How long do I have to live in Connecticut before I get a divorce?
Generally speaking, you have to be here at least 12 months.
Are there any exceptions?
Yes. You may file immediately, but final judgment may not enter until you have been a resident of Connecticut for 12 months.
What if my spouse lives in another state?
That makes your case more complicated, but you can get your divorce here in Connecticut.
What kinds of complications?
First, you need to "serve" divorce papers on your spouse out of state. "Serving papers" means giving official notice.
How do I do that?
By asking the court here in Connecticut for permission to serve papers in a couple of ways intended to give your spouse actual notice of the divorce.
You may have to hire a local constable or process server in your spouse's home state. Sometimes you also send copies by certified mail to your spouse's residence and publish a legal notice in a newspaper selected by the court, if you don't know where your spouse is.
I can manage that. But is it expensive?
It depends on what the local constable charges, but usually fees are under $100. Publishing a legal notice can be expensive. Depending on the newspaper, you can spend $100 or several times that amount.
That reminds me, what about legal fees and other costs?
Lawyers usually charge by the hour. In this area, fees range from $150.00 an hour to $400.00 an hour. Court filing fees are $150.00. According to a recent study, the average divorce costs $18,000 in major metropolitan areas of the United States.
That is a lot a money! Can I represent myself?
Absolutely, but you would be wise to consult an attorney if you have children and assets.
Can I hire a lawyer on a contingent fee basis?
No. Local disciplinary rules prohibit lawyers from taking divorce cases on a contingent fee basis.
I'm short on cash. My spouse has all of the money. How can I hire a lawyer?
Ask your spouse to pay your legal fees.
All things considered, my spouse and I get along, but we're not that friendly.
Then ask the court to order your spouse to pay. If you have children, you should consult a lawyer.
What can a lawyer tell me about my own children?
Well, the lawyer tells you about parental rights and responsibilities. For example, in Connecticut parents have a duty to support children until the age of 19 or until they graduate from high school, which ever first occurs.
I didn't know that! I thought children were supported until they turned 18. What else can the lawyer tell me?
Every state has a set of child support guidelines.
Then there shouldn't be any surprises.
Ideally, but lawyers still come up with arguments persuading the courts to deviate from the guidelines. Also each state has a different set of guidelines.
How much child support would I get here in Connecticut for my daughter, 7 years, and my son, 5 years?
Tell me how much income you have, including interest and dividends. I also need to know your spouse's income, and the cost of child care and family medical insurance.
Can I get alimony, too?
Possibly. Tell me whether you work outside the home, what you and your spouse earns, what the education levels and work experience is of you and your spouse.
What happens if my spouse and I agree on everything? Do we still need a lawyer?
That depends. Settlement is the best option, but you should consider hiring a lawyer to review the papers before you sign. By the way, one lawyer cannot represent both husband and wife, even if they agree on everything.
If we get along, we don't need two lawyers. Perhaps not, but any ethical lawyer will tell you that one lawyer cannot represent both husband and wife, even if they agree. You and your spouse have possible areas of conflict.
Give me an example.
Your spouse may be paying a lot of money in child support, but cannot claim the children as dependents unless you sign an IRS form.
And one lawyer can't possibly take my side and my spouse's at the same time.
What about mediation?
Mediators usually recommend that the parties review the settlement with independent counsel before signing.
There's no getting away from lawyers.
Perhaps not, but you can control legal fees, especially if you use a mediator.
Is a no-fault divorce cheaper than a fault divorce?
Not necessarily. Most people are not fighting over the reason for the divorce. They fight over the property, alimony, child support, custody, and visitation.
Can I get more money if my spouse is at fault?
Probably not. In Connecticut the conduct or fault of the parties is one of many factors considered by a judge before dividing assets and awarding alimony.
Assuming my spouse and I agree on everything, how soon can we be divorced?
There is a mandatory 90-day waiting period. Generally the fastest possible time for a divorce is four to five months.
And if we don't agree?
Your divorce can take nine months to two year depending on trial schedules, discovery, cooperation, etc.
I had no idea it could take so long. What happens if I need child support or my spouse and I can't agree on visitation?
You should file your complaint for divorce and motions (written requests) for temporary orders of support and visitation.
Do I have to go to court?
Yes. In Connecticut, you appear in court at the motion session. Your spouse should be notified at least 12 days before the hearing and should have a chance to be in court.
We both tell our side of the story?
Yes, or your attorneys speak. The court then makes a decision and issues temporary orders.
