In a Connecticut divorce, courts divide the marital estate “equitably.” This does not necessarily mean a 50/50 split of assets. Instead, the division must be fair, and many factors are considered. Unlike many states, Connecticut courts consider virtually any asset owned during the marriage to be divisible, and the courts have broad discretion in how to divide the assets.
Steps to the equitable distribution of assets
Connecticut uses what is referred to as an “all property equitable distribution scheme.”
There are three steps to dividing assets: classification, valuation and distribution.
The first step is to classify whether the asset is “property” within the meaning of Connecticut law.
For example, Connecticut considers unvested pensions, unvested stock options, inheritances and gifts to one spouse during the marriage as marital property.
In other states, certain properties one spouse obtained before or even during the marriage can be excluded from division as that spouse’s separate property. Connecticut law considers virtually all assets to be marital in nature. This includes property that other states might consider separate.
The second step is valuation. This step involves determination of the appropriate method of valuing an asset. Courts have broad discretion in determining the value of marital assets. The general rule is to establish the asset’s fair market value. Fair market value is the price that would result after a fair negotiation between a willing buyer and a willing seller.
The court can hear the testimony of valuation experts and appraisers but is not obligated to do so. Each party can submit a valuation estimate and the court can then apply the most appropriate method of valuation.
In Connecticut, assets are valued on the date of divorce, not separation.
The final step is distribution, which is to be equitable. When determining what is equitable, the courts consider a number of statutory and case-based criteria, such as:
- The length of the marriage
- The reasons for the divorce
- The age and health of the parties
- The station, occupation, amount and sources of income of each spouse
- The education, vocational skills and employability of each spouse
- The value of any separate property owned by either spouse
- The debts and needs of each party
- The opportunity of each party for future acquisition of capital assets and income
- The contribution of each party to the acquisition, preservation or appreciation in value of the estate, including non-monetary contributions
- The effect of child custody, support and alimony
- The tax consequences of the proposed division
- Either party’s dissipation of the estate assets
The court is expected to weigh all of these factors but is not required to give any particular factor special weight or to explain how much weight it gave to each factor. The requirement is to decide what is fair “under all circumstances of the case.”
The court has the power to award any or all of a particular asset to either spouse or even to a third party. In many cases, the value of a particular asset can be offset by that of another asset.
Do you have questions?
If you have questions about a particular asset or how your property might be divided in a Connecticut divorce, contact an experienced divorce attorney.