FAMILY LAW GLOSSARY

 

Family law matters can be confusing and difficult to navigate. Below are some terms frequently used in Connecticut family law.

Alimony

Alimony is court-ordered payments, either in lump-sum or continuingly, from one spouse to the other. Sometimes alimony may be referred to as spousal support or maintenance, but there is no difference between them. Alimony is paid by the “supporting spouse” to the “dependent spouse.”

Annulment

When a person gets a divorce, they are recognized as having been married previously. An annulment treats the marriage as though it never existed.

Answer & Cross Complaint

An Answer is the legal response to a Complaint. The Defendant admits, denies, or leaves the Plaintiff to prove the allegations of the Complaint. A Cross-Complaint is where the Defendant countersues the Plaintiff for divorce. This is usually done to ensure the divorce will continue if the Plaintiff unilaterally withdraws the Complaint.

Appeals

Every Connecticut litigant has the right to appeal a final judgment entered by a Judge. In divorce cases, these appeals often arise after the Judge enters financial orders, but, on occasion, there may be sufficient cause to appeal a Judge’s orders concerning the custody of and/or visitation. In Connecticut, an appeal must be filed no later than twenty days after the Judge issues notice of its decision.

Arbitration

Arbitration is a private process where disputing parties agree that an individual other than the Court can make a binding decision about the dispute after receiving evidence and hearing arguments. In Connecticut custody and child support related issues cannot be arbitrated.

Attorney for Minor Child

An Attorney for the Minor Child, often called an “AMC,” is an independent attorney appointed as legal counsel for a minor child. Like a GAL, an AMC must complete comprehensive training provided by the Connecticut Judicial Branch. While the AMC is appointed to represent and advance the minor child’s legal position, an AMC must also consider the child’s best interests when fulfilling their duties.

Automatic Orders

Connecticut law provides that certain orders go into effect automatically at the beginning of a divorce, legal separation, custody, or visitation action. The Purpose of the Automatic Orders is to maintain the status quo with regard to your property or children.

Case Date

A Case Date is a new type of court event in family cases implemented due to COVID-19. A Case Date is intended to allow the Court to take a broader view of the case. This may include addressing all pending motions in the case, to the extent the Court deems it appropriate. Court action may include approving agreements on motions, holding a brief hearing on a motion or motions for which there is no agreement, or making a referral to Family Services for further work with the parties to address the outstanding issues.

Case Management Date

It is the first day (except for recent limited circumstances) in which you can be divorced. This 90-day period between the return date and the case management date is referred to as the “cooling off” period. If the parties submit a signed temporary parenting plan and financial affidavits to the Court before the case management date, then they do not need to appear in court on that date. If the parties do not have both a signed parenting plan and sworn financial affidavits, then the parties are required to appear at Court and explain why.

Child Support

Child support is a recurring payment that one parent is obligated to make to the other parent to help pay for a portion of a child’s daily living expenses such as food, shelter, and clothing. Notably, child support payments are not intended to cover all expenses incident to raising a child. For example, basic child support payments are not intended to cover any portion of a child’s extracurricular activity, camp, unreimbursed medical, or work-related childcare expenses.

Collaborative Divorce

Collaborative divorce is another alternative for divorcing parties who wish to avoid potential litigation. However, unlike mediation, where a neutral third party facilitates negotiations between divorcing parties and tries to help them settle their case, in the Collaborative divorce model, each party retains his or her own lawyer for individual representation. The Collaborative model is designed to allow divorcing parties to each have a lawyer advocating on their behalf, while also maintaining a shared commitment to work towards a negotiated settlement.

Complaint

The divorce lawsuit. It is the Pleading that gets served on your spouse and gets filed with the Court to start the divorce process.

Contempt

The power of a Court to compel a party in a family law matter to follow a Court Order. If the Court finds that the non-complying party is in Contempt, the Court may impose sanctions and punitive measures including fines, wage garnishments, and reimbursement for legal fees. If the non-complying party is a repeat offender or if his or her non-compliance is egregious, the Court can impose severe penalties, including jail time, until the non-complying party complies.

Contested Divorce

When a divorce case goes to trial.

Legal Custody

Which parent has the right to make major decisions regarding a child’s health, education, and religion.

Defendant

The spouse that gets served with the divorce action. It can be either the Husband or the Wife.

Deposition

When a person is asked questions about the case under oath outside of Court. The main purpose of a deposition is to find out what a person knows about the case. The intent is to allow the parties to learn all the facts before the trial, so no one is surprised once that person testifies at trial

Discovery

The exchange of any documents or information that are reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.

Divorce

The dissolution of a marriage by the Court.

Emancipation

A child under the age of 18 becomes emancipated and parental legal obligations cease. This would include child support.

Estate Plan

When you create an estate plan, you decide what will happen to your property and assets after you die. After divorcing, it is important to readdress your estate plan to make sure your property is going to proper parties, possibly not including your former spouse.

Ex-Parte Order of Custody

If a parent believes an immediate and present risk of physical danger or psychological harm to the child exists, you file an emergency Motion and Affidavit with the Court. The Court will make a temporary ruling (usually the day you file) and then schedule a Hearing within 14 days of filing.

Family Relations

The dispute resolution center of the Judicial Branch.

Financial Affidavit

A signed and sworn document concerning each party’s income, expenses, assets, and liabilities.

