New Divorce Legislation for 2015
Connecticut has just enacted a dramatic change in its divorce laws. This new legislation will streamline the divorce process for many people in Connecticut. The new legislation becomes effective on October 1, 2015.
Previously, people who wanted to get divorced in Connecticut had to wait a minimum of 90 days from the beginning of their divorce case before a judge could pronounce them divorced. This requirement was placed in the law for several reasons. First, the people of Connecticut have a religious background, and these people do not want to encourage easy divorces. Second, Connecticut does not want to become the Las Vegas of the east by offering people quickie divorces. In fact, there was a time when Connecticut was perceived to be a place where a person could get a relatively quick divorce. However, he ninety day waiting period has done a lot to change that perception.
In addition, the parties would not have to go to court for a hearing on their divorce. The papers would merely be processed, and they would receive notice thereafter.
Under this new statute, only certain people would qualify for this streamlined benefit. First, the couple must be married for less than eight years. Neither party can have an interest in real property or in a defined benefit plan or pension. Also neither spouse can be receiving Social Security. The total value of the parties combined property must be less than $35,000. Clearly, this legislation is targeted at allowing poor people to get divorced easier.
Much of the demand for this legislation has come from the increase that the courts have seen in the number of pro se litigants who are trying to get divorced. Pro se litigants are people who represent themselves in their divorce instead of hiring a lawyer. There appears to be an increasing number of people who cannot afford a lawyer. The legal procedures that are necessary to get a divorce can be complicated. Although the Connecticut Judicial Branch has done what it can to educate people about what they need to do to get a divorce, the task can still be very difficult. People who are sure that they want a divorce, are often turned away and forced to come back another day just because they don’t have the right paperwork.
The divorces that are done for people with these limited assets are usually considered simple uncontested divorces. But the courts have been forced to spend considerable time on them because our statutes require that certain obligations be met. For instance there must be a hearing in which the judge reviews the settlement agreement and agrees that it is fair. Then at least one of the parties must take the witness stand and testify as to the essential facts that are necessary to get a divorce. When you are dealing with people who are not lawyers, these hearings can take a long time. Undoubtedly, these hearings for simple uncontested divorces take up a good deal of the court’s time.
In some court houses in Connecticut, they do these types of cases only on certain days of the week. In other courts they do them any day of the week. But either way, the time spent on these cases only serves to take away from more complicated cases that require more time. The idea of this legislation was to try to unclog the courts.
But of course we have to consider the consequences of such a change and whether these changes could end up hurting some of the litigants. One of the concerns here, is that if we make it too easy, people won’t seek the advice of an attorney. If they don’t seek the advice of an attorney, then they might give up certain rights or property that they did not have to.
Another concern that has been expressed is that if the parties don’t appear in court then their identity may not be verified. This could give rise to fraud. Believe it or not, people are not above filing papers in court and fraudulently representing that their spouse signed the agreement. However, this problem appears to have been addressed. The legislation simply requires that all signatures be notarized. A notary checks a person’s phot identification before notarizing a document. The Court could rely on the notarization as evidence that the real party signed the forms. In fact, when a case is in court, the court never requires a person to show photo identification to prove their identity. The Court merely relies on the statements of the witness that they are who they say they are.
Some people have expressed the concern that we might be making divorce too easy. State Representative Ben McGorty, R-Shelton, was quoted in the Connecticut Law Tribune as saying “ I don’t promote divorce. I think a couple came together for a reason and should try to work it out, unless it is a violent relationship.” He went on to say “ With the right counseling, most couples can make it work. A lot of people do things in the heat of the moment. If they get in an argument, they could be divorced quickly.”
I believe Mr. McGorty’s idea of divorce is somewhat un-enlightened. He seems to only believe in divorce if there has been violence. As an attorney, I have seen the long term mental effects that bad relationships have on people. A Violent relationship is just not the only valid reason for divorce. I also believe he is somewhat naïve about why people get married and divorced. Most people still get married with the intent that they are getting married for life. In my practice, I usually see people who are getting divorced because of some very bad compatibility problems. These problems can lead to the mental anguish and suffering a discussed above. While I have seen some people come to me about a divorce within a year of getting married, they have all been people with serious compatibility problems. Even though the marriage was short, they still needed to get a divorce.
Overall, I feel this new legislation is a good step toward making divorce easier for people who don’t have a lot of money to divide up and fight about. The State’s real interest in making people wait for their divorce is to make sure that children are properly cared for and that one spouse is not being left behind with little money. The State has an interest that one spouse doesn’t get left with nothing and ending up on welfare while the spouse left the marriage with the ability to provide support. Thus the State’s interests appear to have been properly served.