Divorce Basics in Connecticut: Motion Practice

Once your case has begun, there may come a time — either before or after the Case Management Conference — when a dispute rises to the level that it requires the intervention of a judge. A large percentage of divorce litigants in Connecticut stay out of court entirely, at least until the final, uncontested hearing when the judge approves a final separation agreement and enters a judgment.

Others, however, are faced with more immediate, short term problems which may be difficult to resolve either with or without attorneys. Determining who will have temporary possession of the marital home, how the children will be cared for while the case is pending, or how household bills will be paid until judgment are some examples of what are referred to as “pendente lite” issues which may be resolved by motion practice.

A motion is any written request by a party, in a form described in more detail in Chapter 11 of the Connecticut Practice Book, properly filed with the court in a manner upon which a judge can grant relief to the party requesting the action. Family division motions in the Connecticut Superior Courts are accepted either in person (at the appropriate clerk’s office), by mail or by fax, with the appropriate facsimile filing cover sheet (also available on the Connecticut Judicial Branch website). Motions should be concise, in plain language, and with no more facts than are necessary to spell out the nature of the request from the Court. Certain post-judgment motions require filing fees; however, pendente lite motions may be filed at no additional cost, can be easily filed by fax, and automatically appear on the “short calendar” for that courthouse within a couple weeks of filing the motion.

The family “short calendar” call is done on one day of each week (Mondays in Stamford and Danbury Judicial Districts, and Thursdays in Bridgeport, for example). At this time, all of the family case motions that were filed within the previous week will be listed, giving the parties to the motion an opportunity to be heard on that date. [1]

A motion filed in the Fairfield Judicial District at Bridgeport, for example, will appear on a short calendar list on a future Thursday, and the parties to the dissolution action may consult the judicial website short calendar lists to confirm the precise date the motion is “written on.” Armed with that information, if the party who filed the motion is ready to proceed, he or she must do two things. First, the motion must be “marked ready” by following the procedure and timeframe designated by the Court in that district (in Bridgeport, this must be done by 4 pm on the Tuesday before the Thursday short calendar; in Stamford, however, this must be done by the Thursday a full eleven days before the hearing).

Second, the party marking the motion ready must notify the other side by “serving” written notification of the ready marking by fax, email, or regular mail. The moving party should bring proof of this notification to court on the short calendar date. If a party is not “ready,” is unavailable on the short calendar date, or otherwise decides to delay the motion being heard by the Court, one can file a “reclaim” form with the clerk (also by fax, and also available on the judicial forms website). The filing of that reclaim will cause the motion to reappear on the next available short calendar date, triggering new deadlines for marking the motion ready. In all cases, if a motion addresses financial issues, the court rules require that the parties file and exchange updated financial affidavits at least five (5) days before the hearing.

At the actual short calendar call, the parties should be present before 9:30 am. In some judicial districts (Stamford and Danbury) but not all (Bridgeport), the judge will actually “call” the calendar in order. Parties or attorneys are expected to announce their presence, their intention to proceed, and give the Court an estimation of how much time the motion will take if an amicable resolution cannot be reached. With all motions, other than very limited cases in which legal argument is all that is required, the parties will be directed to visit the Family Relations Office, where a court official will attempt to mediate and resolve the subject matter of the motion(s) to be heard that day.

Unrepresented parties meet personally with the family relations counselors; otherwise, only attorneys attend and discuss the matter behind closed doors in the Family Relations Office. If an agreement can be forged, sometimes the family relations counselor himself or herself will draft the document and the parties will sign it on the spot, subject to approval by the Court. Family relations counselors are trained to opine on matters regarding parenting disputes, and often will assist in running child support calculations where applicable. If the matter is excessively complex, would require substantially more time than the constraints of short calendar would allow, or if an agreement cannot be reached, the family relations counselor will provide the parties with a form confirming their attendance for the Court. This form will be taken back to the assigned judge, who will then determine when a hearing will be conducted.

This is where parties should be forewarned: many, many motions in family cases are filed each and every week. Hundreds of litigants across the state appear eagerly before family division judges at short calendar, ready to proceed with their motions. There are simply not enough judges, and not enough courtrooms, to handle every motion that cannot be resolved by the Family Relations Office, most certainly not in the few hours that are available on any given short calendar date. Parties may be frustrated by a process which involves considerable waiting, and sometimes exasperating rescheduling.

While courts will make best efforts to hear emergent matters first (restraining orders regarding abuse, for example), the parties are often best served by attempting in good faith to resolve their temporary dispute (the subject of the motion) by way of a written agreement. Having an attorney can indeed help speed up the process for any litigant unfamiliar with the family court docket, but in Fairfield County, there is often no replacement for creative, effective negotiation and compromise in resolving temporary issues to the mutual benefit of the parties.

[1] An exception to this timing is in the Stamford/Norwalk Judicial District, which currently utilizes a program wherein the motions are written on the calendar a full two (2) weeks before the short calendar date. Other judicial districts provide litigants with approximately one (1) week’s notice. We suggest that you consult with your attorney or with the clerk’s office regarding motion practice in your judicial district.

By Maya Murphy, P.C., Connecticut
Law Firm Website: https://mayalaw.com

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Joseph C. Maya, Esq.
Joseph C. Maya is the Managing Partner at Maya Murphy, P.C., and handles cases involving these legal issues in New York and Connecticut.

Copyright Maya Murphy, P.C.

Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication at the time it was written. It is not intended to provide legal advice or suggest a guaranteed outcome as individual situations will differ and the law may have changed since publication. Readers considering legal action should consult with an experienced lawyer to understand current laws and.how they may affect a case. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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