against the cash value.  Or, the owner can surrender the policy, and take the entire cash value.
Like whole life, universal life insurance has cash value and courts can generally divide it in divorce.  One difference between the two is that universal life’s cash value may vary based upon the market or interest rate.
For purposes of property division, many annuities are most analogous to universal life.  They often have a cash value that may (or may not) vary based upon the market rates or interest rates. That said, an “annuitized” annuity has no cash value.
On the other hand, term life insurance has no cash value.  It exists to pay a death benefit if the insured passes away while the policy is in effect.  Term life is often used to secure alimony and child support.

Property Distribution

First, we learned that the vast majority of property is subject to division in Connecticut divorces.  Next, we learned how the Connecticut courts value property.  So, it’s time to turn to the final piece of property division: distributing property.

Remember, when it comes to marital property, Connecticut is an equitable distribution state. This does not mean that the property is split 50/50 between spouses. “Equitable” property is divided fairly between both spouses, and “fairness” could dictate that one spouse receives more than the other.

Property Division Isn’t Just a Percentage Across the Board

It’s important to note that each individual piece of property does not get divided.  Rather, Connecticut courts often take a holistic approach.  In other words, for the sake of simplicity, say a couple doing a collaborative divorce owns only two assets.  They have a mortgage-free house worth $600,000 and an IRA worth $400,000.  The spouses decide that Spouse 1 is going to keep 60% of the property and Spouse 2 is going to keep 40% of the property.

The two could sell the house and divide the proceeds 60%/40% and transfer part of the IRA so that Spouse 1 has 60% and Spouse 2 has 40%. Or, Spouse 1 could keep the house and Spouse 2 could keep the IRA.  How property is divided and what property is divided is very flexible.

ADR and Property Division

Property division is one of the areas in which negotiation between the spouses in litigation, collaborative divorce, and mediation can be so beneficial.  A judge doesn’t have the same sense (or time) as the spouses and their attorneys do to structure property division so that it gets both spouses the most of what they want.  For example, one spouse might be personally attached to the vacation home and want to use it as a permanent residence post-divorce, while the other spouse doesn’t like the beach, or skiing, etc.  Or, there may be a tax advantage for one spouse to retain more retirement assets than the other spouse.  And so on and so forth.  Agreements between the party allow spouses’ preferences to be taken into consideration in the property division structure, effectively “expanding the pie” for both.

Property Division Factors

Judges (and spouses when reaching agreements) look to multiple property division factors when determining how to distribute property.

As you read the property division factors, you may find yourself overwhelmed by all the nuances.  Nuances are generally the opposite of what people want when they begin a divorce: they want clarity.  But, remember that at the beginning of this Guide I said that this vagueness is actually good.  As you read, remember that this creates tremendous flexibility for experienced divorce lawyers to craft an individualized approach for their clients.

Applying the Property Division Factors

Although the Connecticut property division statutes layout these factors for property division, divorce generally and property division specifically are equitable in nature.

The court need not give each of these factors equal weight, and there is no indication that any single factor is more important than any other factor.  Instead, judges have the discretion to weigh these factors based upon the individual circumstances of each case.  And, judges are not limited to the listed factors.  When appropriate, they can consider additional factors. In other words, the key takeaway is that the court has broad discretion when it comes to property division.

Property Division Formula

There are no formulas or even guidelines regarding how much property each spouse should receive or how property should be divided.  Equitable does not mean equal.  Courts look to the property division factors to see if they suggest it would be fairer to award more assets to one spouse or the other, and also to determine which assets to assign to which spouse.

List of Property Division Factors

The property division factors considered by Connecticut divorce courts include these elements:

  • Length of the marriage,
  • Causes for the annulment, dissolution of the marriage or legal separation,

And each spouse’s respective

  • Age
  • Health
  • Station
  • Occupation
  • Amount and sources of income
  • Earning capacity
  • Vocational skills
  • Education
  • Employability
  • Estate
  • Liabilities
  • Needs
  • Opportunity for future acquisition of capital assets and income
  • Contribution in the acquisition, preservation, or appreciation in the value of their respective estates

Read: What Factors Are Considered When Dividing Property in a Connecticut Divorce?

