Tag: Greenwich Divorce

What Happens at a Preargument Conference in a Connecticut Family Law Appeal?

This Week’s Blog by Sarah E. Murray.

What is a Preargument Conference?

In most appeals of civil cases in Connecticut, including family law and divorce cases, a Preargument Conference is required prior to the appeal progressing to the briefing and oral argument stages. The Preargument Conference is a confidential settlement opportunity that takes place with an experienced judge who will meet with counsel for both parties and attempt to help the parties reach a settlement in lieu of continuing with the appeal. Because an appeal can be a long, expensive process that usually follows an already extensive period of litigation, the Preargument Conference is an opportunity to avoid continuing litigation in favor of the finality of a settlement.

The Preargument Conference can also provide an opportunity to narrow the issues presented for appeal if the case cannot be globally settled. In discussing the pending appellate issues with the judge at the Preargument Conference, he or she can provide helpful insight into the likelihood of success on appeal. If it is appropriate for the case to be transferred to the Connecticut Supreme Court, the Preargument Conference judge has the authority to recommend that as well.

When is the Preargument Conference Scheduled?

In most family law cases, the Appellate Court will schedule the case for a Preargument Conference prior to briefs being due; so, if the case settles, the conference avoids the parties having to incur significant legal fees for the research and drafting of the brief. Within a few months of an appeal being filed, counsel for the parties will typically receive a notice or letter notifying them of the assigned time and place for the Preargument Conference.

Where does a Preargument Conference Take Place?

The Preargument Conference usually takes place at a different courthouse from the courthouse where your case was tried. On the day of the Preargument Conference, the assigned judge meets with counsel in chambers. It is rare, though not unheard of, for the judge to meet with the parties.

Do I Have to Attend the Preargument Conference?

The short answer to this question is: Yes. According to Connecticut Practice Book Section 63-10, which governs Preargument Conferences: “Unless other arrangements have been approved in advance by the conference judge, parties shall be present at the conference site and available for consultation.” The primary reason that parties must be present for Preargument Conferences is so that they can actively participate in any settlement negotiations and authorize their counsel to enter into a settlement of the case. If a case settles during a Preargument Conference, the Preargument Conference judge has the authority to enter an agreement into the record that day, and the parties must be present in Court in such an event.

Who Attends the Preargument Conference?

Parties and their appellate counsel must attend the Preargument Conference as a rule (see above). At Broder & Orland LLC, we find it is useful for trial counsel, if different from appellate counsel, to attend as well, as he or she can sometimes provide helpful input regarding the case and potential avenues for settlement. If there are any other professionals or advisors, financial or otherwise, who can aid in settling the case, it may be helpful for them to attend or be available by telephone to discuss any settlement offers.

What Should I Do to Prepare for a Preargument Conference?

It is helpful to meet or speak with your trial and appellate counsel prior to a Preargument Conference to discuss any settlement offer that you authorize to be made at or before the conference, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of both sides’ cases. If you are the appellant (i.e., the person taking the appeal), you should decide before the Preargument Conference what, if any, settlement you would consider in order to withdraw your appeal. As with any settlement negotiation, you should determine your “best case” scenario as well as your bottom line.

If you are the appellee (i.e., the person defending against the appeal), you may question why, as the person who is not appealing the final judgment in your case, you should consider settling. There are many reasons why an appellee could or should consider settling the case, such as: 1) having the finality of a settled judgment; 2) avoiding the time, expense, and uncertainty of further litigation; and 3) avoiding a reversal of the judgment in your case if that is a real possibility. The appellee should consider in advance of a Preargument Conference any concessions he or she would be willing to make in order for the appeal to be withdrawn.

What Happens to the Appeal if the Case is Settled at the Preargument Conference?

Any global settlement at the Preargument Conference should include a statement that the appeal will be withdrawn with prejudice upon acceptance of the settlement agreement by the trial court.

What Happens after the Preargument Conference if the Case Does Not Settle?

