What are “Automatic Orders” in a Connecticut Divorce Case?

This Week’s Blog by Lauren M. Healy

  • The Purpose of the “Automatic Orders” is to maintain the status quo with regard to your property or children.
  • The Automatic Orders apply upon the filing or service of a complaint or application for dissolution, legal separation, custody, or visitation.
  • The Automatic Orders may be modified, terminated, or amended by the Court once the action has started.
  • The Automatic Orders can be enforced by filing an appropriate motion with the Court.

Connecticut law provides that certain orders go into effect automatically at the beginning of a divorce, legal separation, custody, or visitation action. Parties to an action for dissolution of marriage, legal separation, annulment, legal custody, or visitation, are automatically subject to these orders which are attached to the Complaint that is filed by the party who has initiated the legal action and served on the opposing party.

The Purpose of the Automatic Orders

Family cases in Westport, Darien, and Greenwich often start with a burst of emotion and uncertainty. The Automatic Orders provide parameters with regard to the children and/or family finances in order to keep things “status quo” during the action. The Automatic Orders restrict certain actions that could disadvantage you or your spouse during the legal action.

Connecticut Practice Book §25-5 provides that neither party shall:

  • Sell, mortgage, or give away any property without written agreement or a court order.
  • Go into unreasonable debt by borrowing money or using credit cards or cash advances.
  • Permanently take your children from Connecticut without written agreement or a court order.
  • Take each other or your children off any existing medical, hospital, doctor, or dental insurance policy or let any such insurance coverage expire.
  • Change the terms or named beneficiaries of any existing insurance policy or let any existing insurance coverage expire, including life, automobile, homeowner’s or renter’s insurance.
  • Deny use of the family home to the other person without a court order, if you are living together on the date the court papers are served.

The Automatic Orders, Connecticut Practice Book §25-5, also contain requirements for you and your spouse to take action. For example, both parties shall:

  • Complete and exchange sworn financial affidavits within thirty days of the return date.
  • Participate in a parenting education program (if you share children under 18 years old).
  • Attend a case management conference on the date specified, unless you both agree on all issues and file a Case Management Agreement form with the court clerk on or before that date.
  • Tell the other person in writing within forty-eight hours about your new address or a place where you can receive mail if you move out of the family home (if you share children under 18 years old).
  • Facilitate the usual contact between the children and both parents in person, by telephone and in writing.

The Application of the Automatic Orders

The Automatic Orders go into effect and apply to the Plaintiff immediately upon the signing of the complaint or application, and apply to the Defendant immediately upon being served with a copy of the complaint or application.  They remain in effect during the entire pendency of the legal action, except if the orders are specifically terminated, modified or amended by a different order of the Court.

Enforcement of the Automatic Orders

Your assets are not frozen as a result of the Automatic Orders. For example, financial institutions are not notified of your pending divorce. Accordingly, it is still possible for your spouse to act in a manner that is contrary to these Orders. If your spouse does violate the Orders, you will need to bring it to the attention of the Court. The usual course of action is to file a Motion for Contempt of the Automatic Orders. In order to hold your spouse in contempt, the Court must find that your spouse willfully violated the terms of the Automatic Orders at a time when they were in effect.  In some limited circumstances, the judge may even extend a finding of contempt to include a time period prior to the date of service of the Automatic Orders, if the act was committed in contemplation of the filing of the action.

At Broder & Orland LLC, with offices in Westport and Greenwich, Connecticut, we are skilled at advising clients about the nuances and application of the Automatic Orders. We have experience in persuading the Court to modify or enforce of the Automatic Orders as the circumstances require.