WHEN CHEATING COUNTS IN A CONNECTICUT DIVORCE
There is a widely held perception that because Connecticut is a no-fault divorce State, that cheating or adultery or whatever term is used to describe marital infidelity, does not affect the outcome. That is only partially true. No-fault divorce means that a party is not required to allege and prove wrongful conduct, e.g., adultery, in order to obtain a divorce. It does not mean, however, that it will not be considered by a court in its determination of how the marital estate is to be divided or the extent of an alimony obligation because it is a relevant factor to both of these if it caused the breakdown of the marriage, and depending on the degree of infidelity, could very well impact the final outcome.
Will My Spouse Allege Infidelity as Grounds for a Connecticut Divorce?
Connecticut Family Law statutes provide: “A decree of dissolution of a marriage or a decree of legal separation shall be granted upon a finding that one of the following causes has occurred: … (3) adultery; … ” and further provides: “For the purposes of this section, “adultery” means voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person other than such person’s spouse.” C.G.S. 46b-40. While adultery remains on the books as a cause of action for divorce, the more commonly claimed ground is that of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage which serves to establish the jurisdiction of the court without unnecessary scandal or embarrassment that might otherwise result at the commencement of the action. However, alleging irretrievable breakdown as grounds for divorce does not prevent or preclude the subsequent consideration of infidelity by the court for other purposes such as asset division and alimony.
Will Infidelity Affect How Marital Assets are Divided in a Connecticut Divorce?
Possibly, yes. It depends on how egregious, how flagrant, how inappropriate or how persistent the conduct was and the degree to which it caused the breakdown of the marriage. Here are just a few examples in a nutshell:
Where a husband’s repeated infidelity, alcohol use, lack of communication and dictatorial personality caused the breakdown of the marriage, it was not an abuse of the court’s discretion to award the wife 67% of the marital assets. Greco v. Greco, 70 Conn.App. 735 (2002).
Where a husband’s extramarital conduct was so flagrant, so inappropriate and so frequent that it resulted in the breakdown of the marriage, the court awarded 70% of most of the assets to the wife. The husband had fathered a child out of wedlock and spent considerable family resources on the paramour and child. Thomson v. Thomson, Superior Court of Connecticut, judicial district of Stamford-Norwalk, docket no. FA1304024747S, August 4, 2015 (Shay, J.).
Where a husband was found to be a playboy who fathered another woman’s child during the marriage, the court awarded 70% of the marital estate to the wife. Blint v. Blint, Superior Court of Connecticut, judicial district of Hartford, docket no. FA000723514S, March 8, 2002 (Brennan, J.).
The cause of the breakdown of the marriage is just one of many statutory factors the court considers when dividing the marital estate and its conclusion is based on the comparative fault of the parties. The examples above are extreme but nevertheless illustrate how courts have handled egregious infidelity during a marriage.
Will Infidelity Affect the Award of Alimony in a Connecticut Divorce?
The statutory factors that a court will consider in the division of marital assets are very similar to those considered in making an award of alimony, and include the cause of the breakdown of the marriage as a relevant factor to the determination of alimony. The difference, however, is that the purpose of alimony is for a spouse to meet an ongoing duty to support the other spouse as a result of the marriage. While a court is not obligated to articulate the weight it gives each statutory factor, other factors tend to be more relevant to the determination such as one’s age, health, employability, occupation, station and sources of income.
Will Infidelity be Publicized during a Connecticut Divorce?
Generally, no. Although trials are public in the sense that the courthouse doors are open to the general public, it is rare that divorce trials are attended by anyone other than the parties involved and possibly other litigants attending court for their own matters. After the conclusion of trial there will be a Memorandum of Decision issued which is a public document in that it is published and made available through online legal research providers, but unless there are celebrities involved the decisions are not otherwise publicized.
Most divorces are privately negotiated and resolved without a trial, however, it is important to keep in mind that the successful negotiation, mediation or other type of dispute resolution will rely on data derived from trial outcomes. Infidelity as well as other types of misconduct during a marriage are not only relevant but often influence the dynamic of a negotiation and may affect bargaining positions. Therefore, it is critical to have legal counsel with substantive knowledge of the relevant issues but just as critical to have counsel experienced in litigation should it become necessary.
Broder Orland Murray & DeMattie LLC, with offices in Westport and Greenwich, concentrates in family law and divorce. Our attorneys are extremely knowledgeable with the issues of how and to what degree various factors of fault may impact marital asset division and alimony, and are experienced courtroom advocates in advancing and defending claims of fault.