Connecticut custody arrangements reflect the children’s best interests

Connecticut family laws are laser-focused on the best interests of children. When the court approves living and care arrangements for kids when their parents divorce or separate, the judge in the case is given wide discretion in how to determine what is truly in the minor children's best interests.

One Connecticut case calls the judge's responsibility in a custody decision an "awesome" one, and not in the currently popular sense of the word. In every aspect, it is paramount that the family court keep the children's best interests front and center.

Best interest

So what exactly is the "best interest" of a child according to Connecticut laws and cases? In best-interest discussions, words are used like consideration of the child's well-being, welfare, growth or development. And while certainly those are areas that affect a child's interest, perhaps the strength of Connecticut law on the subject is that "best interest of the child" is not narrowly defined, but rather the judges involved can truly individualize that question in each case.

Child custody

Child custody has two aspects. "Legal custody" gives the power to make important decisions about the child's life such as those about education, medical care and religion. Legal custody may be held solely by one parent or jointly by both. "Physical custody" determines where the child will live and which parent will control daily care. Physical custody may be sole, shared or joint. In many cases, the child will have a primary residence with one parent where the child attends school, but also spend regular parenting time (traditionally called visitation) with the other parent.

The judge ultimately decides on best interest

Typically in a divorce, the parties try to negotiate a settlement agreement in which they agree to major issues like property division, alimony, and child custody and support. However, even when they present an agreed-upon parenting plan to the Connecticut court, the judge must review it with an eye to the children's best interests. If the judge feels the parents' custody agreement is not in the kids' best interest, the judge can reject it and fashion another own arrangement.

Contested custody

If the parties cannot agree on custody issues, the judge must decide in a divorce trial. Each parent will have the opportunity to present evidence, and the court may order that an attorney or guardian ad litem be appointed to look out for the children's interests. Also, the court can order an independent custody evaluation and he or she has the right to interview the children about their preferences.

Connecticut statute says that a presumption exists that joint custody is in the best interest of a child and if the judge decides that it is not, he or she must lay out the basis for that decision in writing.

Overarching principles

Connecticut law requires the court to decide custody and parenting time issues in ways that "serve the best interests of the child and provide the child with the active and consistent involvement of both parents commensurate with their abilities and interests." The court is also to remember the "rights and responsibilities of both parents."

The factors

The law goes on to specifically list 16 specific factors that the court "may" (not shall or must) look at in its determination of what is in the child's best interest. Interestingly, some other states with similar lists of best-interest factors make consideration of each by the judge mandatory, not optional. Connecticut gives judges broad leeway to decide in each case exactly which factors are important to the individual child's best interest. The Connecticut law even says that the court is "not required to assign any weight to any of the factors that it considers."

The listed factors include such important matters as the child's developmental needs, the ability of the parents to meet the child's needs, input and wishes of the child and parents, the current stability of the home, cultural background, domestic violence, the mental and physical health of all involved and so on.

Legal counsel

This only begins to touch on the complex issues involved in a Connecticut child custody matter. If you are contemplating divorce and have children, consult an experienced family lawyer to begin to plan your legal strategy to meet your kids' best interests.

  • American Bar Association
  • Connecticut Bar Association
9.4Richard H Raphael
Connecticut Distinguished Attorney

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