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The equitable divorce in the state of Connecticut

3/3/2008

sA horrible tragedy took place in our community recently that developed as an aftermath to a long and bitter divorce battle. A recently divorced man shot and killed his ex-wife and his former step­daughter. The couple’s two young sons managed to escape and whether they witnessed the killings or not, they will certainly carry the horror of that night with them for the rest of their lives. A recent letter to the editor (headlined “Com­passion,” R-J, March 1) suggested that perhaps the killer was not the only one at fault in this tragedy and suggested that “if the marital property had been split more equitably . . . the killing might not have occurred.” The author of that letter was kind enough to ad­mit that he/she knew nothing about this incident and the individuals involved, but that the dispro­portionate award to the wife by the court seemed to be inequitable. It is most interesting that the let­ter used the term “equitable” because that is exact­ly how property is supposed to be divided by the court in a dissolution of marriage action in the State of Connecticut.

Connecticut follows the “eq­uitable distribution” model as opposed to those states, such as California, which use the “commu­nity property” concept and simply divide all the marital property in half. In deciding what “equitable” means in a specific divorce proceeding, the court is directed to apply a long series of criteria as detailed in Connecticut General Statute §46b-81(c). The court considers the length of the marriage, the cause(s) of the dis­solution, the age, health and station of the parties among other factors. Equitable does not necessari­ly mean equal in Connecticut; equitable attempts to reflect a fair distribution of the marital assets in light of the statutory criteria. The dissolution that preceded this murder/sui­cide last weekend was a case that the parties did not resolve themselves. It went before the court for a full trial last July only five months from the time the case was commenced. The Trial Judge Referee who heard the case is an extremely thoughtful and careful jurist and the husband had filed the preliminary paperwork for an appeal of that decision. Arrangements had been made to protect the husband’s financial interests while his appeal was heard. The husband may have been de­pressed and saddened over the divorce, but there is nothing in this case to suggest an explanation or rationalization for his horrendous actions. What this tragedy does suggest is the impor­tance of individuals taking responsibility and con­trol of their own lives in the divorce process. That is never accomplished by ceding your ability to de­cide your future to a stranger in a black robe.

As a divorce attorney for close to twenty-five (25) years, I consider every trial as a failure on my part as a lawyer and counselor to my client. Even if my client “wins” at trial, it is a loss — and if there are children involved, it is a tragedy. There are extremely effective alternatives to family trials. The two most popular alternatives are divorce mediation and collaborative divorce. Both of these procedures rely on the parties nego­tiating the terms of their divorce or custody prob­lem outside of the court. This gives the individual parties total control of what the terms and condi­tions will be and to tailor those terms to fit their needs and the needs of their children as perfectly as is possible. In mediation the parties work with a trained, neutral mediator; in the collaborative process each party negotiates with the assistance of a collaborative attorney. As both a trained medi­ator and collaborative attorney I have seen both of these alternatives work very effectively in numer­ous cases. Virtually any case can be mediated or dealt with in the collaborative process even if the parties are angry at one another and even if the ne­gotiating skills of the parties are unequal. All that is necessary is a commitment to work toward an eq­uitable resolution. Resolving a family law issue, whether it is di­vorce, custody or any other family problem, through alternative dispute resolution is effective, efficient and allows total control of the process and the outcome to remain with the parties. In case in which children are involved, it is also a gift to them. The children will know that my parents loved me enough to work out their problems with­out expensive and public displays of hatred, that they have provided me with an effective role mod­el for me to follow in the resolution of my own dis­putes and that I am free to continue to love both my parents and their extended families without en­dangering my relationship with my other parent. Additional information regarding divorce medi­ation or the collaborative process may be gotten from a number of sources online. The Connecticut Council of Divorce Mediation and Family Dispute Resolution web site is www.ctmediators.org.There are groups of attorneys who practice the collaborative process. The New Haven group’s web site is www.newhavencollaborativelaw.com, another group is Divorce Solutions of CT with a web site at www.divorcesolutionsofct.com.Arti­cles about both alternatives are also discusses on the “Resource” page of www.wmlawyer.com. If you are involved in a family dispute or antici­pate one arising soon, read some of these materials and make the intelligent choice. Dissolving your marriage does not mean you have to destroy your family. Avoid the horrible tragedy we all read about this week and seek a equitable divorce in Connecticut. Gerard I. Adelman is a practicing attorney and a former guest member of the Record-Journal editorial board. He resides in Meriden.


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