Even if you do not settle the case at the Preargument Conference, your case can still be settled at any time before the appeal is decided by the Appellate Court. If the case is not settled that the Preargument Conference, the appellant must begin preparation of his or her brief, as the deadline for submission usually falls within approximately 45 days of the Preargument Conference. The Preargument Conference judge does have the authority to extend the time for the filing of the appellant’s brief in the event that the appellate counsel needs more time or in the event that the parties request additional time to attempt to settle the case.

Broder and Orland LLC provides appellate representation in addition to litigating family and divorce cases at the trial court level. If you are contemplating an appeal, contact Sarah E. Murray, Esq., Chair of the firm’s Center for Family Law Appeals.

Why Taking Divorce Advice From Friends Can Be Dangerous

This Week’s Blog by Lauren M. Healy.

Why Taking Divorce Advice From Friends Can Be Dangerous

Scared. Lonely. Angry. Sad. Vulnerable. Just a few of the emotions that you may feel when you are going through a divorce. It is no wonder that our clients often look to friends and family, especially those who have also been divorced, to provide comfort and support during a difficult time. After all, it is friends and family who have your best interest at heart. Why, then, should your divorce attorney be cautioning you against taking such advice?

Unrealistic Expectations

Probably the most common mistake that people make when taking the advice from friends, colleagues or acquaintances about divorce is assuming that all Connecticut divorces are treated the same way. For example, if your friend who was married for the same amount of time as you received lifetime alimony in her divorce, shouldn’t you receive the same? Even the most innocuous conversations about other people’s divorces can set unreasonable or unrealistic expectations. In reality, settlement outcomes, and trial decisions for that matter, are largely fact specific. While there are particular statutes that provide criteria for a judge consider when determining alimony and property division, the actual application of that statutory criteria is different in every case. There are so many different factors that come into play that it is downright risky to assume that your case will result in the same outcome as any other case. Your attorney is the best person to advise you about how your case is likely to be resolved.

Not All Divorces Are Created Equal

It is important to work with your attorney to create a strategy for your case that is determined based on the facts and goals of your family. It is common for clients to feel pressure from outside sources, be it family, friends or other advisors, to make demands or act in a certain manner. Taking strategic advice from non-attorneys, no matter how well-meaning, can backfire because they most likely do not understand all of the intricacies involved. While it can be helpful to consider the input of outside advisors, remember that such advice might be entirely inconsistent with the facts of your case or the applicable law. Your attorney is looking at the big picture, including your needs, your goals as well as the likelihood of achieving certain outcomes. It can be extremely helpful to put these advisors in touch with your attorney, so that there can be collaboration and understanding with regard to the possible and likely resolutions of your case.

You Hired Us For A Reason. Let Us Do Our job!

You went through the process of carefully vetting your attorney and you hired us for a reason—to guide you through the legal process of divorce, and to provide you with the knowledge and power to make decisions that are best for you. Listen to us! We have particular insight, not just in the laws of the state of Connecticut, but also into the background of the Judges, court system and opposing counsel. While you may not always want to take our advice, at least make sure you understand it, before rejecting it. In the end, know that the decision will be yours, as the client.

At Broder & Orland LLC, we are sensitive to the unique facts of every case. We encourage the inclusion and participation of different support systems for our clients and will often create a team approach, along with therapists and financial professionals, in order to best achieve a positive resolution for our client.

“Double Dipping” Considerations in a Divorce When a Business Interest is at Issue

This Week’s Blog by Andrew M. Eliot.

“Double Dipping” Considerations in a Divorce When a Business Interest is at Issue

In some divorce cases, a business (or an interest in a business) that is owned by one spouse, and from which he or she receives income, also constitutes an asset to which a value must be ascribed so that the asset can be distributed between the parties in some manner as part of an overall division of property. In instances where both the value of a business interest must be divided, and an award of alimony in favor of the non-titled spouse might also be appropriate, the concept of “double dipping” must be carefully considered in order to avoid potential inequities that could otherwise result when resolving the two separate, but sometimes interrelated issues, of property distribution and spousal support.