Property Division Versus Alimony Factors

The Connecticut alimony statutes contain two factors that are not included in the property division factors.  They are:

  • The award, if any, which the court may make pursuant to section 46b-81 (In other words, property division.)
  • Desirability and feasibility of the custodial parent securing employment

The property division factors include three criteria that are not included in the alimony division factors.  They are:

  • Liabilities
  • Opportunity for future acquisition of capital assets and income
  • Contribution in the acquisition, preservation, or appreciation in the value of their respective estates

Read: What’s the Interplay Between Alimony and Property Division?

Most Important Property Division Considerations

Generally speaking, when judges decide how to divide property, they look to how each of the parties will do financially post-divorce.  The spouses’ ability to accumulate assets in the future is itself one of the factors, but many other property division factors are most relevant when they impact this point.

For example, courts most commonly tend to view both the spouses’ age and health as significant property division factors when it comes to the ability to accumulate assets in the future.  For example, an age gap between the spouses may affect property division if one spouse is retired and the other spouse has many years of future earning.  Or, poor health may impact a spouse’s ability to work.  In a final example, a stay-at-home parent who has to begin or restart a career may not be able to “catch-up” financially.

Property Division Factors in Depth

Most people tend to find two property division factors the most confusing: length of the marriage and cause of the breakdown.

Length of the Marriage

The length of the marriage is measured from the date of a couple’s legal marriage to the date the divorce is finalized. There are two key things to flag in that statement.  First, the time that spouses lived together prior to marriage is not included.  This can have a particular impact on same-sex couples, as discussed further below.

Second, some states measure from the date of the marriage to the date the marriage broke down.  As you can imagine, this tends to encourage litigation to determine the date of the breakdown. In Connecticut, this is not an issue given that the ending point for the length of the marriage is the date of dissolution.

Impact on Same-Sex Spouses

The general rule in Connecticut is that the court cannot consider pre-marital cohabitation as part of the length of the marriage. This may have a disproportionate impact on same-sex partners who would have married had they been legally able to do so.  It’s possible Connecticut courts would consider a more liberal definition of the length of the marriage for same-sex couples who fall into this category.

Read: Potential Property Division Complications for Same Sex Divorces

Causes for the Breakdown & Adultery

The “causes for the breakdown of the marriage” factor allows the court to consider what caused the breakdown of the marriage when dividing property.  If a spouse’s infidelity leads to the breakdown of the marriage, it might be relevant to the court’s alimony determination.  This is a separate concept from the for-fault divorce ground of adultery.  In other words, even in a (much more common) no fault divorce, the court has the discretion to divide property more favorably to award the “less responsible” spouse.

Now, just because the court has the discretion to do this, doesn’t mean the court is likely to do this.  It isn’t.

It’s not hard to see why the serious emotional toll of infidelity leads some to overestimate its impact on alimony.

The practical reality is that evidence of adultery rarely leads divorce judges to penalize a spouse financially.  In the rare times the court does, it’s generally in egregious cases and, even then, to a modest degree.  That said, when a spouse spent substantial marital funds on an affair, courts may make the non-offending spouse financially whole, typically in the property division context.

Read: How Does Infidelity Affect Property Division?

Preservation of the Estate

One of the factors Connecticut courts consider when distributing property between divorcing spouses is

  • Each spouse’s contribution to the acquisition, preservation or appreciation in value of their respective estates.

We flag this factor because it can come into play when one spouse “dissipated assets.”  As a result, a court may consider one spouse’s wasteful or inappropriate spending a dissipation of assets resulting in the other spouse’s receiving a credit in the final allocation of the marital estate.

Distributing Specific Types of Property

As a practical matter, after the court finalizes who will get what property, how do you distribute it?  For example, it’s easy to conceive of how to split a $100,000 bank account 65%/45%, but how about a house?  Or a retirement account?

Distributing Real Estate like the Family Home

There are two basic options when it comes to the family home.

  • One spouse can keep it
  • The spouses can sell it

Read: What Happens to the Family Home After Divorce?

One Spouse Keeps the House

If one spouse keeps the home, it needs to be in that spouse’s name.  When the person who owns the house is keeping the house, there aren’t any affirmative steps to take. But, for example, if spouses own the home jointly, the spouse who isn’t keeping the house will transfer his or her interest in the house into the other spouse’s name.  This is often done via a quit claim deed.

Mortgage on the House

One option is that the spouse keeping the house can indemnify the other spouse with respect to the mortgage.  If the spouse fails to pay the mortgage, the court’s order may require that the house be listed for sale.