Why are the orders temporary?
The orders are temporary until the court enters a divorce judgment and final orders.
In Connecticut, divorce is referred to legally as "dissolution of marriage." Connecticut is technically a "no-fault" divorce state. That means that one need not prove marital "fault" in order to obtain a divorce. However, as noted below, marital fault may play a role in the court's financial award.
The grounds for dissolution are set forth at Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-40(c), and are:
Living apart for 18 months with no reasonable prospect of reconciliation
Willful desertion for one year
Seven years' absence
Life imprisonment or conviction of an infamous crime violating conjugal duty
Legal confinement for mental illness for five of the last six years
In almost all cases, irretrievable breakdown is the sole ground alleged, and it is legally sufficient. However, as noted above, occasionally multiple grounds may be alleged because marital "fault" is permitted to be taken into account in the court's assignment of property and alimony under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-81 et seq. But proof of "fault" may be considered even when irretrievable breakdown is the sole ground alleged.
The dissolution action is commenced by filing a summons and complaint with the Superior Court in the judicial district where one of the parties resides. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-45. The filing or "entry" fee is $190 (effective 7/1/01), and the sheriff's fee for service of papers will generally be about $35.
The complaint sets forth the names of the parties, the maiden name of the wife, the basis of the court's jurisdiction, the names and birth dates of the minor children, the grounds, whether a party has received public assistance, and the relief requested. The court can award alimony, an assignment of property, child support, custody, restoration of the wife's maiden name, and any other appropriate relief.
Although the parties to a divorce action are denominated as "plaintiff" and "defendant," it really does not matter which party commences the action. Some attorneys suggest that there is an advantage to being the plaintiff because you get to tell your side of the story in its entirety first, although in practice it rarely makes much difference. The complaint must be served on the defendant at least twelve days before the return date (a date specified by plaintiff's counsel), Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-46, and must be filed in the clerk's office at least six days before the return date. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52a-46a.
Connecticut has a 90-day "cooling off" period after the commencement of the action and before a final judgment can be rendered. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-67. During the pendency of the divorce, the parties may require temporary alimony, child custody and support, a restraining order against abuse, and exclusive possession of the marital residence. The court is empowered to grant appropriate temporary relief. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-64 et seq.
Effective October 1, 1997, Connecticut made dramatic changes in the procedural rules applicable to family matters. These rules are designed to streamline the process of divorce, although their real impact remains to be seen. Among other things, the rules provide for standing orders requiring each party maintain the status quo (i.e., prohibiting transfers of assets, termination of insurance, etc.) pending the final judgment in a divorce case (those orders are now automatic, even if neither party requests them), and providing for various case-management, automatic discovery and alternative-dispute-resolution procedures. Also, because there are so many pro se filings, new "check the box" forms have been promulgated and are available from the Superior Court clerk's office. The new rules have been incorporated in the Connecticut Practice Book.
Probably more than 90% of all dissolution cases are settled prior to trial in Connecticut. The traditional means of memorializing a settlement is a writing called a "Separation Agreement." This agreement, drafted by the parties' counsel, and then executed and acknowledged by the parties, provides for all of the financial arrangements (alimony, child support, real and personal property, counsel fees, etc.) to which the parties have agreed, as well as for the custody and visitation of children, waiver of rights in future property (including estate rights), and other matters.
If the parties have settled their case by agreement, the case is claimed for the "uncontested" list, and a hearing is scheduled. At the hearing, the court inquires into such matters as jurisdiction, whether the grounds have been proven (which they always are!), and whether the agreement is fair and equitable to both parties in light of their resources and needs. Since public policy favors private resolution of disputes, the parties' agreements are almost always approved.
Each party to a dissolution in Connecticut must make complete disclosure of his income, expenses, assets and liabilities. All of the traditional litigation discovery tools are at the disposal of the parties' counsel: interrogatories, depositions and requests for production of documents, among others. In most relatively simple cases, discovery is limited to exchange of tax returns and W-2 forms. Discovery of business proprietors and others who are in a position to conceal or manipulate their income may involve extensive (and expensive) procedures by accountants and actuaries.
Connecticut courts have subject matter jurisdiction when one of the parties has been a resident of the state of Connecticut for at least twelve months, or if one party was domiciled here at the time of the marriage and returned to the state with the intention of remaining permanently prior to commencing the dissolution action, or is the cause of the dissolution occurred in Connecticut. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-44. As a general matter, where jurisdiction is based on residence, an action can be commenced immediately upon becoming a resident of the state, and the required twelve-month period need only be established at the time of the final judgment.
