JOINT CUSTODY: “means an order awarding legal custody of the minor child to both parents, providing for joint decision-making by the parents and providing that physical custody shall be shared by the parents in such a way as to assure the child of continuing contact with both parents.”

“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.

*The focus of joint custody decision making involves primarily medical, schooling and religious issues regarding the minor child. Day to day decisions are the responsibility of the parent exercising custody/visitation of the minor child each day.

SOLE CUSTODY: “The difference between a sole custodian and joint legal custodian is that the sole custodian has the ultimate authority to make all decisions regarding a child’s welfare such as education, religious instruction and medical care whereas a joint legal custodian shares the responsibility for those decisions.”

SHARED PHYSICAL CUSTODY: “means a situation in which each exercises physical care and control of the child for periods substantially in excess of a normal visitation schedule. An equal sharing of physical care and control of the child is not required for a finding of shared physical custody.”

*All Cases involving custody are governed by a court ordered Parenting Plan that both parties, a division of the Court called Family Relations and counsel all work to devise and agree upon. Those cases where there is no agreement are considered fully contested cases. Fully contested cases are referred to the Regional Family Trial Docket at either the Middletown or Waterbury Judicial Districts for further adjudication.

As a party to a family action concerning children whether through a dissolution of marriage or custody action one or more of the following factors may be considered:

A) The capacity of the parents to understand and meet the needs of the child;

B) The developmental needs of the child and information obtained from the child (note: this would only be determined by a family relations counselor, guardian ad litem or attorney for the minor child appointed by the Court);

C) The past and present interaction between both the child and the parents;

D) The stability of the child’s current and proposed residence’s;

E) The mental health of all parties; and

F) The ability of each parent to be actively involved in the life of the child.

Further, the best interests of the child are also considerable factors that are taken into account. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

A) The capacity and the disposition of the parents to understand and meet the needs of the child;

B) 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; and

C) Any manipulation by or coercive behavior of the parents in an effort to involve the child in the parents’ dispute.

Although these factors are not the only factors considered, as each case is determined according to a case-by-case basis, they are at the forefront of any custody determination.

THIRD PARTY CUSTODY ACTIONS (INCLUDING GRANDPARENTS RIGHTS)

The State of Connecticut adheres to the standard in the case of Roth v. Weston, in regard to third party custody actions. The third party requesting custody must understand that the desires of a fit parent outweigh, in the absence of any allegation and proof of clear and convincing evidence that the child would suffer actual, significant harm if deprived of that visitation.

*The case law in Roth is clear in that it defines a standard for third party custody and/or visitation as a lengthy and costly process that does not favor the third party.

MODIFICATION OF CUSTODY

Modification: “means a child custody determination that changes, replaces, supercedes or is otherwise made after a previous determination concerning the same child, whether or not it is made by the Court that made the prior custody determination.”

Pertinent case law:

Kelly v. Kelly, 54 Conn. App. 50,56, 732 A.2d 808 (1999). “Because the establishment of changed circumstances is a condition precedent to a party’s relief, it is pertinent for the trial court to inquire as to what, if any, new circumstances warrants a modification of the existing order.”

Hall v. Hall, 186 Conn. 118,122, 439 A.2d 447 (1982). Modification of a custody order must be “based upon either a material change of circumstances which alters the court’s finding of the best interests of the child … or a finding that the custody order … was not based upon the best interests of the child.”

PARENTAL RELOCATION

In any family case that involves children and a parents desire to relocate with that child, the best interests of the child are the determining factor. However, in any post judgment motion for relocation, the factors as decided through Ireland v. Ireland govern.

Ireland v. Ireland, 246 Conn. 413, 428, 717 A.2d 676 (1998). “In summary, we hold, therefore, that a custodial parent seeking permission to relocate bears the initial burden of demonstrating, by a preponderance of the evidence, that (1) the relocation is for a legitimate purpose, and (2) the proposed location is reasonable in light of that purpose. Once the custodial parent has made such a prima facie showing, the burden shifts to the noncustodial parent to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the relocation would not be in the best interests of the child.”

Connecticut General Statute section 46b-56d focuses on a parents wishes to relocate and the burden of proof needed to accomplish that goal. The Court sets forth factors that include the following:

(a) In any proceeding before the Superior Court arising after the entry of a judgment awarding custody of a minor child and involving the relocation of either parent with the child, where such relocation would have a significant impact on an existing parenting plan, the relocating parent shall bear the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that

(1) the relocation is for a legitimate purpose,

(2) the proposed location is reasonable in light of such purpose, and

(3) the relocation is in the best interests of the child.

(b) In determining whether to approve the relocation of the child under subsection (a) of this section, the court shall consider, but such consideration shall not be limited to:

(1) Each parent’s reasons for seeking or opposing the relocation;

(2) the quality of the relationships between the child and each parent;

(3) the impact of the relocation on the quantity and the quality of the child’s future contact with the nonrelocating parent;

(4) the degree to which the relocating parent’s and the child’s life may be enhanced economically, emotionally and educationally by the relocation; and

(5) the feasibility of preserving the relationship between the nonrelocating parent and the child through suitable visitation arrangements.