What is Double Dipping Generally

Generally speaking, the concept of “double-dipping” refers to a situation in which one spouse is unfairly paid twice for a single asset; once in the context of property division and a second time as part of a spousal support award.

How Can Double Dipping Occur when a Business Interest is Being Divided?

When the value of a business interest must be divided in a divorce, there are a variety of valuation methodologies that can be employed to determine the value of the interest for property distribution purposes. While an exploration into the various valuation methodologies is beyond the scope of this article, one common valuation approach that is employed in the divorce context (and stated in very simplistic terms) is for the value of the business interest to be calculated as a function of the entity’s future stream of expected income.   It is in this context that “double-dipping” issues are most likely to arise.

Specifically, double dipping concerns can arise if the same cash flows that are used to determine the overall value of a spouse’s business interest are also considered a component of that spouse’s income for purposes of calculating spousal support. Stated differently, when a business is valued based upon the entity’s expected income stream, it would constitute double dipping to both distribute the value of the business and then also base spousal support on the full amount of income the business produces.

How Can Double Dipping be Avoided

While there is a variety of ways to address double dipping concerns that may arise when a business interest is being valued and divided, one common methodology is for a “reasonable compensation” or “replacement compensation,” figure to be attributed to the business owning spouse. This figure represents the hypothetical amount that the business would pay to an unrelated person to perform the same function as the business owning spouse. Then, in determining what amount of income earned by that spouse is available for spousal support purposes, only the “reasonable compensation” amount utilized, which would necessarily be some amount less than the business owning spouse’s total earnings. Relatedly, in determining a value for the business interest, the “reasonable compensation” amount is subtracted out from the business cash flows that are used to determine the overall value of a spouse’s business interest. As a result of this process (commonly referred to as “normalizing income”), the higher the reasonable compensation figure attributed to the business-owning spouse is, the lower the value of the business will be for distribution purposes and, conversely, the lower the reasonable compensation figure attributed to the business-owning spouse is, the higher the value of the business will be for distribution purposes.

Are Forensic Experts Utilized Where Double Dipping Issues Might Arise

Yes. In cases where business valuation and/or potential double dipping issues arise, it is crucial to involve a business valuation expert with expertise in these areas. Such experts can assist clients and attorneys in wading through and understanding these often complex and thorny issues.

Cases involving distribution of business interests and double dipping concerns are often complex and, in order to be handled properly, require a great deal of expertise and attention. At Broder & Orland LLC, we have extensive experience handling matters involving these issues and are poised to help clients achieve favorable and fair results when these issues arise.

A Secret from a Seasoned Divorce Attorney…

This Week’s Blog by Carole T. Orland.

What Might I Not Learn from my Friends About Divorce?

The dirty little secret in divorce cases is that the parameters of the likely outcome are relatively narrow. Connecticut is not a community property state where martial assets are automatically divided equally. However, the division of assets in most Connecticut settlements or Court awards will hover around 50%-50%, with some possible variation, such as 55%-45% or 60%-40%.

Likewise, child support is set by a formula contained in the Child Support Guidelines, which allow for some fairly standard deviations, and alimony typically is within a range that any reputable divorce attorney can estimate.

When it comes to children, most Parenting Plans are fairly routine and provide for a schedule that reflects the availability of each party to parent the children, unless a parent has some overriding behavioral issues including physical or emotional abuse, or substance or alcohol abuse.

 How Can I Learn More About the Parameters of a Likely Outcome in my Divorce?

When analyzing the asset division in your case, ask your attorney to provide you with a spreadsheet that will reflect the allocations of 50%-50%, 55%-45%, and 60%-40%. In many cases, the difference will not be substantial, relative to the size of the marital estate. In some cases, that difference will be neutralized by the fees and costs you will pay to pursue what you feel is a more favorable division. Have your attorney do a cost/benefit analysis.

With regard to child support, have your attorney run the Child Support Guidelines with probable scenarios. Again, you may see that the comparison is not all that significant.

