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Domestic Violence and Divorce in Connecticut: How Relevant is Domestic Violence in Divorce Proceedings?

In 2009, eighteen murders were committed as a result of domestic violence in Connecticut, and 21,018 total reported incidents of domestic violence.[1] Domestic violence is a crime, and often results in divorce proceedings. In reality, up to seventy-five percent of instances of domestic violence in a marriage occurs after the couple has separated.[2] Given the increased risk of violence after separation, it is extremely important for a victim of domestic violence to be aware and known her rights.

In Connecticut, domestic violence falls within a category known as “family violence” which is defined as “an incident resulting in physical harm, bodily injury or assault, or an act of threatened violence that constitutes fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury or assault between family or household members.” Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-38a(1). Under this law, “verbal abuse or argument shall not constitute family violence unless there is present danger and the likelihood that physical violence will occur.” Id. According to the statute, in order for an incident to fall under the family violence statute, it must be between (a) spouses, former spouses; (b) parents and their children; (c) persons eighteen years of age or older related by blood or marriage; (d) persons sixteen years of age or older other than those persons in subparagraph (c) presently residing together or who have resided together; (e) persons who have a child in common regardless of whether they are or have been married or have lived together at any time; and (f) persons in, or have recently been in, a dating relationship. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-38a(2).

Family violence is a pattern of abusive behavior based upon one partner’s attempt to control and dominate the other. This includes physical abuse, emotional abuse, economic abuse, sexual abuse, and stalking and harassment. Rarely are the different types of abuse mutually exclusive. By themselves, each one of these elements can make the decision to leave an abusive relationship difficult. Unfortunately, given the complex nature of domestic violence, Connecticut law provides for criminal relief where physical abuse is present or there is present danger and likelihood that physical violence will ensue.[3] Connecticut does not provide any criminal penalties for emotional or financial abuse.

Protective Orders & Restraining Orders

A victim of family violence has remedies under Connecticut law. Under Connecticut law, a victim of family violence has two different mechanisms to help protect their safety: Protective Orders and Restraining Orders.

A Protective Order is made by a criminal court judge against a person who was arrested for stalking, harassment, or family violence crime.[4] A Protective Order will direct the abuser to refrain from hitting, harassing, contacting the victim or her (his) children, or anything else a judge deems appropriate, and lasts only as long as the criminal court case.

A Restraining Order is made by a civil court judge after a victim files for an Application for Relief from Abuse. Generally, a Protective Order does not address issues of child custody or the removal of the abuser from the marital residence, but a Restraining Order can resolve those issues temporarily. Therefore, it may be necessary to file for a Restraining Order even after a Protective Order has already been granted. Moreover, the application can be granted ex parte, if the judge finds that there is enough evidence to suggest that the applicant is in immediate danger.[5] If the judge declines to grant the Restraining Order ex parte, the judge will set a hearing date within 14 days. At that time, both the applicant and the party whom the Restraining Order is sought, must appear before the judge. A Restraining Order survives for six months, and can be extended on judicial order.

Filing for Divorce

The decision to leave an abusive relationship is difficult, but always right. Abuse in a relationship is never acceptable. While obtaining a Protective and/or Restraining Order is an important step for a victim in protecting herself and/or her children, both types of orders are not permanent. Seeking a divorce or legal separation is the next step.

An action for dissolution of marriage is commenced by filing a summons and complaint with the Superior Court in the judicial district where one of the spouses resides. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-45. Once commenced, the Court will dictate a series of Automatic Orders.[6] The Automatic Orders are designed to prevent either party from making any significant changes relating to their children or finances. These orders prohibit relocating the children out of state or locking one party out of the marital residence. If there is a prior Protective and/or Restraining Order in effect, the Automatic Orders will be issued in accordance with those prior order(s). For example, if there is a Restraining Order in place, directing the husband to leave the marital residence will not be affected by the Automatic Orders.

During a divorce proceeding, the spouses will attempt to work out an amicable separation. The spouses will negotiate the marital residence, child custody, child support, spousal support and other issues. Given the complexity of these proceedings, coupled with the intricate nature of family violence, it is important to have an attorney who understands these multifaceted issues.

