Information

Entering into any legal situation can be extremely stressful. In order to reduce your stress, it is essential to retain an experienced attorney who will guide you through the legal system. You can trust attorneys at Conti and Levy to provide you with information that will help you win your case.

Divorce Information

ARE YOU:

* Searching for the right attorney to handle your divorce?
* Seeking advice about obtaining legal custody of your child or grandchild?
* Wanting to adopt a child and don't know where to start?
* Needing to prove paternity?
* Facing a juvenile delinquency proceeding?
* Considering a pre-nuptial, postnuptial or cohabitation agreement?
* Involved in a high conflict family situation?

Marriage Dissolution / Divorce

Marriage dissolution or divorce requires an understanding of the client's marriage, family relationships, and financial intricacies that are a part of the marital relationship. Clients need counsel regarding these complex issues and a strong legal advocate on their behalf through settlement negotiations and, when necessary, litigation.

Connecticut is a no-fault state, which means a couple does not have to prove one party was at fault or did something that has caused the breakdown of the relationship. But that does not mean fault is not a factor considered by the court. There are decisions that need to be made regarding the division of assets accumulated during the marriage. These assets may include property (house, cabin, land), furniture and other personal property, jewelry, antiques, vehicles (autos, boats, motorcycles), pensions, bank accounts, and businesses. Assets need to be valued and divided in a manner that is fair and equitable to both parties.

There are also decisions to be made regarding alimony and/or educational financial assistance, especially when one spouse may not have worked outside the home during the marriage and is not able to be immediately self-supporting. If the couple has children, there are decisions to be made about legal and physical custody, parenting time, healthcare, insurance, education, religious upbringing, dependency exemptions, and financial support. Business ownership, instances of domestic abuse, and mental health concerns are just a few of the other issues that may complicate a divorce case.

THE TRADITIONAL APPROACH

The traditional approach to a divorce generally involves each party obtaining his/her own attorney who attempt to negotiate agreement on various issues that need to be addressed in that particular case. If an agreement cannot be achieved, then the issue in dispute will be resolved by a hearing or trial before a judge who will render a decision resolving the issue. The advantages associated with the traditional approach is that each party is represented by competent attorneys, and when an agreement cannot be achieved, the issue will be resolved by a judge. The disadvantages of the traditional approach is that it provides an opportunity for the parties to engage in warfare rather than in resolution, in which case, it can also be financially and emotionally expensive.

MEDIATION

Mediation provides an avenue for parties to negotiate the terms of their divorce themselves while also having the opportunity to utilize the services of consulting attorneys outside the mediation process. The mediator does not provide legal advice, advocate, or protect either party. The mediator's role is to introduce the topics that need to be addressed and attempts to assist the parties in reaching agreement on each issue. The advantage of mediation is that it allows each party to be completely responsible for negotiating the terms of their own divorce. The disadvantage of mediation is that the parties are required to negotiate directly between themselves without the benefit of an attorney to insulate the parties from the potential negativity that direct negotiations may cause.

COLLABORATIVE DIVORCE

Collaborative is a process by which the parties retain their own attorneys and commit themselves to resolving all of the issues of the divorce through a negotiation process without engaging in any court proceedings. The parties and their attorneys voluntarily produce financial information and negotiate through four-way conferences in an attempt to arrive at an agreement that is good for the family rather than for an individual. The advantage of a collaborative divorce is that each party has his/her own attorney and the parties and attorneys are committed to resolving all issues outside of court. The disadvantage of a collaborative divorce is that if an impasse occurs, there is no alternative available to the parties other than proceeding in court in which case the collaborative attorneys are no longer permitted to represent the parties through the court process.

CHILD CUSTODY

Custody of children is often one of the most important issues to parents in a divorce. Parents often misunderstand that there are various categories of custody. Child custody really means decision making. A parent who has sole custody of a child has the responsibility of making all of the decisions for that child. Parents who share joint legal custody are required to attempt to agree upon all major issues affecting a child. Major issues generally fall under three (3) categories; health, education and religion. Connecticut Statutes presume that joint legal custody is in the best interest of a child. Joint custody or "shared custody" is a parenting plan where their children reside with both parents for significant periods of time each month. It does not require that the parents share the children equally but that both parents have significant time with the children each month.