Alimony can be a little trickier, especially since the enactment of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which essentially eliminates the federal deduction for divorces after December 31, 2018. The rule of thumb and conventions previously employed to arrive at a reasonable alimony award are different now, but with sufficient data your attorney should be able to easily guide you as to a probable range.

Ask your attorney for input on your Parenting Plan. He or she should be able to advise you on a reasonable schedule and provide you with context as to what a Court would likely order.

How Can I Turn this Advice into an Advantage in my Divorce?

The real question is: why make divorce a war? Understandably, most people who are getting divorced harbor ill feelings about their spouse for various reasons. But being vengeful or vindictive likely will not significantly affect the bottom line. It will only ramp up emotions and drive up costs.

It is most important that you find an experienced divorce attorney who can educate you about the likely outcome. It will save you anguish, time, and money. And then hope that your spouse does the same!

At Broder & Orland LLC, we make a point of educating our divorce clients early on about the parameters of the likely outcome of their case. We draw on years of experience to provide context for settlements and trials. We also share documentation with our clients which quantify possible scenarios and comparisons so they can make well-informed decisions about their case.

What are the Top Five Mistakes to Avoid in a Connecticut Divorce?

This Week’s Blog by Jaime S. Dursht

What are the Top Five Mistakes to Avoid in a Connecticut Divorce?

The divorce process is fraught with emotion which can lead to making mistakes with long-term effects.  Each divorce is different, however, here are some common mistakes we divorce attorneys see.

Is it a Disadvantage not to Understand Your Financial Situation?

Yes.  It is important at the outset of the divorce process to have an understanding of your personal and household expenses, liabilities, income and what assets there are to divide.  This will help in setting reasonable expectations as to the outcome and will help in planning for financial security moving forward, which is the ultimate goal.  Take the time to gather information, review your bank and credit card statements, and if you are not financially literate, take steps to educate yourself with the basics.

Is it Better to Settle Early in the Process?

Not necessarily.   Divorce is a highly emotional time, and it is easy to become overwhelmed by acrimony and the desire to give in just to end the emotional trauma.  This could be a costly mistake, however, because depending on the assets involved, it may be well worth taking the time to discover and fully vet out the values of business interests, trusts, stock options and pension benefits which you may be entitled to share.

Is it Worth Arguing the Details?

Often the expense of the argument can exceed the value of what it is you are trying to achieve in the first place.  Try not to get caught up in minor wins and losses of the negotiation process when it comes to the smaller details of, for instance, the method of payment of co-pays at the pediatrician’s office or the percentage point split of reimbursement for extracurricular activities.   It may feel like an emotional triumph in the short term, but may not be worth the expense in the overall cost of the divorce.

Should I Seek the Advice of Family and Friends?

It is not a good idea to rely on the advice of family and friends regarding your own divorce however well-meaning it is intended to be.  Just because your friend got the house and lump sum alimony in her divorce does not mean that you will or even should.  Every divorce is different, and one person’s experience does not readily translate into another’s.

Is it Better to Act First and Ask Later?

No.  It is always better to check with your attorney before taking action, especially if you are in an angry or depressed frame of mind.  Acting on impulse, for example cutting your spouse off from credit card use or denying access to marital funds to limit spending, can have adverse legal consequences.  Not only do these particular actions risk a contempt finding by a court, but may end up costing you more just to rectify it in the end.

The attorneys at Broder & Orland LLC with offices in Westport and Greenwich, practice solely in matrimonial and family law, and have significant experience in counseling and developing an appropriate strategy to optimize the desired financial result.

What is a Discovery Special Master (DSM)?

This Week’s Blog by Carole T. Orland

  • The Court may appoint a DSM in your divorce case to resolve discovery disputes.
  • Discovery may include production of documents, written responses to questions, and/or Deposition testimony.
  • Utilizing a DSM often saves the parties time and money, as opposed to having the Court decide discovery disputes.
  • Typically the DSM is paid from marital funds during the divorce litigation.
  • The Court retains ultimate authority with regard to discovery disputes.