Custody

Family violence affects every member of the family, directly and indirectly. It creates a home environment where children live in constant fear. As a result, many survivors of family violence fear they will lose their children to the abusive partner. In some cases, this prevents the victim from leaving her abuser.

The most important thing for a victim of family violence to remember is that the Court will decide custody. In doing so, the Court must consider the best interests of the child.[7] In determining the best interests of the child, the Court will look at a litany of items, including the stability of the child’s existing or proposed residences, the mental and physical health of all individuals involved, and the effect on the child of the actions of an abuser. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-56(c). If the Court views the victim as the primary parent, and the victim has not been abusive to the child(ren), then the victim is not likely to lose physical and legal custody.

It is important to understand that custody is not the same as visitation. For example, even if a father has abused a mother, as long as he has not harmed the children, he will likely be granted visitation. However, the mother, as a victim of family violence, has the right to request certain conditions for the visitation in order to provide for her own protection. That might include a provision that visitation only occur at certain times, on certain days, at certain locations, or with another person present.

Family violence and divorce cases are riddled with complex issues. It is important to find an attorney who understands domestic violence and has experience with domestic violence divorce cases. One should be confident that their legal advisors are well-versed in the law and familiar with recent case developments.

At Maya Murphy, P.C., we have decades of experience dealing with divorce, restraining order petitions, and criminal litigation – often in situations where the three matters run concurrently. We handle all types of issues related to divorce and child-custody, including post-judgment matters, in a broad geographic area, which includes Westport, Fairfield, Greenwich, and the entire Fairfield County area. For a free initial consultation call (203) 221-3100.


[1] 2009 Family Violence Detailed Report, Connecticut Department of Public Safety, September 2010.

[2] Hart, Barbara. Children of Domestic Violence: Risks and Remedies. Child Protective Services Quarterly; Pittsburgh Bar Association, Winter 1992.

[3] While not provided for under the definition of family violence crime, Connecticut law does criminalize sexual abuse and stalking and harassment.

[4] Family Violence Crime is defined as “crime as defined in section 53a-24 which, in addition to its other elements, contains as an element thereof an act of family violence to a family member and shall not include acts by parents or guardians disciplining minor children unless such acts constitute abuse.” Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-38a(2).

[5] Ex parte means that only the party seeking the Restraining Order is before the Judge. Ex parte Restraining Order only last until the hearing, which must be scheduled within 14 days.

[6] This is also true in legal separation, custody, and visitation proceedings in Connecticut.

[7] Schult v. Schult, 241 Conn. 767, 777, 699 A.2d 134 (1997).
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Our family law firm in Westport Connecticut serves clients with divorce, matrimonial, and family law issues from all over the state including the towns of: Bethel, Bridgeport, Brookfield, Danbury, Darien, Easton, Fairfield, Greenwich, Monroe, New Canaan, New Fairfield, Newton, Norwalk, Redding, Ridgefield, Shelton, Sherman, Stamford, Stratford, Trumbull, Weston, Westport, and Wilton. We have the best divorce attorneys and family attorneys in CT on staff that can help with your Connecticut divorce or New York divorce today.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a divorce law attorney about a divorce or familial matter, please don’t hesitate to call our office at (203) 221-3100. We offer free divorce consultation as well as free consultation on all other familial matters. Divorce in CT and divorce in NYC is difficult, but education is power. Call our family law office in CT today.

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Family Law Update: Postnuptial Agreements Now Valid and Enforceable in Connecticut

Upon beginning an action for a divorce, many people will disclose to their lawyers that the parties had already contemplated the end of their marriage, sometimes many years before. More often than one would guess, the parties had even mapped out this projected end to their relationship with an agreement written during the marriage itself – maybe hammered out on the family computer, or perhaps scribbled on a restaurant napkin – which was intended by the parties to govern the terms of any divorce that would loom in the future.