Personal jurisdiction is not required for a dissolution of marriage, since the court is deemed to have "in rem" jurisdiction over the marriages of residents of the state. However, the court must have personal jurisdiction over the defendant if financial orders are to be imposed on him or her.
All dissolution actions require that the defendant, even if absent from the state, be given notice and an opportunity to be heard. If the defendant cannot be found, a notice is required to be published in a newspaper pursuant to court order.
Alimony may be awarded to either party. If no alimony is awarded at the final hearing, it can never be awarded thereafter. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-82. Accordingly, many alimony arrangements call for $1 a year in alimony, in order to preserve the opportunity to revisit the amount. Usually, the payor spouse will wish alimony to be of short duration and non-modifiable either as to duration or amount, while the interests of the recipient are the converse. These are matters for the court's sound discretion, taking into account the length of the marriage, the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate and needs of each party, the property settlement, and whether the custodial parent should work. In addition, the court may take marital fault into account.
Connecticut requires both parents to support their children in accordance with their respective abilities. Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 46b-84, -86. The published guidelines are required to be considered in each case. For general information about child support.
When jurisdiction is present over the children, a dissolution decree must dispose of the issue of child custody. Connecticut follows the "best interests of the child" standard is making a custody award. The child's preferences and the cause for the dissolution of the marriage may also be considered. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-56.
In contested custody matters, an attorney may be appointed to represent the minor child, at the expense of the parents. Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 46b-54, -62. Disputed matters are referred to the Family Relations Office for mediation and/or a custody study. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-6 et seq. Connecticut has a statutory presumption in favor of joint custody when the parents agree to it. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-56a.
For general information about custody.
Visitation is generally arrived at using the same "best interests" standard applicable to custody.
Connecticut is a pure "equitable distribution" state - all property of the parties is subject to distribution in a dissolution action (i.e., there is no statutory exemption from distribution for the pre-marital or "separate" property of the parties). There are twelve factors which the court will consider in dividing assets: the length of the marriage; the causes for the dissolution of marriage; the age, health, station, occupation, amount and source of income; vocational skills; employability; estate; liabilities and needs of each of the parties; the opportunity of each for future acquisition of capital, assets and income; and the contribution of each of the parties in the acquisition, preservation or appreciation value of the assets. The court also must consider the value of the homemaker's services in dividing assets. In marriages of relatively short duration, the court will often attempt, as nearly as possible, to restore the parties to their pre-marital financial state. In relatively long marriages, the property distribution usually is closer to 50-50, although that result can vary widely depending on the court's analysis of the twelve factors. The decision of Judge Tierney in Wendt v. Wendt is an exhaustive discussion of this subject area and required reading for attorneys who practice in this field.
Either spouse may be required to pay the counsel fees and disbursements of the other spouse, based on the same factors to be taken into account in making an award of alimony. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-52. Generally, a party with enough funds to pay his or her own attorney will not receive an award of counsel fees; however, the provisions of this statute make it possible for the non-monied spouse to recover counsel fees from the monied spouse in a proper case. Never fail to consult an attorney simply because you do not have the immediately available funds to pay a retainer.
The cost of hiring an attorney varies based on the time expended, the issues involved, the difficulty of the matter, the results achieved, and any extraordinary time or demands placed upon an attorney which would prevent an attorney from representing other clients. Of these factors, the time expended is generally the most important. Most attorneys will require that a retainer be paid at the time of retention. Every attorney in Connecticut should have a written fee agreement with his clients.
Having a lawyer is always a good idea. However, many people feel they cannot afford a private attorney. Matrimonial disputes are sometimes complex and often depend on factors that a layman would not consider. Moreover, closeness to the subject matter makes an objective presentation of evidence nearly impossible. If you cannot afford a lawyer, often there are resources available to you at state expense. Check with your local Connecticut Legal Services office or the court clerk.
Questions are frequently asked regarding the obligation of parents to pay support for their children. This FAQ is intended as a general introduction to the issues related to child support, including who is liable for support (and under what circumstances), how support awards are arrived at, and enforcement and modification of child-support awards. Because the law of child support is governed by state, rather than federal, law, it varies from state to state. A person who may have valuable rights affected by such laws should consult with an attorney who specializes in such matters. This FAQ should not be construed as legal advice, which can only be given by an attorney who is admitted to practice in your state, to whom you pay a fee, and who in return undertakes to protect your rights and to explain your responsibilities.