In certain cases where there are disputes involving discovery, the parties may agree or the Court may appoint a Discovery Special Master. Discovery in divorce cases typically includes the production of certain documents, responses to written questions and/or testimony at a Deposition. Discovery in Connecticut is very liberal. Essentially, if the information sought is “reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence,” it must be produced unless there is some prevailing privilege, such as that between attorney and client, to the contrary. Connecticut Practice Book Sec. 13-2. However, it is not uncommon in divorce cases to have a disagreement as to what must be produced. If the parties cannot agree they can bring the issue before the Court through Motion practice. The Court has the option of deciding the dispute or referring the matter to a DSM. With their busy dockets and frequent understaffing, Courts generally are not inclined to spend hours sorting out discovery disputes, some of which may be granular in nature. It is, therefore, more practical for the Court to assign the discovery issues to a DSM.

Who Serves as a DSM?

Any lawyer can serve as a DSM. The parties can agree on whom that person should be or in the absence of an agreement, the Court can choose the DSM.

What Protocol Does the DSM Use for Addressing Discovery Disputes?

The Court may establish a general protocol in its Order. Each DSM may handle a case differently, but generally the DSM will ask counsel to provide to him or her the discovery requests in issue along with a memorandum in support or opposition of production, along with certain documentation relevant to discovery. If there is an issue of law, the DSM may ask for legal support in the form of a memorandum or brief. Next, the DSM may either decide the dispute on the papers or confer telephonically or at an in-person conference with counsel and sometimes the parties.

Is the DSM’s Decision Binding?

The Court retains ultimate authority to determine discovery disputes.

Who Pays for the DSM?

The parties are responsible for paying the DSM. Typically, the DSM’s fees are paid out of martial funds during the litigation.

What is the Advantage of Having a DSM?

An experienced DSM can usually give more timely attention and move through the issues quicker than the Court can do, thereby saving the parties attorney’s fees and money in the long run, and preventing delays due to discovery disputes.

What Other Matters Might a DSM Address?

The DSM can address matters of Deposition scheduling for parties, witnesses and experts as well as substantive issues related to these Depositions.

At Broder & Orland LLC, with offices in Greenwich and Westport, we have significant experience working with Discovery Special Masters in our divorce cases throughout Connecticut. We are adept at streamlining the discovery process to the extent possible in order to get the information we need and in producing required information to your spouse, in a timely and cost effective manner.  We recognize that the DSM can be an excellent resource in that regard.

The Best Way to Prepare for Divorce? Get Organized!

This Week’s Blog by Jaime S. Dursht

Ask any top divorce attorney in Greenwich, New Canaan, Darien, Westport and beyond, what practical steps should be taken to prepare for the divorce process, and the answer will be to locate and organize your financial records.

Which Financial Records are the Most Important?

At a minimum your past 3 years of individual tax returns; past 2 years of bank statements, credit card statements and retirement accounts; the last year of pay stubs; and any life insurance and medical insurance policies.  In every marital dissolution action, this is mandatory disclosure so it helps to have it organized ahead of time.

What if I Do Not Have Access to Accounts?

Most accounts can be readily accessed online if the account is in your name or jointly with your spouse.  If you are unsure, call the financial institutions and find out how to establish online access or how best to obtain statements.  Many are surprised to learn that lack of accessibility is simply a lack of familiarity that is easily overcome.   If the account is in your spouse’s sole name, then it is his/her obligation to provide it.

Is There a Time Frame or a Due Date?

The time frame is generally within the first 30 days from when the action filed, when many attorneys formally request production.  Officially, the due date is 60 calendar days from the date of the written request.

Do I Need to Print Paper Copies?

No.  Electronic copies are preferred, but if you do have paper copies, consider scanning them to avoid the possibility of incurring a fee for law firm staff to do it.

Are There Additional Documents that will be Required?

