Considering Fault in a “No-Fault” Jurisdiction

During an initial telephone call or divorce consultation, prospective clients often ask whether Connecticut is in fact a no-fault jurisdiction.  People typically equate that concept with the idea that marital property will automatically be divided equally, with each party receiving fifty percent.  Although Connecticut is indeed a no-fault jurisdiction, one should not presume that, regardless of the circumstances giving rise to the dissolution, each party will necessarily receive fifty percent of the marital estate.

To be sure, there are several recognized grounds for a dissolution of marriage, many of which constitute the common understanding of “fault.” As set forth in Connecticut General Statutes § 46b-40, a Court may consider causes such as:

  1. adultery
  2. fraudulent contract;
  3. willful desertion;
  4. habitual intemperance; and
  5. intolerable cruelty.

If proven, a finding of fault may impact orders regarding property division and/or financial awards.

Connecticut is often referred to as a no-fault jurisdiction because a Court may dissolve a marriage simply because it has broken down irretrievably.  Although this provision allows couples to get divorced without proving fault on the part of either party, it does not mean the causes for the breakdown of the marriage, if there are any, are always irrelevant.  It simply means that a Court is not required to find fault before it dissolves a marriage.  Posada v. Posada, 179 Conn. 568 (1980).  This allows parties to obtain a divorce without exposing their private affairs in a public forum.

Importantly, even if a Court specifies that a dissolution is predicated on an “irretrievable breakdown” in the relationship, it is not precluded from considering causes when entering orders regarding property division and/or when making financial awards. Sweet v. Sweet, 190 Conn. 657 (1983).   Indeed, under C.G.S.A. §46b-81, the Court must consider the causes for the dissolution of marriage in fashioning orders regarding property division, and under C.G.S.A. §46b-82, must consider the causes for the dissolution in fashioning alimony orders.

As each matrimonial case presents its own unique circumstances, it is very important to understand the parameters of the factors set forth above, and the degree to which Courts will consider fault in a particular case.  It is also important to understand how to present such circumstances in an effective and meaningful way.  Should you have any questions regarding your own case, please do not hesitate to contact our office.  If you have questions regarding fault and no-fault jurisdictions, or any family law matter contact Joseph Maya at 203-221-3100 or by email at JMaya@MayaLaw.com.