Provisions Made for Divorce Without Court Appearance – Governor Lamont’s Executive Order No. 7CC

by Kelly A. Scott

On April 21, 2020, Connecticut Governor Lamont issued Executive Order No. 7CC “Protection of Public Health and Safety During COVID-19 Pandemic and Response – Municipal Fiscal Authority, Benefits Protection, Access to Courts Without Certain In-Person Actions.” Subparagraphs four through eight impact family law matters and will hopefully open the door (at least remotely) to entering judgments in uncontested matters during this COVID-19 crisis.[1]

Paragraph four of Executive Order No. 7CC modifies the requirement within Connecticut General Statutes §46b-51 that parties must physically appear in court for the Court to make a finding that a marriage has broken down irretrievably. With this Executive Order, a Court can make such finding through not-in-person testimony, including in the form of an affidavit. Furthermore, in cases where the parties have submitted a written agreement as to all the terms of their dissolution or legal separation, this Executive Order also enables the Court to accept such not-in-person testimony from the parties as the basis for making other necessary jurisdictional and factual findings in order to enter a judgment. Simply put, this Executive Order means that the Court can enter judgments in uncontested dissolutions if the parties submit sworn affidavits containing all the information the Court would have otherwise heard through in-person testimony.

Paragraph five of Executive Order No. 7CC eases the requirement that a parent must be present in court to waive the right to file a motion or petition for educational support. Pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes §46b-56c(b)(1) “the court may enter an educational support order at the time of entry of a decree of dissolution, legal separation or annulment, and no educational support order may be entered thereafter unless the decree explicitly provides that a motion or petition for an educational support order may be filed by either parent at a subsequent date.” If a parent wants to waive the right to seek an educational support order, the Court is required to make a finding that the parent fully understands the consequences of such waiver. With this Executive Order, the Court will be permitted to make such a finding “upon submission of proof deemed sufficient by the Court that the parent fully understands the consequences of such waiver.” Presumably, this means a sworn affidavit will suffice.

Paragraph six of Executive Order No. 7CC eliminates the in-person requirement of Connecticut General Statutes §46b-65(b) when a party seeks to convert a judgment of legal separation into a judgment of dissolution of marriage. In other words, the Court can now convert a decree of legal separation into a decree of dissolution of marriage upon application of a party, without that party appearing in court. 

Paragraph seven of Executive Order No. 7CC impacts the requirements of Connecticut General Statutes §46b-66(a). Pursuant to that statute, when parties have submitted a final agreement to the Court pertaining to, inter alia, the custody, access and care of their children and/or alimony or disposition of property, the Court must make inquiry into the parties’ financial resources, needs and fitness to have custody or access, in order to find that the agreement is fair and equitable under all of the circumstances and approve it as a final order. This Executive Order specifically authorizes the requisite inquiry to be satisfied through the submission of sworn affidavits containing statements by the parties as to each element of the requisite inquiry described in the statute.

Finally, paragraph eight of Executive Order No. 7CC eases the requirements as to factual findings on the record. Whenever applicable law requires the Court to make a specific finding on the record, in any proceeding under Chapter 815j (dissolution of marriage, legal separation and annulment), 815y (paternity matters) or 816 (support) of the Connecticut General Statutes, this Executive Order enables such requirement to be satisfied if the Court written judgment, order or memorandum of decision includes such finding(s).

As of the time of publication of this alert, the Judicial branch has not issued any guidance or procedures for how this Executive Order will be implemented. However, it is expected that such information will be forthcoming. Our Family Law practice here at Pullman & Comley LLC is closely monitoring the situation and will provide further updates as more information becomes available.

[1] The Executive Order as it relates to family law matters specifically excludes from the changed processes any case in which a restraining order or protective order, pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes §46b-15 or §46b-38c, respectively, is in effect or an application for the same is pending.  

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