Connecticut recognizes that sometimes spouses want to go their separate ways, but not actually divorce. It’s one of a few states that specifically provide for a decree of legal separation in their legislatures. Section 46b-67(b) of the Connecticut General Statutes says that a decree of separation serves the same legal function as a divorce decree -- but spouses aren’t free to marry again.
Connecticut’s filing requirements for a legal separation are identical to those for filing for divorce. You must file a complaint on one of 10 grounds. Connecticut's no-fault grounds include irretrievable breakdown of the marriage or an 18-month separation. Fault grounds include fraud, adultery, cruelty, desertion and habitual “intemperance,” which means alcohol or drug abuse. You can also file for legal separation if you haven’t seen or heard from your spouse in seven years or more, if he’s been sentenced to prison for an “infamous” crime, or if he’s been committed to a mental institution. The state’s residency requirements are lenient -- you can file if you lived there when the event occurred that makes it impossible for you to continue living with your spouse.
Settlement Vs. Trial
Both divorce and legal separation require a three-month waiting period in Connecticut. The waiting period begins on the date you file your complaint. This gives you and your spouse three months to work out a settlement. Legal separation agreements address issues of property, spousal support, child support and child custody, just as divorce settlements do. Connecticut requires that parents attend a parenting education program, even if they're separating rather than divorcing. If you can’t reach an agreement during these three months, and if you don't think you're going to be able to do so, you can request a trial date from the court. At trial, a judge decides issues for you, just as he would if you were divorcing, and issues a decree of separation.
Resumption of Marital Relations
Your legal separation can last indefinitely after you receive a decree, or -- unlike with a divorce -- you can “undo” it if you change your mind and want to remain married. Connecticut law allows you to file a “declaration of resumption of marital relations” with the court. The court will vacate or erase your separation decree as though it never happened.
Connecticut also allows you to convert your decree of legal separation into a divorce decree with a minimum of fuss. If you or your spouse want to completely terminate the marriage so you can remarry, you can file a motion with the court, asking the judge to grant the conversion. If you make the request, the judge must approve it. Your spouse can’t contest it.
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.