Guardian ad Litem

A Guardian Ad Litem, often called a “GAL,” is an independent third party appointed by the Court to become involved in a custody dispute to advance the minor child or children’s best interests. The GAL is usually an attorney or a mental health professional and must have completed specific training required by the Connecticut Judicial Branch. The GAL is typically expected to make recommendations that are carefully considered by the Court and often help facilitate settlement of complicated custody issues.

Hearing/Trial

A formal examination of evidence before a Judge. Evidence includes both oral testimony and written documents.

Interrogatories

A written question from one party to another party and which must be answered.

Joint Legal Custody

When the parents must jointly agree before making any major decisions regarding a child’s health, education, and religion.

Legal Separation

This is quite similar to divorce, however, the main difference is that couples can more easily reunite down the road. Some have the misconception that a couple must be legally separated before divorcing. A legal separation can be motioned to become a divorce after 90 days, however.

Mediation

Mediation is a process whereby a divorcing couple agrees to utilize the services of a single neutral professional to help them reach an out-of-court divorce settlement, as opposed to each party hiring his or her own lawyer for individual representation.

Middletown Regional Family Trial Docket

The Connecticut Judicial Branch created a special docket in the Middlesex Judicial District to handle contested custody and visitation matters. Per the Judicial Branch: “The goal is to handle contested cases involving children quickly and without interruption.” Cases are referred to the Regional Family Trial Docket by the presiding family judge in the local court if the referred case meets the program criteria: (a) child focused issue; (b) ready for trial; (c) family relations case study completed and not more than nine months old; and (d) an attorney has been appointed for the children.

Modification

A change or revision to a Court Order after it is entered.

Motion

A document filed with the Court seeking specific relief. For example, A Motion for Order re: Alimony is when a party requests the Court Order a specific amount of alimony to be paid.

Parent Education Classes

If you have children under age 18, you must participate in a parenting education program with-in 60 days after a family case is filed in court. All parties involved in divorce, dissolution of a civil union, annulment, separation, custody or visitation cases are required by law to participate in a parenting education program. The cost of the parenting education program is $150 per person.

Parenting Plan

A formal Agreement between the parties specifying when the children will be with each parent.

Plaintiff

The spouse that files the divorce action. It can be either the Husband or the Wife.

Postnuptial Agreement

Like a prenuptial agreement, a postnuptial agreement is a written contract entered into by a couple that sets forth various financial rights and obligations of the parties if their marriage ends either by death or divorce. However, a postnuptial agreement is signed after the parties are married.

Prenuptial Agreement

A prenuptial agreement (or premarital agreement) is a written contract entered into by a couple before marriage that enables the parties to select and control many of the financial rights and responsibilities that each party will acquire upon marrying (such as property division or alimony rights), and determine what happens if their marriage ends either by death or divorce. Notably, a prenuptial agreement cannot include terms that would dictate child support or child custody-related issues such as decision-making rights and parenting time.

Pretrial

Court Ordered settlement conference with a Judge.

Remote Resolution Plan Date

After your case has been filed, it will be scheduled for a “Resolution Plan Date.” On this date, you will learn how the court process works and have an opportunity to ask questions. A Family Relations Counselor, who is an employee of the court trained in family matters, will review your case with you and the other party (and your attorneys, if you have them) to identify: (a) the areas where you agree and disagree, (b) how likely you are to reach an agreement on any disputed issues, and (c) the kind of help you need to resolve your case as a whole. The Family Relations Counselor will then recommend an action plan to the court based on the level of help your case needs to conclude. The plan will include any recommended services to support your resolution of the outstanding issues. Possible services include information-gathering or evaluations by Family Services, mediation with a Family Relations Counselor, court hearing time, or the assignment of a designated Family Relations Counselor or judge to your case for its duration.

Request for Production

A request for specific documents from one party to another party and which must be provided.

Return date

The return date is the date that the court considers to be the start of the divorce action. It is typically approximately two (2) weeks after the date of filing and it is from this date that the 90-day waiting period or case management date is established. Nothing will occur in court on the actual return date and it is not necessary for anyone to appear at Court on the return date.

Separation Agreement

Also known as a divorce agreement. This is the document which contains all the negotiated terms of your divorce.

Service

When a Marshal deliveries legal documents to a party or witness.

Sole Legal Custody

When one parent can unilaterally make a major decision regarding a child’s health, education, and religion.

Special Masters

Court Ordered settlement conference with two seasoned lawyers.

Status conference

A status conference is a date assigned by the court sometime after the case management date. The purpose of the status conference (there may be more than one during a case) is for the court to keep tabs on the discovery and divorce process to ensure everyone is doing what is required.

Temporary Restraining Order

This Order can be filed to protect anyone from a member of their family or household they have been subjected to a continuous threat of present physical pain or physical injury, stalking or a pattern of threatening.

Trial Management Conference

This usually occurs approximately ten (10) days before the trial. It is on this day that parties must exchange specific documents including updated financial affidavits, witness lists, exhibit lists and proposed orders on how they would like to see the court resolve the case.

Uncontested Divorce

When a couple reaches an agreement on issues related to the divorce and decide not to go to trial.

Visitation / Parenting Time

A Court Order (either by agreement or decided by the Judge) specifying when the children will be with each parent.