THIRD PARTY CUSTODY

Third party custody occurs when custody is granted to someone other than the parents. Issues of foster parent custody, third party non-relative custody, relative and grandparent custody, access rights, and other proceedings outside of marriage dissolution are the cutting edge litigation of today's ever-changing definition of family.

CHILD SUPPORT

Connecticut has mandatory child support guidelines. Child support is determined by a mathematical formula based upon the combined net income of the parents. The Child Support Guidelines also provide for a percentage contribution by each parent toward the unreimbursed medical expenses incurred for the children as well as work related daycare expenses. A joint legal custody or shared parenting plan could result in a deviation from the Child Support Guidelines resulting in a lower child support order. There are several deviation criteria contained in the Connecticut Child Support Guidelines that could affect a strict application of the Child Support Guidelines.

ALIMONY AND DIVISION OF ASSETS

Divorce in Connecticut is governed by statutes by the legislature. The statute relating to alimony is found in Connecticut General Statutes Section 46b-82 and the statute relating to the distribution of assets is found in Connecticut General Statutes Section 46b-81.

Each statute sets forth a series of criteria that must be evaluated when determining whether alimony is appropriate and if so, the amount of alimony and its duration, as well as the appropriate manner of dividing assets. The statutes require the court to consider the length of the marriage, the causes for the divorce, the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate and needs of each of the parties and the opportunity of each of the parties for future acquisition of capital assets and income. The court shall also consider the contribution of each of the parties and the acquisition, preservation or appreciation in value of their respective estates.

SPECIAL MASTERS PROGRAM

One of the most successful pretrial programs initiated in Connecticut is the Special Masters Pretrial Program. The Special Masters Program involves an informal Pretrial before a male and female team of experienced family lawyers who provide their feedback and input to assist the parties in reaching an agreement.

Attorney Steven H. Levy has served as a Special Master in the Litchfield, Waterbury and Hartford Judicial Districts, and also serves a Special Master at the Regional Family Trial Docket that deals exclusively with contested custody cases. Attorney Levy is also responsible for running the Special Masters Program in the Litchfield Judicial District.

RESTRAINING ORDERS

Restraining orders in Connecticut can be obtained pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes Section 46b-l5. That statute provides that any family or household member who has been subjected to a continuous threat of present physical pain or physical injury by another family or household member or person in, or has recently been in, a dating relationship who has been subjected to a continuous threat of present physical pain or physical injury by the other person in such relationship may apply to the Superior Court for a restraining order. Upon an Application for a Restraining Order, one (1) of three (3) things will occur: it will be granted, ex parte, upon the paperwork and be in effect for up to fourteen (14) days which then requires a hearing; will not be granted but a hearing will be scheduled to address the issues; or will be denied. If a restraining order is granted it may remain in effect for up to six (6) months and is renewable thereafter.

POST-JUDGMENT MODIFICATIONS

Some terms of a divorce judgment are modifiable and some are not. Property distributions are not modifiable. Child custody, child support and alimony are generally modifiable.

Child custody is determined by an examination of what is in a child's best interests. The best interests of a child can change overtime and when the non-custodial parent believes it is now in the best interests of the child to reside with the non-custodial parent he/she may move to modify custody.

Child support in Connecticut is based upon the Connecticut Child Support Guidelines that is a mathematical formula involving the combined net income of the parents. If a major change occurs in one of the parent's financial circumstances that would change the child support payment upwards or downwards by more than 15%, then a modification of child support maybe warranted.

Alimony or spousal support is modifiable upon a substantial change of circumstances unless the original order of alimony was made non-modifiable.

RELOCATION

In our mobile society it is not uncommon for people to relocate either within or outside of the State of Connecticut. Often times this occurs when parents are in the process of divorcing or have already been divorced. If the relocating parent has physical custody of the children, the non-relocating parent can seek to prevent the relocating parent from moving.

The relocating parent shall bear the burden of proving, by a preponderous of the evidence, that (l) the relocation is for a legitimate purpose, (2) the proposed location is reasonable in light of such purpose, and (3) the relocation is in the best interests of the child.

The court shall consider: (1) each parent's reason for seeking or opposing the relocation; (2) the quality of the relationships between the child and each parent; (3) the impact of the relocation on the quantity and quality of the child's future contact with the non-relocating parent; (4) the degree to which the relocating parent and child may be enhanced economically, emotionally and educationally by the relocation; and (5) the feasibility of preserving the relationship between the non-relocating parent and the child through suitable visitation arrangements.