Yes.  It is common practice for attorneys to request an exhaustive list of any kind of document relating to an interest held in any type of asset or source of income.  For example, appraisals, trusts, deferred compensation, business interests, inheritances, educational savings, safe deposit box contents, and employment contracts.

What Happens if a Party Does Not Comply?

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for a party to object to discovery requests, for example, on the grounds that the particular request is “overbroad, unduly burdensome, and not reasonably calculated to the discovery of admissible evidence.”  When there is disagreement over discovery, there is the possibility that court involvement will be necessary to resolve the issue.

When it comes to the discovery process, we encourage our clients to maintain an open and cooperative approach to avoid disagreements that often cause delays and end up being costly for both sides.  So if there is anything practical you can do to prepare yourself, it is to organize your files, and familiarize yourself as best you can with your financial records.

With offices in Westport and Greenwich, the attorneys at Broder & Orland LLC are extremely knowledgeable and experienced with the process of discovery and how to resolve the various issues that arise throughout each case.

What is Child Custody in a Connecticut Divorce Case?

This Week’s Blog by Eric J. Broder

  • The term “child custody” can be broken down into two separate definitions, legal custody and physical custody.
  • Legal custody addresses which parent has the right to make major decisions concerning the child(ren). Major decisions include those relating to a child’s education, health/medical, and religion. Based upon my experiences as a Connecticut divorce lawyer I can estimate that over 95% of Connecticut parents have joint legal custody. It is certainly the exception for a party to have sole legal custody.
  • Physical custody addresses the schedule of which parent has time with the child on a given day. In actuality, a parent who is with a child one day a week has physical custody of that child on that day. At times, language is written into a divorce agreement establishing a child’s residence for school purposes.

What happens if the Parties Do Not Agree to Joint Legal Custody?

  • In the event the parties cannot agree on joint legal custody the process is called a contested custody case. This will mean that third parties will become an integral part of the case. For example, the court may appoint a Guardian ad Litem for the minor child to investigate and make a recommendation as to the best interest of the child(ren) or an AMC to represent the child(ren).
  • After hearing all the relevant information in such a case a Judge will decide custody based on the “best interest of the child(ren)”.

What is the Role of the Guardian Ad Litem in a Connecticut Divorce Case?

  • A Guardian ad Litem (“GAL”) is appointed to ensure that the children’s best interests are represented in the event of a custody battle. A GAL may be an attorney or mental health professional. Connecticut has specific certification requirements in order for someone to be appointed as a GAL.
  • The GAL will meet with various individuals involved in the child’s life, including the parents, therapists/counselors, close family friends, teachers, and anyone else who has a strong tie to the family and the child. A GAL will analyze this information and make a recommendation to the court as to what is in the best interests of the child(ren).

What is the Role of the Attorney for the Minor Child in a Connecticut Divorce Case?

  • An Attorney for the Minor Child (“AMC”) is generally appointed to represent the child(ren) in cases involving older children. While there is no specific age at which an attorney will be appointed, I find that children in middle school and high school are more likely to have an attorney appointed to them rather than a GAL. The attorney has the ability to represent the child’s wishes, but also is concerned with the child’s best interest.
  • Unlike a GAL, an AMC will not be permitted to testify during a trial. However, the attorney may and will ask questions of the parents as well as other third parties on the witness stand.

Who Pays the Fees of The Guardian Ad Litem/Attorney For The Minor Child?

  • The parties are responsible for the fees however it is not always an equal split. A court may apportion a different percentage to each party depending on the parties’ financial situation. These fees can and will become costly in the event there is a contested custody trial.

As experienced Fairfield County divorce lawyers, the lawyers at Broder & Orland LLC have represented both mothers and fathers at trial in complex contested custody matters. These cases can and will become expensive, and sadly, have a lasting impact on the children and the parents. We work hard to resolve custody and parenting disputes to ensure that the children’s best interests are always at the forefront.

What is Parental Alienation?