With a waiver of alimony, a promise to exclude inheritance proceeds, or a pledge to leave the marital home – an intended postnuptial agreement could be as flexible and varied as the complex circumstances of the marriage itself. However, unlike their premarital cousins (agreements executed before marriage are governed both Connecticut General Statutes Section 46b-36b et seq. and controlling precedent), postnuptial agreements had not been officially recognized by the Connecticut Supreme Court and the prospects of their enforceability at trial was nebulous at best.

In the recent decision of Bedrick v. Bedrick (SC 18568, 200 Conn. 691, decided April 26, 2011), the Connecticut Supreme Court has for the first time set forth parameters to test the enforceability of postnuptial agreements, noting that “we must now consider what standards govern their enforcement. Neither the legislature nor this court has addressed this question.” Bedrick, at 699.

Addressing first the question of whether postnuptial agreements are contrary to public policy, the Supreme Court concluded in the negative. While historically, the Court had determined that prenuptial agreements (as an example) were generally held to violate public policy if they promoted, facilitated, or provided an incentive for separation or divorce” (citing McHugh v. McHugh, 181 Conn. 482, 488-89 (1980)), it has been more recently decided that “private settlement of the financial affairs of estranged marital partners is a goal that courts should support rather than undermine” (see Billington v. Billington, 220 Conn. 212, 221 (1991)). The Bedrick court now opined that “postnuptial agreements may also encourage the private resolution of family issues. In particular, they may allow couples to eliminate a source of emotional turmoil – usually, financial uncertainty – and focus instead on resolving other aspects of the marriage that may be problematic.” Bedrick, at 698.

In this case of first impression, the Supreme Court expressly acknowledged the heightened scrutiny that must be applied to a trial judge’s review of a contract between already married persons, noting that “spouses do not contract under the same conditions as either prospective spouses or spouses who have determined to dissolve their marriage.” In its analysis, the Court points out that already married spouses are “less cautious” in a contractual relationship with one another than they would be as prospective spouses, and similarly, are “certainly less cautious” with one another than they would be with an ordinary contracting party. “With lessened caution comes greater potential for one spouse to take advantage of the other.” Id, at 703.

As such, the law now requires trial courts to enforce a postnuptial agreement only if it complies with applicable contract principles (including the element of consideration, or in layman’s terms, the “give and take” in any contractual arrangement), and if the terms of the agreement are both fair and equitable at the time of execution and if those terms are not unconscionable at the time of dissolution of the marriage. To determine whether terms are “fair and equitable” at the time of execution, a court will look to whether the agreement was made voluntarily, without any undue influence, fraud, coercion, or duress. In addition, as with prenuptial agreements, there must be a factual finding that each spouse was given full, fair, and reasonable disclosure of all property, assets, financial obligations, and income of the other spouse when entering into the contract.

Importantly also, the Court further held that “unfairness or inequity alone does not render a postnuptial agreement unconscionable; spouses may agree on an unequal distribution of assets at dissolution.” Id, at 706. Trial courts are charged with applying a “totality of the circumstances” approach to determining the fairness and equity of enforcing a postnuptial agreement.

With this significant legal decision now available as a roadmap for divorce litigants and their counsel, it is critical now as always that you consult with a knowledgeable and experienced family law attorney in determining your rights relating to an impending divorce. Any questions about this posting or confidential inquiries concerning the subject matter may be directed to Attorney H. Daniel Murphy at hdmurphy@mayalaw.com.

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Our family law firm in Westport Connecticut serves clients with divorce, matrimonial, and family law issues from all over the state including the towns of: Bethel, Bridgeport, Brookfield, Danbury, Darien, Easton, Fairfield, Greenwich, Monroe, New Canaan, New Fairfield, Newton, Norwalk, Redding, Ridgefield, Shelton, Sherman, Stamford, Stratford, Trumbull, Weston, Westport, and Wilton. We have the best divorce attorneys and family attorneys in CT on staff that can help with your Connecticut divorce or New York divorce today.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a divorce law attorney about a divorce or familial matter, please don’t hesitate to call our office at (203) 221-3100. We offer free divorce consultation as well as free consultation on all other familial matters. Divorce in CT and divorce in NYC is difficult, but education is power. Call our family law office in CT today.