The federal Family Support Act of 1988 requires every state to promulgate numerical child support guidelines. The guidelines implement a federal requirement demanding not only that guidelines be established, but that such guidelines form the presumed standard when fixing the amount of child support. This presumption in favor of a numeric computation of the support obligation is rebuttable only by a showing that the guideline figure would be "unjust or inappropriate," based on criteria established by the state. The guidelines are designed to overcome three of the persistent problems in the award of child support: insufficient levels of support, inconsistency of criteria used by judges to fashion awards, and inefficiency in the adjudication of child support. The formula attempts to balance the child's needs and the parents' ability to provide for those needs when the family is split and living in two households.
In Connecticut and most other states, the basic child support obligation is calculated by combining the incomes of the parents and multiplying that figure by the percentages set forth in the guidelines. These percentages vary according to the number of children. This number, the total child support obligation due, is then assigned to the parents according to the proportion of their individual contributions to the parents' total income. The noncustodial parent pays a pro rata share to the custodial parent. For example, in Connecticut, the guidelines percentages are applied to take-home pay and are approximately 25% for one child, 37% for two children, 45% for three children, 49% for four children and 53% for five children. The guidelines percentages in New York are applied to gross income (less some generally small deductions) and are: 17% percent for one child; 25% for two children; 29% for three children; 31% for four and no less than 35% for five or more children. The computation under the laws of most other states results in substantially similar dollar amounts of support. California's formula is the most complicated and is generally applied using a computer program.
In addition to the guidelines amount, a court may be authorized or required to award additional sums for a) child-care expenses for employed parents or those furthering their education; b) maintenance of health and life insurance, or reimbursement of health-care expenses, for the benefit of the children; c) private school and college tuition; and d) child-care expenses for parents seeking work.
Courts have broad discretion to deviate from the guidelines when appropriate. Some of the factors courts may, and do, consider, are: 1) the educational needs of either parent; 2) the needs of the children presently supported by the noncustodial parent who are not subject to the current support action and whose support has not been deducted from the determination of the noncustodial parent's income; 3) extraordinary expenses incurred by the noncustodial parent in exercising visitation rights. The guidelines are often applied in an adjusted manner in the case of shared or "split" custody arrangements. Courts may also consider any other factor they deem relevant. For that reason, it is impossible to predict the exact amount of support a court may order. In the vast majority of cases, however, the guidelines are not deviated from.
In the vast majority of cases, child support is awarded based on reported wages of the payor, as demonstrated by income tax returns. However, to avoid injustice, a court may also include in the "base" to which the guidelines are applied certain forms of "imputed" income. Middle- and upper-class parents who wish to limit the amounts contributed to their children's support have a variety of ways to lower their IRS reportable income. This "emptying of pockets" may take several forms: parents may invest capital in non-income-producing assets, transfer income to others, reduce the amount of income earned, and, where self-employed, pay themselves less while at the same time compensating themselves in the form of amenities available through their closely-held corporations. Courts are generally empowered to impute income from various sources including, but not limited to: a) non-income-producing assets; b) perquisites provided as compensation for employment to the extent that such perquisites constitute expenditures for personal use; c) fringe benefits provided as compensation for employment; and d) money, goods, or services provided by relatives or friends. In addition, income can also include an amount imputed as income based upon the parent's former resources or income, if the court determines that a parent has reduced resources or income in order to reduce or avoid the parent's obligation for child support. This kind of "imputation" would be applied when the payor spouse refuses to work or deliberately takes a pay cut.
Under some circumstances, the income from a payor parent's spouse (i.e., the supported child's stepparent) may be deemed to be "available" to the payor for purposes of determining child support obligations. This is likely to occur when, for example, a payor mother has become a housewife in a new marriage and left her old job. As noted above, non-parents are generally not themselves liable for support, however.
As noted above, the right to support is not dependent on the marital status of the parties. Thus, support may be awarded during or after a marriage, in a divorce proceeding, or in a separate support proceeding whether or not the parties have ever been married. The proceeding is usually relatively simple, because the issues are generally limited to the application of guidelines percentages to the payor's income. A typical support-only hearing may be concluded in a few minutes. At the conclusion of the hearing, the court orders the payor to pay support on a regular basis. In most states, the court will order that the amount be deducted from the payor's wages by his employer and transmitted automatically to the recipient.