This Week’s Blog by Jaime S. Dursht

“Parental alienation is the process, and the result, of psychological manipulation of a child into showing unwarranted fear, disrespect or hostility towards a parent and/or other family members. It is a distinctive form of psychological abuse towards both the child and the rejected family members that occurs almost exclusively in association with family separation or divorce, particularly where legal action is involved.”  Lorandos, Bernet and Sauber, Parental Alienation: The Handbook for Mental Health and Legal Professionals (Charles C. Thomas, Ed. 2013).

  • In Family Law, parental alienation is a term used to describe the dynamic of a child’s unreasonable rejection of one parent with the encouragement/tacit approval of the other parent.
  • The issue of parental alienation arises in high conflict custody cases both pre- and post-divorce when one party seeks sole legal and/or physical custody of the child(ren).
  • Connecticut Family Courts consider evidence of parental alienation in the context of making or modifying custody orders in accordance with what is in the best interests of the child pursuant to C.G.S. § 46b-56.
  • Courts may order the involvement of mental health professionals and custody evaluation experts to investigate allegations of parental alienation and make recommendations of intervention if necessary.

Generally, parental alienation is the psychological manipulation of a child by one parent to unjustifiably reject the other parent, and although it is not regulated as a punishable offense in the United States, it is considered a crime of child abuse in other countries carrying criminal penalties. In Connecticut, allegations can, and often do, arise in cases of contested custody, and there is a wide body of case law identifying the characteristics and conduct of an alienated child as well as that of an alienating parent.   For example, children who suddenly refuse to see a parent or declare hatred of a parent based on minor or unfounded complaints may be a signal of alienation.  A parent who falsely alleges physical or sexual abuse, exaggerates allegations of substance abuse or other inappropriate conduct, interferes with the other parent’s access to school records and information, restricts the other parent’s parenting time, or involves the children with details of litigation—these may be considered efforts to deliberately undermine the relationship between the child and the other parent, and the consequences can be severe. In some cases the court may order specific interventions to remedy the situation, such as therapeutic treatment for child and/or parent, or reunification therapy, or in extreme cases, the court may order a complete reversal of custody.

The statutory factor under which the court will consider evidence is C.G.S. § 46b-56(c)(6): “[T]he willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage such continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent as is appropriate, including compliance with any court orders.”  See e.g., Hibbard v. Hibbard, 139 Conn. App. 10, 55 A.3d 301 (2012) (“Because the child has lived with the plaintiff since birth, the court does not take lightly the prospect of changing her primary residence at this point.  Nevertheless, the court determined that such a modification to the custody order was in the best interests of the child because the plaintiff demonstrates a real deficiency in her willingness and ability to facilitate and encourage such continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent. … The court referenced the plaintiff’s strategy of pursuing the elimination of the defendant from their daughter’s life and concluded that the result of leaving the child with the plaintiff would be the eventual loss to the child of her father.”)

Connecticut does not recognize parental alienation as a diagnosable syndrome as it was initially proposed in the 1980’s (officially discredited as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association in 2012). “There is insufficient evidence that the description offered of parental alienation syndrome has any scientific basis.  There is no credible evidence that this syndrome has been the subject of any scientific studies published with approval in peer-reviewed scientific literature.” Snyder v. Cedar, Superior Court, Judicial District of New Haven, NNH CV010454296, February 16, 2006 (Pittman, J.).  However, courts have made factual findings that a parent has engaged in parental alienation. See Ruggiero v. Ruggiero, 76 Conn. App. 338, 349, 819 A.2d 864 (2003) (“Following the presentation of evidence, the court stated:  [I]t’s my finding that [the plaintiff] has been guilty of parental of alienation in two ways:  One of them is that he attempted to alienate the children from [the defendant] …”). Courts also note, however, that a claim of parental alienation may be an effort by one parent to gain tactical legal advantage over another parent. Mastrangelo v Mastrangelo, Superior Court, Judicial District of New Haven, No. FA054012782S, February 1, 2017 (Kenefick, J.)  (“This was not a case of severe parental alienation orchestrated by the mother. The father had a significant role in creating the problems he had with his children … his continued attempt to expose [the plaintiff] for being an alienating mother is not going to endear his children to him. … [he] was a on a mission to punish [the plaintiff] to the detriment of seeing his children.”).

