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Sample Divorce Timeline

Although individual divorce actions can vary as to length and difficulty, there are certain steps and timeframes common to all divorces.  The following is offered as a tool to assist clients in knowing the process and anticipating each new step as it approaches.

The Complaint

Divorce actions are commenced by the service of a divorce complaint.  The complaint contains a “return date.”  This is a place marker for the court system marking the commencement of the ninety day waiting period.  Your spouse will be served with the complaint at least twelve days prior to the return date and the complaint will be returned to the court at least six days prior to the return date together with a Marshall’s Return attesting to the time and place of service.

Financial Affidavits

Connecticut law states that financial affidavits are to be filed in all divorce actions.  Financial affidavits are sworn documents that set forth a party’s income, expenses, assets and liabilities.  These documents are to be exchanged within thirty days of the commencement of the action or five days prior to a hearing on any temporary motion.  Some leeway is given here.

Temporary Motions

Parties may serve motions for temporary orders to address such issues as support, alimony, custody or living arrangements along with the complaint.  These motions then appear on a short calendar approximately one to two weeks after the return date has passed.

Discovery

In order to properly evaluate a case, parties must first have full disclosure of the underlying facts, including the marital history, the earnings of the parties, the assets of the parties, the debts of the parties and the like.  Interrogatories (written questions that are answered under oath) and Requests for Production are the normal means by which this information is obtained.  Parties have 30-60 days to answer Interrogatories and to provide all documents responsive to the Requests for Production.  Should more information be needed, depositions can be taken or subpoenas issued.

Case Management Date

This marks the end of the mandatory ninety day waiting period.  If the divorce is agreed, then it can be finalized on this date.  If not, then the parties must submit a Case Management Agreement to the court that indicates whether the outstanding disagreement is regarding finances, custody or both.

Custody Mediation or Evaluation

If the parties are not in agreement regarding custody, the matter will be referred to Family Services for a mediation.  The mediation process takes 3-5 weeks.  If the mediation fails, the matter is referred to Family Services for an evaluation to be performed.  The Family Services Officer then speaks with the parties, visits each party’s household, speaks to references and speaks to relevant third parties (pediatrician, school, etc.) in an effort to issue a report to the Court as to what custodial arrangement is in the best interest of the minor children.  This process can take a minimum of an additional eight weeks.

Negotiation and Settlement

Once all relevant discovery is completed, counsel will exchange proposals and start the negotiation process.  Whenever an agreement can be reached, the parties can pick a date with the court to finalize the judgment.

Pretrial

If the parties are unable to reach an agreement by the Case Management Date, the Court will set either a special masters or judicial pretrial.  A special masters pretrial is conducted before two experienced lawyers who assist the parties in bridging any differences they may have.  A judicial pretrial is conducted before a judge.  Pretrials are usually set a couple of weeks after the case management date.   If a settlement can be reached at the time of the pretrial, then the parties can choose a date to finalize it with the Court.

Trial

If the parties are unable to agree at pretrial, then a trial date will be scheduled.  The trial date may be anywhere from a month to six months later, depending on the court’s schedule and availability.

As one can see, the absolute quickest a divorce can be finalized is approximately four months (the return date plus ninety days).  If a pretrial is needed, then six months is probably a better estimate.  However, if custody is contested, the case will more likely be eight months to a year from start to finish.

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