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Not So Fast: Connecticut Courts Consider Length of Marriage – Not Courtship or Cohabitation – When Determining Awards in Divorce

At the outset of a divorce proceeding, many clients will ask what they might expect from a court – or in a settlement agreement – in connection with alimony or the division of marital assets. One of many statutory factors a court may consider in fashioning support orders or property distribution is the length of the parties’ marriage. See C.G.S. § 46b-81, 82. With increasing frequency over the past several decades, however, many parties may enter a divorce proceeding with a significant period of time before the marriage during which the parties lived together as unmarried people – sharing home expenses, purchasing assets together, and accumulating marital wealth (or debts). The common expectation is that a judge would consider not just the length of the parties’ marriage, but also the length of time they lived together as unmarried people when determining what awards would be appropriate in a divorce. The law, however, takes a sharply different view.

Like many other states, Connecticut does not recognize common-law marriage as a matter of public policy. Indeed, the law “has been construed to require the marriage contract to be entered into before authorized persons and with certain formalities which the state has prescribed.” Hames v. Hames, 163 Conn. 593 (1972). Although two persons might cohabit and conduct themselves as a married couple, the law of this state neither grants to nor imposes upon them marital status. McAnerney v. McAnerney, 165 Conn. 277 (1973). Cohabitation by unmarried individuals does not in and of itself create any legal or support obligations. Boland v. Catalano, 202 Conn. 333 (1987).

Given the clear distinction in the common law between marriage and cohabitation, and in awarding greater rights and protections to people who make the formal legal commitment of marriage, the Supreme Court has determined that it would be incongruous for a divorce court, when entertaining financial orders, to take into account a period of premarital cohabitation as an additional equitable consideration. Loughlin v. Loughlin, 280 Conn. 632 (2006).

In other words, neither party in a divorce action may seek additional protections, rights, or awards from the court based simply on the length of time the parties had lived together prior to their marriage. Nevertheless, the Loughlin holding has left a window of opportunity open – however narrow – which might allow a court to consider “events” that occurred during the period of cohabitation as “indirectly” bearing on other statutory criteria for awards of support and equitable distribution (such as the health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, and employability of the parties). Only a court’s strict consideration of premarital cohabitation as part of the “length of marriage” in a dissolution action is improper and prohibited by law.

In the event that your marriage was preceded by a significant period of premarital cohabitation, you should consult with a knowledgeable and experienced attorney to determine your rights in a divorce action. Any questions about this posting or confidential inquiries concerning the subject matter may be directed to Attorney H. Daniel Murphy at hdmurphy@mayalaw.com.
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Our family law firm in Westport Connecticut serves clients with divorce, matrimonial, and family law issues from all over the state including the towns of: Bethel, Bridgeport, Brookfield, Danbury, Darien, Easton, Fairfield, Greenwich, Monroe, New Canaan, New Fairfield, Newton, Norwalk, Redding, Ridgefield, Shelton, Sherman, Stamford, Stratford, Trumbull, Weston, Westport, and Wilton. We have the best divorce attorneys and family attorneys in CT on staff that can help with your Connecticut divorce or New York divorce today.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a divorce law attorney about a divorce or familial matter, please don’t hesitate to call our office at (203) 221-3100. We offer free divorce consultation as well as free consultation on all other familial matters. Divorce in CT and divorce in NYC is difficult, but education is power. Call our family law office in CT today.

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Alimony Alert- September 2, 2011

On July, 15, 2011, following trial in a Stamford based dissolution action, Judge Wenzel ordered the defendant husband to pay alimony to the wife as follows: from August 1, 2011 to December 31, 2011, the sum of $9,500 per month; from January 1, 2012 through December 1, 2012, the sum of $8,000 per month together with 30% of his gross income between $200,000 and $350,000; from January 1, 2013 through December 31, 2014 (or the closing for the sale of the marital residence, whichever occurs first) the sum of $6,000.00 per month together with 20% of his gross income between $200,000 and $300,000; and from January 1, 2015 until his 65th birthday, the sum of $4,000 a month.