Getting a child support order isn't the final step in the process. In many cases, it barely seems to be even the first step in the struggle to collect the child support your child is entitled to receive.
There are many enforcement devices available in most states. These include income execution (deducting money from the payor parent's wages), making a negative report to credit reporting agencies, collecting past-due child support from lottery prizes won by the payor parent, intercepting tax refunds due the payor parent from state and federal income tax authorities, property executions (using legal procedures to seize property the payor parent owns, such as real estate and bank accounts), medical support enforcement (where the employer is required to deduct health insurance premiums from the payor parent's wages similar to an income execution), obtaining a court order directing that the payor parent post a cash deposit to secure payment of support, obtaining a court order placing the defaulting parent on probation and, usually where other methods have all failed, obtaining a court order sentencing the defaulting parent to serve jail time. In some states, many of these devices are automatically put into place when the payor parent defaults on the child support obligation if the support is supposed to be paid through a child support enforcement agency.
For most custodial parents, if there is any difficulty in collecting support, it is worthwhile applying for support enforcement services at the local child support enforcement agency (call them and ask them how as the procedure varies from state to state). It is usually recommended that the custodial parent have the support paid through the support enforcement agency even if no problems are anticipated as most support enforcement services take care of the necessary recordkeeping, provide a neutral third party to report to the Court concerning any collection problems, send reminders to the payor parent, send out income executions and automatically undertake many of the enforcement methods without cost to the custodial parent in the event the payor parent does not pay support. However, sometimes the services of the support enforcement agency are not sufficient to collect the support due your child. If that happens, it usually is necessary to seek the assistance of the court in collecting the support. That is done by filing a motion or petition alleging that the payor parent has failed to pay support and asking the court to assist in the collection of support. In most jurisdictions, the support enforcement agency will help you file such a petition. However, it is often necessary to consult with an attorney about such a proceeding, because invoking some court powers may not be wise (e.g., if the payor parent usually pays support but is a little behind in payments, it might be unwise to seek incarceration if incarceration would cause the payor parent to lose his or her job and thus be unable to pay support in the future). Talking about such issues with an attorney prior to filing a petition with the court will help you be sure you know the rules in your state and have considered the costs and benefits of the procedure in question.
Many states have a parent locator service. Call your state's support enforcement agency and ask about the parent locator service. If they are not able to help you, you can often locate a missing parent if you know what state he or she resides in simply by asking for a search of the motor vehicle records for that state. In New York, for example, you can fill out a simple form indicating the payor parent's name and birth date and pay a $5 fee and get back a record from the Department of Motor Vehicles setting forth the driver's name, address, description and driving record. If you have a computer, you can purchase one of the software packages with nation-wide telephone and address listings and search for the payor parent by name. Also, don't forget the simple method of simply calling information (555-1212) for the area where you last knew the payor parent to reside; many, many "missing" persons have been found that way! Also, don't forget to ask friends or relatives of the payor parent, since many people will give up information about a missing parent because the missing parent has failed to pay child support. If all else fails, a private detective can be asked to conduct a search. Often, they can quickly and fairly cheaply locate a person simply using computer searches. However, private investigation can get expensive, and it is wise to be very clear with yourself and your private investigator with respect to how much money you are willing to spend on locating the other parent.
All states (including Connecticut, effective January 1, 1998) have adopted the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act ("UIFSA"), a statute providing for interstate collection of child support. This Act sets up the method for enforcement of support orders where the parties live in different states. Essentially, the party seeking enforcement files a petition in his or her home state. That petition is transmitted to the payor parent's home state and he or she is brought into the court of that state. Usually the custodial parent in a UIFSA proceeding is represented by an attorney who works for a government agency in the payor parent's home state. If you wish to file a UIFSA petition, you should be able to obtain the assistance you need to file the petition and get an attorney appointed to represent you in the other parent's state by contacting your local child support enforcement agency. UIFSA proceedings are often very time-consuming and frustrating. In many cases, the custodial parent is better served hiring an attorney to file a petition in either the custodial parent or payor parent's state (depending upon jurisdictional requirements) directly rather than through the UIFSA procedures. Prior to filing a UIFSA petition, the custodial parent should usually consult with an attorney in his or her home state to discuss whether filing a UIFSA petition is the best method for collecting support under the circumstances of the case.