Refinancing the Family Home

Another option is that the spouse keeping the house refinances the mortgage so that the mortgage is in his or her name alone.  Another purpose of a refinance may be to get some of the equity out of the house in the form of cash.

Selling the Family Home

Sometimes the divorce order will provide that the house is sold.  The court order should explain the details, for example:

  • Timing for selling the home
  • Listing price
  • Payment of related bills
  • Any improvements or repairs and who will pay for them
  • Division of proceeds
  • Handling of disputes

Sometimes one spouse may have the right to live in the house for a set period of time before the house is placed on the market.  For example, this might be so that children can complete the school year.

Distributing 401ks, Pensions, and Other Retirement Plans

To split a 401k, pension, or another qualified retirement plan, you need a Qualified Domestic Relations Order — or “QDRO” for short. Essentially, the QDRO allows the 401k to be split into two separate accounts without tax consequences.

Read: How Are Retirement Plans Divided in Connecticut Divorces?

Read: 401k & Divorce

Read: Divorce, Retirement Accounts, & Taxes

Distributing Small or Closely-Held Businesses

The point of valuing a small business is so that you can figure out how it will play into property division. Dividing small businesses is trickier than other assets.

The spouse who owns the small business typically does not want to share ownership with an ex-spouse. There are other complications when the spouses both own the business and are business partners.

Generally speaking, the goal is to get the non-business owner his or her share of the value of the business from other assets whenever possible.  In other words, one spouse may retain the business and the other spouse may receive more retirement or real estate assets. If there aren’t sufficient other assets available, creative solutions might involve increased alimony payments, or in some cases, even selling the business.

Read: Small Business and Divorce

Distributing Stock Options & Other Employee Plans

Most employers do not allow employee benefits — including stock options — to be transferred to a non-employee like a spouse.  As with closely-held businesses, as a practical matter, it can be easier to get the non-employee spouse owner his or her share of the stock options’ value via other property.  Alternatively, experienced divorce lawyers make complex arrangements that are then clearly detailed in the divorce agreement.  Spouses also need to consider the tax impact of exercising stock options.  For example, if all the options are in the employee’s name, that person will be responsible for the taxes.

Distributing Personal Property

Although personal property is rarely divorcing spouses’ largest asset, there can be emotional and practical concerns.  When the spouses own personal property that has a high but unknown value — for example valuable art or antiques — they can retain appraisers to determine the value.  Frequently spouses are able to decide how to divide their personal property on their own.  If they can’t, sometimes an arbitrator is used to decide how property will be divided. The key is that the Connecticut family court loses jurisdiction over property division at the time the divorce is finalized, so if the arbitration doesn’t occur before the divorce order, it should be addressed.

Property During Divorce

In Connecticut, some court orders go into effect automatically at the beginning of a divorcelegal separationcustody, or visitation action.  These are commonly referred to as the “Automatic Orders.”

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

Property & the Automatic Orders

With respect to property, the automatic orders prevent both spouses from taking actions that would drastically affect the couple’s property without the other spouse’s consent, including:

  • Sell, exchange, take away, give away or dispose of any property without written agreement with the other party or a court order except in their usual business or for usual expenses for the home or for reasonable attorney’s fees in the case.
  • Hide any property.
  • Mortgage any property except in their usual business or for usual expenses for the house or for reasonable attorney’s fees for the case without written agreement or a court order.
  • Have any asset or an asset that is owned by both parties become owned only by him or her without written agreement or a court order.
  • Go into unreasonable debt by borrowing money or using credit cards or cash advances unreasonably.
  • Change the terms or named beneficiaries of any existing insurance policy or let any existing insurance coverage end, including life, automobile, homeowner’s or renter’s insurance.
  • Deny use of the family home to the other person without a court order, if the spouses are living together on the date the court papers are delivered.

Enforcing the Automatic Orders

Sometimes a spouse violates the Automatic Orders.  If this happens, you need to affirmatively bring it to the court’s attention, usually by filing a Motion for Contempt of the Automatic Orders.  To hold your spouse in contempt, the court must find that your spouse willfully violated the terms of the Automatic Orders when they were in effect.  In some limited circumstances, the judge may even extend a finding of contempt to include a time period prior to the date of service of the Automatic Orders, if the court finds that the act was committed in contemplation of the divorce.

Read: What is a Motion for Contempt?

