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What is the Return Date in a Connecticut Divorce?

Relocation Attorney Meghan FreedThere are two dates that are established right when you first initiate a divorce in Connecticut — the “Return Date” and the “Case Management Date.”  It’s no surprise that we are often asked what the Return Date means in the context of a Connecticut divorce.

The answer is the same whether you will be in Hartford, Tolland Rockville, Bridgeport, Middletown, or any other Connecticut court — every Connecticut family court handles this in the same manner.

What is the Divorce Return Date in Connecticut?

The Return Date is set by the “Date of the Filing of the Action” or “Filing Date.”  The Filing Date is not the date the papers are served by one spouse upon the other spouse.  It is the date the divorce papers are filed with the court together with proof that they were served by a Marshal.

The most significant thing about the Return Date is generally that it marks the technical start of the divorce. Nothing happens in court on the Return Date and it is not necessary for anyone to appear in court that day.

What Must Happen Before the Return Date?

The initiating spouse’s attorney will arrange to have a Marshal serve the other spouse (the Defendant) with the divorce papers — minimally the Summons, Complaint, and Notice of Automatic Orders — twelve days before the Return Date. The spouse who is initiating divorce (the Plaintiff) must “return” (see what they did there?) the original documents along with (1) proof that the Defendant was served and (2) the Court filing fee to Court at least six days before the Return Date.  Once this is completed, the court opens its file and assigns the case a docket number.

How Do You Select the Return Date in a Connecticut Divorce?

In Connecticut, the divorce Return Date is always on a Tuesday.  We generally select a Tuesday about four weeks out as the Return Date.  The objective is to allow ample time for the Marshal to serve the papers and get everything filed with the court.  That said, our client’s goals and other factors that may make service more complicated or take longer (for example when one spouse lives internationally or in another state) ultimately dictate what we choose for a return date here at Freed Marcroft.

Does the Defendant Have to Do Anything Regarding the Return Date?

The Defendant does not need not physically appear in court when the divorce begins.  However, the Defendant (or the attorney on behalf of the Defendant)  should file an “Appearance” with the court.  An Appearance notifies the court that the Defendant is “appearing” in the case, and provides as well as provides the name and contact information.  Although you may file an Appearance later, generally speaking, it is best to file it no more than two days after the Return Date.

Filing an Appearance allows you to respond to the Summons and Complaint and ensure that you receive notice of future court dates.

If no Appearance is filed, temporary decisions concerning the children, the marital home, child support, alimony, and other orders may be entered in the Defendant’s absence.  Plus, after ninety days, the judge may enter a divorce by default against a spouse who never filed an Appearance.

Both the Plaintiff and the Defendant want to talk to their respective attorneys about the Automatic Orders.  They go into effect and apply to the Plaintiff when the complaint is signed.  They apply to the Defendant as soon as the Notice of Automatic Orders is served the other initial divorce papers.  The Automatic Orders orders remain in effect throughout the legal action except if they are specifically changed by a different court order.

What Else is Based Upon the Return Date?

The most significant thing is the Case Management Date — which is also established on the papers that begin the divorce.  The court annually issues Case Management Dates for each return date.  (They vary from court to court, unlike with the Return Date.)  The Case Management Date is traditionally the first day you can get divorced (with the exception of when the spouses have reached a full agreement and request the court waive the 90 Day Waiting Period).  For more on the Case Management Date, click here.

Next Steps

At Freed Marcroft, we want you to understand what is happening in your divorce — including what different terminology applies.  Depending on your goals, skilled divorce counsel can develop a legal strategy keyed into those goals.  Everything from when to have your spouse served, to what Return Date to select, to how the Automatic Orders can assist can be included in your plan.

Our first step at Freed Marcroft, the Goals & Planning Conference, is designed to get to the heart of your problem and unveil your true goals for your life. Once we discover your goals at the Goals and Planning Conference, we are able to take our collective experience with divorce, law, the available ways to divorce, strategy, courts, judges, and other lawyers, and build a divorce customized for you.

Schedule your Goals & Planning Conference today, or contact us either here or by phone at 860-560-8160.

Written by Meghan Freed