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Connecticut child custody basics

When a Connecticut marriage ends in divorce, child custody is one of the toughest, most emotionally charged issues to be resolved. Custody and the related question of visitation encompass these crucial questions:

  • Physical custody: with whom will the child live?
  • Legal custody: who will make important decisions about the child's upbringing and well being?
  • Visitation: what will the schedule be when the child is with each parent, including during weekends, holidays and school breaks?

In Connecticut, either kind of custody can be jointly held by both parents. Joint legal custody would mean that the divorced parents would make important life decisions affecting the child like those about education, health and religion together. Joint physical custody would mean that the child would spend a substantial amount of time living at each parents' residence, rather than having a primary residence with only one parent, which would be a sole physical custody arrangement.

When a child lives primarily with one parent, the other is usually granted visitation rights, meaning that the child spends time with that parent away from home on a regular basis.

Parental agreement

As difficult as it may be when a marriage is over and each parent cares deeply about the child, usually it is better if the divorcing spouses can negotiate an agreement that sets out how custody and visitation will be handled by the family going forward after the divorce. At least the arrangement will have elements of compromise. An experienced family law attorney can often assist a party in settlement negotiations.

If a negotiated agreement on custody is not possible, custody is "contested" and the Connecticut court will issue an order setting out custody and visitation arrangements. Unfortunately, having a judge decide may result in an arrangement with which neither spouse is happy. In addition, the court process may be more stressful and expensive, and could take much longer.

Judge considers the child's best interests

When a Connecticut judge decides child custody issues, the primary and overarching consideration that the law requires him or her to consider is the child's best interests, taking into account the parents' "rights and responsibilities" and "abilities and interests." In this context, the court may order either or both parents or the child to attend counseling and alcohol or drug screening, if it is in the child's best interest.

The Connecticut custody statute sets out a list of factors that the judge may consider in determining what is in the child's best interests, but the judge must not consider all of the listed factors and may weigh other, unlisted factors. Some of the suggested factors include:

  • The child's temperament, developmental needs, adjustment to the current living situation, mental and physical health, cultural heritage and "informed preferences."
  • Parental ability to meet the child's needs and remain involved in his or her life.
  • Information from the child.
  • Parental wishes.
  • Relationship of the child with each parent, siblings and other people.
  • Parental commitment to facilitating the child's relationship with the other parent.
  • Parents' pulling the child into marital disputes.
  • The stability of each parent's living arrangement.
  • Parental mental and physical health.
  • Domestic violence.
  • Parent participation in official parent education classes.

Legal guidance

It is in the best interest of any divorcing Connecticut parent to seek out the legal advice of an experienced family law attorney. A divorce lawyer can assist in negotiating issues of custody and visitation, or represent the parent before the court to advocate for a positive outcome to all custody issues.