Family Home During Divorce

The automatic orders address who lives in the home — or what divorce courts call the “marital residence” — during divorce.  Before we dive into the ins and outs, one quick but important note. The person who lives in the family home during the divorce isn’t necessarily the person who will keep the house following the divorce.  In other words, just because one spouse lived in the house during the divorce doesn’t mean the same spouse is going to get the home after the divorce.  Who lives in the house during the divorce and which spouse ends up with the house are two separate issues.

Under the automatic orders, neither spouse may:

  • Deny use of the family home to the other person without a court order, if the spouses are living together on the date the court papers are delivered.

In other words, if spouses were already living apart, they often continue to live separately. Other spouses cohabitate during the entire divorce. Sometimes, it’s difficult for spouses who were living together initially to continue cohabitating.  In those cases, spouses may agree that one spouse will move out.  Absent an agreement, a spouse can file a “Motion for Exclusive Possession.”

Read: Who Keeps the House in a Divorce?

Read: What is a Motion for Exclusive Possession?

Dissipation of Marital Assets

Sometimes, one spouse will violate the automatic orders, and inappropriately spend marital assets.  The court may consider one spouse’s wasteful or inappropriate spending a dissipation of assets resulting in the other spouse’s receiving a credit in the final allocation of the marital estate.  As we mentioned above, this generally comes into play in the “preservation of the estate” property division factor.

Not every large expenditure constitutes a dissipation of marital assets.  The test is whether an asset was actually wasted or misused.  Significantly, that means that the spouses’ disagreement about spending doesn’t mean it was a dissipation.  The court generally needs to see some form of financial misconduct with regard to spending unrelated to the marriage.  For example, gambling, spending on a girlfriend or boyfriend, hiding assets, or transferring assets to someone else without sufficient compensation.

Read: What Is Dissipation of Marital Assets?

Read: How Does Infidelity Affect Property Division?

Hiding Assets

Sometimes a spouse fears that their spouse will hide assets while a divorce is pending. There are multiple ways that Connecticut addresses this. First, courts strive to prevent it from happening in the first place via the automatic orders.  Second, Connecticut law requires both spouses to disclose all property on their financial affidavits. Finally, the discovery process provides a way to reveal any hidden assets.

Read: What if My Spouse is Hiding Assets During our Divorce?

Read: Discovery in Connecticut Divorces

Paying Divorce Lawyers’ Fees

The automatic court orders that go into effect during divorce allow you to pay reasonable attorneys’ fees.

So the short answer is that you’re allowed to use marital assets to pay your reasonable attorney’s fees.

That said, you should consult with a divorce attorney before you do so.  There is a lot to consider depending on your individual situation, and you don’t want to wind up with more problems than you bargained for.

Read: Can I Withdraw Retirement Funds to Pay My Divorce Attorneys’ Fees?

Property Issues After Divorce

Sometimes, there is a Post Judgment issue with property division after a divorce is final.

Property Division Modification

Connecticut courts do not have the authority to modify the property division the divorce court ordered.  However, in some limited cases, the court is able to change a final court decree in the case, for example, of fraud, duress, or mutual mistake.

Read: What is a Motion to Open a Judgment?

Enforcing Property Division

Although Connecticut courts do not have the authority to modify property division, they do have the ability to enforce their orders.  (Sometimes we call this “effectuating” the court’s order rather than “enforcing” the court’s order.)

Enforcing Court Orders on Retirement

It’s not uncommon for us to see Post Judgment issues arising out of a failure to transfer retirement assets.  Retirement assets — like pensions and 401ks — are transferred after divorce by a QDRO.  The court has the authority to effectuate these orders.

Read: How Do You Enforce a Divorce Court Order?

Conclusion

This guide gives you a lot of information about property division in Connecticut divorces. It goes from why property division is important, to the definition, to the distribution, to protecting property, and a whole lot in between. There’s a catch though: if you want to structure property division in a way that works best for you, you need to have a lot of experience and really know what you’re doing.

But don’t worry — we’re here to help.

All these nuances are why Freed Marcroft lawyers limit their practice to family law.  As they say, “jack of all trades, master of none.” Our in-depth understanding of the nuances of property division and Connecticut divorce and family law allows us to craft and advocate for a property distribution approach geared to your priorities.

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.

Schedule your Goals & Planning Conference today, or contact us either here or by phone at 860-560-8160.