The Court found that the parties were married for approximately twenty-two (22) years. Before marrying, they both lived and worked in New York City. They moved to Connecticut around the time they got married and bought a house in Stamford. In the late 1990s, after having three children, one of which was diagnosed with autism, they moved to New Canaan, where they purchased a new home.

The wife accused the husband of having multiple affairs, although the court noted she was unable to support her suspicions. The wife also alleged that over the course of the marriage the husband spent long hours at his business, traveling frequently and staying at work late into the night, leaving her with all the responsibilities of running the household and caring for their special needs child.

The Husband denied the affairs and alleged that the wife had an extra-marital relationship of her own. The wife concealed the physical component of the relationship for several years, but finally admitted to it immediately before her deposition. The Court ultimately found the causes of the divorce to be attributable to the wife, and that her accusations were made solely for tactical reasons. Nevertheless, the court held that its assessment of the cause of the breakdown of the marriage could not play a significant role in fashioning its alimony award. Instead, it considered the length of the marriage and the fact that there had been great hardship and stress during the last half of the parties’ relationship.

Alimony Alerts are prepared by Michael D. DeMeola of Maya Murphy, P.C.
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Our family law firm in Westport Connecticut serves clients with divorce, matrimonial, and family law issues from all over the state including the towns of: Bethel, Bridgeport, Brookfield, Danbury, Darien, Easton, Fairfield, Greenwich, Monroe, New Canaan, New Fairfield, Newton, Norwalk, Redding, Ridgefield, Shelton, Sherman, Stamford, Stratford, Trumbull, Weston, Westport, and Wilton. We have the best divorce attorneys and family attorneys in CT on staff that can help with your Connecticut divorce or New York divorce today.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a divorce law attorney about a divorce or familial matter, please don’t hesitate to call our office at (203) 221-3100. We offer free divorce consultation as well as free consultation on all other familial matters. Divorce in CT and divorce in NYC is difficult, but education is power. Call our family law office in CT today.

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Alimony Alert- September 9, 2011

On July, 11, 2011, following trial in a Stamford based dissolution action, Judge Wenzel awarded the defendant wife both periodic and lump sum alimony. Pursuant to Judge Wenzel’s orders, the plaintiff husband is obligated to pay to his now ex-wife $3,000.00 per month for a period of three years (from August 1, 2011 through July 31, 2014). With respect to lump sum alimony, the plaintiff must pay his ex-wife $100,000.00 in four equal installments of $25,000.00. The payments are to be made on August 15, 2011, December 15, 2011, April 15, 2012 and August 15, 2012.

The Court found that the parties were married on May 30, 2007 in Westport, Connecticut. The husband is an attorney, and when the parties married, earned over $300,000.00 per year. In 2008, he received a total of $537,000.00 in income which included a substantial severance package. Since 2008 he had been working forty hours per week as a temporary attorney earning approximately $75.00 per hour. The defendant wife was employed in the advertising industry for 31 years, but was terminated just before the parties’ marriage. During the marriage, however, she worked in publishing and advertising. The court did not make a finding as to the defendant’s actual earnings or earning capacity except to the extent that it noted she earned far less than the plaintiff. At the time of trial, the defendant was unemployed and receiving unemployment compensation in the amount of $2,150.00 per month. Each party has two children from previous marriages, but none from their marriage to one another.

In fashioning its alimony award, the Court noted that it considered the factors set forth in Connecticut General Statutes §46b-82. Although it did not state which of those factors it relied upon, it appears the Court did not assign fault to either party. The Court did note, however, that although the defendant has an earning potential, it is far more limited than that of the plaintiff, and she has far fewer resources to rely upon. The Court further stated that its periodic alimony award is meant to help the defendant rehabilitate both in terms of her job skills as well as her physical and emotional condition.

Alimony Alerts are prepared by Michael D. DeMeola of Maya Murphy, P.C.