If you are the payor parent who is faced with an order directing payment of child support that is more than you can pay, don't just ignore the problem!!! Often, circumstances have changed since the support order was first made (e.g., the payor parent has been laid off or has become disabled, or a child has become emancipated or has come to live with the payor parent). If circumstances have changed, it is often possible to get the support order lowered to a more manageable level. In some areas, if you receive Social Security payments and your child receives Social Security payments (paid to the custodial parent), the Court might determine that the payment of Social Security to the custodial parent satisfies the child support obligation. To obtain the benefit of these rules, it is almost always necessary to go back to court and get the present order modified. This is where a few dollars spent on seeing an attorney can be invaluable. There are cases where a payor parent suddenly discovers that thousands of dollars have become due because he or she did not timely seek modification of the order when the circumstances changed. Usually, the modification of the order is effective after the date you apply for modification. Thus, if you wait a few years after the circumstances change, you may find that you still owe all past-due support which might have been had you acted quickly.
Transfers of assets to avoid payment of child support can often be set aside by a court. Furthermore, if the court determines that you transferred away resources to avoid your child support obligation, that could form the basis for a finding of willful violation of a court order and result in a jail sentence.
Generally a person is only liable for the support of his or her own biological children, for the support of adopted children or for children otherwise legally agreed to be supported by him or her. If you voluntarily reduce your income or transfer assets or income to your spouse, the assets of your spouse may be deemed to be available to you for purposes of determination of your own support obligation. However, before liability will be imposed on a non-parent spouse, court proceedings are required to show unusual circumstances rendering that person liable.
Yes. In many jurisdictions, the payor parent is given a period of time to pay the support before the period of incarceration begins. If the support is paid within that period of time, the jail sentence will not have to be served. However, if the payor parent does spend time in jail due to a failure to pay support, it usually will not discharge the support obligation. He or she will still owe the money. In some jurisdictions, however, collection of support might be stayed during the period of incarceration. As a practical matter, it seems unlikely that support can be collected from someone while he or she is in jail.
Having a lawyer is always a good idea. However, many people feel they cannot afford a private attorney. Child support disputes are sometimes complex and often depend on factors that a layman would not consider. Moreover, the parent's closeness to the subject matter makes an objective presentation of evidence nearly impossible. If you cannot afford a lawyer, often there are resources available to you at state expense. Check with your local Legal Services Corporation unit, Legal Aid Society or the court clerk. There are many state agencies that assist recipients of child support in obtaining support orders and collecting the amounts due.
Because the law of child support varies from state to state, a person who may have valuable rights affected by such laws should consult with an attorney who specializes in such matters. The foregoing should not be construed as legal advice, which can only be given by an attorney who is admitted to practice in your state, to whom you pay a fee, and who in return undertakes to protect your rights and to explain your responsibilities.
Protecting yourself in a divorce requires that you maintain a businesslike focus on your objectives. Reasonable objectives in a divorce are to obtain a favorable financial agreement for yourself and protect the interests of your children. It is not reasonable or realistic for you to expect the court to punish your spouse for hurting your feelings or shattering your dreams, nor is it reasonable to expect that you will be rewarded for your years of being a "good" spouse while your husband or wife misbehaved. In most cases, courts are extremely disinterested in marital fault unless it is particularly egregious. There is a limited "pie" or pool of resources available for distribution. The court's objective is to distribute that pool efficiently and fairly.
You need to be very familiar with and have a complete understanding of your family's finances. Start by gathering all records from your home or office, including financial statements, tax returns, appraisals and loan documents and current statements showing retirement benefits such as 401(k) plans, IRAs, pension and profit-sharing plans. For closely-held businesses, get five years of corporate tax returns and/or financial statements. While all this financial information may be obtained through the legal process called discovery, once an action for divorce has been filed it may be more difficult to get the information you need. Therefore, the more documents you can gather before announcement of divorce is made, the more assurance you have that you will know the complete financial picture. Does this mean you should skulk around and see what your spouse is making, spending or owns? You bet!
Transfer money into a bank account in only your name to cover immediate living expenses and attorneys' fees. Be aware that your spouse could close all joint accounts upon your announcement of intent to proceed with divorce.
Also, prepare a detailed budget of your monthly living expenses. Keep track of what you are spending. If you can do this for weeks or months before announcing your intentions, so much the better. Alimony is based upon need and ability to pay. Use bank statements, canceled checks and credit card statements to determine your average monthly expense.
Most importantly, hire an attorney who specializes in family law matters. He knows the ropes and will make sure that you emerge with an objectively fair and reasonable arrangement.