Divorce Q & A

Q. How do I know if I am entitled to alimony?

A. Divorce is a product of statute. Section 46b-82 sets forth the criteria for the determination of alimony: the court shall consider the length of the marriage, the causes for the dissolution of the marriage, the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate and needs of each of the parties and the award, if any, which the court may make pursuant to section 46b-81, (property distribution) and in the case of a parent to whom the custody of minor children has been awarded, the desirability of such parent's securing employment.

Q. What is Family Law?

A. Family Law focuses on the areas of dissolution of marriage, custody, alimony, division of assets and liabilities and the other issues that need to be addressed when couples divorce. Many people do not realize the many issues involved in a divorce, especially when children are involved, such as medical and life insurance, higher education, tax exemptions and visitation. Family Law also includes probate court procedures for adoption, guardianship and termination of parental rights.

Q. How do you decide how the assets in a marriage are to be divided in a divorce?

A. Section 46b-81 of the General Statutes governs the division of assets. The statute provides that in fixing the nature and value of the property, if any, to be assigned, the court shall consider the length of the marriage, the causes for the annulment, dissolution of the marriage, the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities and needs of each of the parties and the opportunity of each for future acquisition of capital assets and income. The court shall also consider the contribution of each of the parties in the acquisition, preservation or appreciation in value of their respective estates.

Q. Am I entitled to a part of my spouse's retirement?

A. Frequently, a retirement plan (which falls into two categories; a defined benefit plan, and a defined contribution plan) is one the largest assets of a marriage, and often exceeds the equity in the marital residence. Pursuant to Section 46b-81 of the General Statutes, a retirement plan can be divided between spouses. A special order from the court is required to divide retirement plans called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order, often referred to as a QDRO.

Q. I have experienced significant financial changes since my divorce, can I return to court and change the orders?

A. Some court orders are modifiable, and some are not. A property distribution, such as the division of the house, investments and retirement benefits are not modifiable and therefore, cannot be changed. Alimony is modifiable upon a substantial change of circumstances, assuming that the alimony order was not made "nonmodifiable". Custody is always modifiable, as is child support, provided that the new child support order would be more than a 15% change in the current order.

Q. Can my former spouse move to another state with our children?

A. The relocating parent shall bear the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that (1) the relocation is for a legitimate purpose, (2) the proposed location is reasonable in light of such purpose, and (3) the relocation is in the best interests of the child.

The court shall consider: (1) Each parent's reasons for seeking or opposing the relocation; (2) the quality of the relationships between the child and each parent; (3) the impact of the relocation on the quantity and the quality of the child's future contact with the nonrelocating parent; (4) the degree to which the relocating parent's and the child's life may be enhanced economically, emotionally and educationally by the relocation; and (5) the feasibility of preserving the relationship between the nonrelocating parent and the child through suitable visitation arrangements.

Q. My spouse has physically abused me in the past, and is now threatening to do it again. What can I do?

A. No one has the right to abuse or threaten to abuse anyone. You can apply for a restraining order under 46b-15, which provides that any family or household member as defined in section 46b-38a who has been subjected to a continuous threat of present physical pain or physical injury by another family or household member or person in, or has recently been in, a dating relationship who has been subjected to a continuous threat of present physical pain or physical injury by the other person in such relationship may make an application to the Superior Court for relief under this section.

Q. My former spouse is supposed to pay me child support every week, but is often late, and now owes me about 10 weeks of back child support. What can I do?

A. There are several alternatives available. If a party fails to follow any court order, the other party can file a motion for contempt and request court intervention. You can also enroll with the Support Enforcement Office which will monitor the payments to insure compliance. Parties are entitled to rely upon the timely adherence to court orders.

You can also obtain a wage withholding order so that your former spouse's child support is automatically taken and paid by the employer.

Q. My soon to be ex-spouse wants to share custody of our children. What does that mean?

A. There are two ways to share custody of children. Parents can have joint legal custody of their children, or can share joint physical custody. Joint legal custody is when the children reside primarily with one of the parents, but both parents are to attempt to reach an agreement on three major categories involving their children; health, education and religion.

Joint physical custody, sometimes called shared custody, is when the parents physically share the time with their children. The shared time does not need to be equal between the parents, but should be substantially more than the usual visitation schedule of alternating weekends.