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Our family law firm in Westport Connecticut serves clients with divorce, matrimonial, and family law issues from all over the state including the towns of: Bethel, Bridgeport, Brookfield, Danbury, Darien, Easton, Fairfield, Greenwich, Monroe, New Canaan, New Fairfield, Newton, Norwalk, Redding, Ridgefield, Shelton, Sherman, Stamford, Stratford, Trumbull, Weston, Westport, and Wilton. We have the best divorce attorneys and family attorneys in CT on staff that can help with your Connecticut divorce or New York divorce today.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a divorce law attorney about a divorce or familial matter, please don’t hesitate to call our office at (203) 221-3100. We offer free divorce consultation as well as free consultation on all other familial matters. Divorce in CT and divorce in NYC is difficult, but education is power. Call our family law office in CT today.

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Court Enters 10 Year Alimony Award in Wilton Divorce

In Brush v. Brush, Superior Court, Judicial District of Stamford-Norwalk at Stamford, Docket No. FA104019594S (Dec. 15, 2011, Shay, J.), the plaintiff wife and the defendant husband were married for approximately 21 years, and were the parents of two minor children. During the divorce, the children- ages ten and fifteen- resided in the marital home in Wilton, Connecticut pursuant to a bird nesting arrangement which the parties agreed upon as part of a parenting plan.

At the time of the divorce, the wife was 47 years old, and suffered from various medical conditions, from chronic Lyme Disease to depression and anxiety. She held a Bachelor of Science degree in Fashion Design and Resource Management, and prior to the parties’ marriage, worked in the clothing industry in Connecticut, New York, Maine and Massachusetts. The Court found that the wife was a very talented designer and seamstress who at one point during the marriage developed and fabricated her own line of children’s clothing. After two years, however, the wife closed her business when it became apparent that it would not be profitable. At the time of the divorce, she was a full-time homemaker.

The husband was 46 years old, and held a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology as well as a Masters degree in Industrial and Labor Relations. He described his health as “good,” although he told the court that he took medication for a hereditary thyroid condition as well as for high blood pressure. He also suffered from occasional stress, but indicated that none of the conditions adversely affected his ability to work. The Court noted that the husband worked for a variety of corporations in Kansas, Texas, Ohio and New York. At the time of the divorce proceedings, he was Chief Human Resources Officer and his annual base salary was $242,000.00 plus an annual bonus, an automobile allowance, and certain non-cash benefits including stock options.

With respect to the cause of the breakdown of the marriage, the parties cited various factors including different parenting styles, lack of intimacy, loss of interest in each other, personality conflicts and different approaches to personal finances. The Court ultimately found that both parties contributed to the breakdown of their relationship. Regarding finances, the Court found that the husband’s net income was $4,403.00 per week, and the wife had no income.

With respect to support, the Court ordered that commencing the first day of the first month following the husband’s vacation of the marital home, but no later than March 1, 2012, and monthly thereafter, the husband shall pay to the wife 35% of his gross cash compensation from employment as and for unallocated, periodic alimony and child support, until the death of either party, the remarriage of the wife, the entry into a civil union by the wife, or December 31, 2022, whichever shall sooner occur. The Court designated the term of alimony as non-modifiable, and granted the wife a safe harbor up to $40,000 per year. However, the Court also capped the wife’s alimony at 35% of the husband’s income up to $400,000 per year.

Should you have any questions relating to alimony or divorce proceedings, please feel free to contact Michael D. DeMeola, Esq. by telephone at (203) 221-3100 or by e-mail at mdemeola@mayalaw.com.
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Our family law firm in Westport Connecticut serves clients with divorce, matrimonial, and family law issues from all over the state including the towns of: Bethel, Bridgeport, Brookfield, Danbury, Darien, Easton, Fairfield, Greenwich, Monroe, New Canaan, New Fairfield, Newton, Norwalk, Redding, Ridgefield, Shelton, Sherman, Stamford, Stratford, Trumbull, Weston, Westport, and Wilton. We have the best divorce attorneys and family attorneys in CT on staff that can help with your Connecticut divorce or New York divorce today.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a divorce law attorney about a divorce or familial matter, please don’t hesitate to call our office at (203) 221-3100. We offer free divorce consultation as well as free consultation on all other familial matters. Divorce in CT and divorce in NYC is difficult, but education is power. Call our family law office in CT today.

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