For eligible couples, getting divorced is becoming much simpler and quicker under a new state law taking effect today.
The law creates an expedited process by which couples can obtain a “nonadversarial divorce.” The process allows a judge to enter a divorce decree without a hearing in certain cases, provided the marriage lasted eight years or less.
The new option means couples can obtain a divorce in as few as 35 days, compared to a regular divorce proceeding that typically takes at least three months, according to the state Judicial Branch.
Judges now have the power to grant such divorces “on the papers,” meaning the spouses do not have to come to court. Couples also may file a motion, under the law, asking the judge to waive the 90-day waiting period typically involved in dissolving a marriage.
To qualify for a nonadversarial divorce: at least one person in the marriage must be a Connecticut resident, the couple must have no children or real estate, the total combined net fair market value of all property owned by either person must be less than $35,000, and neither person can have a company-sponsored defined benefit pension plan, according to the state Judicial Branch.
Also, no one in the marriage can be pregnant, having a pending bankruptcy, or have another divorce pending.
Those who don’t meet the criteria have to undergo the traditional divorce process.
One of the biggest ways in which the process differs from a traditional divorce is that spouses file a joint petition, meaning one spouse doesn’t have to sue the other to divorce.
This is an important distinction, according to Louise Zito, president of the Connecticut Council for Non-Adversarial Divorce, who testified in support of the measure during a May public hearing. The council represents lawyers as well as financial and mental health professionals who work with those going through divorce.
“Our clients do not understand why one of them has to sue the other,” she testified. “The words ‘plaintiff’ and ‘defendant’ are loaded terms for those trying to divorce in a peaceable, dignified manner and who do not want their children harmed by litigation.”
However, she and others who testified at the hearing had concerns about certain criteria couples have to meet to qualify for the new process.
Attorney Shirley Pripstein, for instance, testified that many couples won’t be eligible for the process because so many people have company-sponsored pension plans. The stipulation that says neither spouse can have a pension means police, teachers, firefighters, and others won’t qualify, she said.
Pripstein has practiced divorce and family law for 34 years and testified on behalf of Greater Hartford Legal Aid, the New Haven Legal Assistance Association, and Connecticut Legal Services.
She also worried that spouses can obtain a divorce without having to appear in court in person to verify their identity.
But Judge Elizabeth Bozzuto, chief administrative judge for family matters at the state Judicial Branch, testified that the new law will help thousands of people obtain divorces.
“Time spent in court is a frequent criticism of our current process,” she said. For judges and attorneys, she said, “Permitting cases to proceed in a simplified manner means that more time and attention can be paid to cases with more significant issues in dispute.”
The law was signed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in May, after being introduced earlier in the most recent legislative session by the Judiciary Committee.