All child custody cases are complex. It is imperative for the professionals involved in every case to be knowledgeable and experienced in the particular dynamic at issue. Broder & Orland LLC, with offices in Greenwich and Westport, are experienced in custody cases involving parental alienation.

Annulment vs. Divorce

This Week’s Blog by Andrew M. Eliot

  • Annulment is a frequently misunderstood legal concept. In contrast to a divorce, which ends a valid marriage, an annulment is a decree declaring that a valid marriage never existed
  • Similar to most jurisdictions, annulments are available in Connecticut only in certain limited circumstances, and are exceedingly rare
  • A legal (or civil) annulment is different from, and should not be confused with, a religious annulment. A legal annulment is granted by a court, whereas a religious annulment is granted by a religious institution and has no legal impact on marital status in the eyes of the state of Connecticut

As matrimonial attorneys practicing in towns such as Greenwich and Darien well know, annulment is a frequently misunderstood legal concept. The legal distinction between a divorce and an annulment is as follows: whereas a divorce ends a valid, existing marriage, an annulment is a decree declaring that no valid marriage ever occurred in the first place.

In order to qualify for an annulment in Connecticut, a party must be able to prove one of a series of available grounds (i.e., reasons) for an annulment. Notably, the various grounds for annulment (set forth below) fall into one of two distinct categories: (1) those which render the purported marriage null and void from the outset; and (2) those which render the purported marriage merely “voidable,” meaning that the marriage is viewed as valid unless and until one of the parties actively seeks to have it set aside in an annulment proceeding.

The following grounds for annulment render a purported marriage “void”:

  • Consanguinity – The spouses are related by blood, or have “affinity,” (meaning a close family relationship).  Specifically, no person can marry a parent, grandparent, child, grandchild, sibling, parent’s sibling, sibling’s child, stepparent, or stepchild;
  • Bigamy – One spouse is already legally married to someone else at the time of the second marriage.

The following grounds for annulment render a purported marriage “voidable”:

  • One spouse was mentally incompetent at the time of the marriage ceremony;
  • A person who is not legally authorized to perform a wedding performed the marriage ceremony;
  • One or both spouses consented to the marriage only because of force, fraud, or duress from another person;
  • One spouse suffers from a health problem or physical condition that goes to the essence of the marriage (i.e., a husband conceals a medical problem with impotence that prevents the couple from having sexual relations).

Notably, there are several common misconceptions about annulment. For example, simply being married to someone for a very short period of time does not qualify a person or a couple for annulment, as many people assume.  Moreover, contrary to what many people believe, even where annulment is available as an option, it is not typically a quicker and less expensive process than a divorce. In fact, an annulment proceeding is a fairly complex process that can easily take the same amount of time, effort, and resources as a divorce might.  One reason for this is that in annulment proceeding, a plaintiff must prove the grounds for the annulment by “clear and convincing evidence,” (a high legal standard of proof).  This is in stark contrast to a divorce, where a plaintiff does not need to prove any grounds for a divorce at all, but instead merely needs to allege that the marriage has “broken down irretrievably.”  Finally, and this is a common misconception somewhat unique to Connecticut, obtaining an annulment in Connecticut does not preclude a court from dividing assets or liabilities between the parties.  While in most state courts are not authorized to divide property or debts as part of an annulment case (the logic being that there cannot be a marital estate if there wasn’t a valid marriage), in Connecticut courts are permitted to equitably divide a couple’s assets and liabilities in deciding an annulment case, just like in a divorce.

At Broder & Orland LLC, we have extensive experience with annulment law and proceedings and can help clients properly evaluate whether annulment is available to them as an option and, if so, whether it is an option that is worth pursuing as a practical matter, as opposed to pursuing a divorce.