Custody

In Connecticut there is a presumption that joint custody is in the best interests of a minor child where the parents have agreed on joint legal custody. 1 Not all parents agree on joint legal custody and unfortunately, there are instances when joint legal custody is not in the best interest of the minor child.

When parents cannot communicate and constantly bicker about who shall control the minor children, joint legal custody is not appropriate. A court might be inclined to award sole custody in that circumstance or joint legal custody with final decision-making by only one parent.

Along with joint legal custody, there are three possibilities for physical custody. There is primary physical custody, shared physical custody, and split physical custody.

Primary physical custody means that the children spend the majority of their time with one parent. In shared custody, parental access is basically equal although it need not be identical. Split custody is when one or more of the children of the marriage live with one parent and one or more of the children live with the other parent.

There are many factors to consider when determining custody. Conn. Gen. Stat. §46b-56(c) mentions the following factors in making custody decisions:

1. The temperament and developmental needs of the child;

2. The capacity and the disposition of the parents to understand and meet the needs of the child;

3. Any relevant and material information obtained from the child, including the informed preferences of the child;

4. The wishes of the child's parents as to custody;

5. The past and current interaction and relationship of the child with each parent, the child's siblings and any other person who may significantly affect the best interests of the child;

6. The willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage such continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent as is appropriate, including compliance with any court orders;

7. Any manipulation by or coercive behavior of the parents in an effort to involve the child in the parents' dispute;

8. The ability of each parent to be actively involved in the life of the child;

9. The child's adjustment to his or her home, school and community environments;

10. The length of time that the child has lived in a stable and satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity in such environment, provided the court may consider favorably a parent who voluntarily leaves the child's family home pendente lite in order to alleviate stress in the household;

11. The stability of the child's existing or proposed residences, or both;

12. The mental and physical health of all individuals involved, except that a disability of a proposed custodial parent or other party, in and of itself, shall not be determinative of custody unless the proposed custodial arrangement is not in the best interests of the child;

13. The child's cultural background;

14. The effect on the child of the actions of an abuser, if any domestic violence has occurred between the parents or between a parent and another individual or the child;

15. Whether the child or a sibling of the child has been abused or neglected, as defined respectively in section 46b-120; and

16. Whether the party satisfactorily completed participation in a parenting education program established pursuant to section 46b-69b.

When parents cannot agree on the form of custody that is best for the minor children, there is generally a need for a Family Relations Study. In addition, a Guardian Ad Litem is appointed to represent the children's best interest if they are young. If the children are older, an Attorney for the Minor Children is appointed.

Most custody and visitation disputes do settle. However, trial is an option if negotiation and/or mediation fail.


1 Conn. Gen. Stat. 46b-56a reads in relevant part:
There shall be a presumption, affecting the burden of proof, that joint custody is in the best interests of a minor child where the parents have agreed to an award of joint custody or so agree in open court at a hearing for the purpose of determining the custody of the minor child or children of the marriage. If the court declines to enter an order awarding joint custody pursuant to this subsection, the court shall state in its decision the reasons for denial of an award of joint custody.