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Connecticut Divorce – Child Custody Issues

When Children are involved in a Divorce there can be many questions. These pages should answer many of them. For children, divorce can be stressful, sad, and confusing. At any age, kids may feel uncertain about what life will be like, or angry at the prospect of Mom and Dad splitting up for good. Divorce isnʼt easy, but as a parent you can make the process and its effects less painful for your children. Helping your kids cope with your divorce means providing stability in your home and attending to your children ʼs physical and emotional needs with a reassuring, positive attitude. To make this happen, youʼll need to take care of yourself—and work as peacefully as possible with your ex. It wonʼt be a seamless process, but your children can move forward feeling confident in your unconditional love.


“Shared physical custody” is defined as a situation where the noncustodial parent exercises care and control of the child “for periods substantially in excess of a normal visitation schedule. Shared custody means that both parents share all parenting responsibilities, including financial responsibilities. Each parent is therefore required to provide a portion of all the housing, food, clothing, education, medical, and social expenses of the child. This can be accomplished, for example, by setting out specifically the terms of the shared financial responsibilities in the Judgment (decree) or by pegging one parent’s share of the expenses to the Child Support Guidelines. Whether the shared financial arrangement between the parties is flexible or fixed will depend on the particular circumstances of the parties and how well they work together on parenting and financial issues.


“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.” CONN. GEN. STATS. § 46b-56a(b) (2011).


Sole Custody means that the child will live primarily with one parent. That parent has the final decision making responsibility for the child and is called the custodial parent. The custodial parent may, however, consult with the noncustodial parent. Usually, the judge will make sure the child has ongoing contact, or visitation, with the noncustodial parent.


Parental Education Parenting education programs are classes designed to educate adults about the many issues children face when their family situation changes. The programs train participants about how to help children adjust in a healthy way to divorce or living apart from a parent. The programs include information about childrenʼs developmental stages, helping children adjust to parent separation, cooperative parenting, conflict management and dispute resolution techniques, guidelines for visitation and parent access, and stress reduction for children.If you have children under age eighteen, you must participate in a parenting education program within sixty (60) days after a family case is filed in court. All parties involved in divorce, dissolution of a civil union, annulment, separation, custody or visitation cases are required by law to participate in a parent- ing education program. Both judges and family support magistrates have the authority to order your participation in the program.


Reasonable visitation means you and your spouse want to arrange parenting time with your child yourselves. This works well when the parents and the child do not need a fixed schedule, and both parents are flexible and agreeable. Some judges may require you to prepare a written plan. Fixed schedule visitation means setting definite hours during the week for the child to spend time with the noncustodial parent. Fixed schedules can include overnight visits, weekends, weekday evenings, and sharing holidays, school vacations, and summers. Supervised visitation means that some responsible adult must be present when the child is visiting a parent. The judge may order supervised visitation if the safety of the child is a concern. A no contact order means that the non custodial parent may not see the child because the judge has decided contact with the parent is not in the childʼs best interest.


Under Connecticut law, persons with significant ties to children have visitation rights. Recently, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that grandparents and others must demonstrate that they have a “parent-like” relationship with the child and that the child will suffer harm if visitation is denied. This is a heavy burden of proof and it will have a significant impact on the ability of third-parties to obtain visitation orders.


The Court always retains jurisdiction over issues relating to the custody and well-being of minor children. Any orders relating to child support can be modified upon a showing of a “substantial change in circumstances.” Conn. Gen. Stat. §46b-86. When reviewing child support orders, the courts use a benchmark of a 15% deviation from the guidelines to determine whether a change in circumstances qualifies as “substantial”. As to alimony, the parties can restrict the right of the Court to awards by making them “non-modifiable” as to either amount or duration of payments (or both). Once marital property is distributed, it is very difficult to modify an agreement or order and obtain a redistribution. Property settlements between parties are usually final as of the date of the divorce and can only be revisited if there are specific special circumstances (i.e. fraud, duress, mutual mistake) that are brought to the court’s attention within a specific time period.


Connecticut has child support guidelines which set the amount of child support to be paid by the noncustodial parent. The chart in the guidelines tells you the amount of child sup- port to be paid based on the number of children and the combined net income of both parents. The guidelines also list reasons the judge or family support magistrate can use for deviating from the chart. You can get a copy of the child support guidelines from the court clerkʼs office. Before your court hearing, you will need to fill out the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet (CCSG-1). A family relations counselor can help you fill this form out in court before your hearing. If you are going to family support magistrate court, a support enforcement officer can help you fill this form out. All child support orders are paid through an income withholding order unless the parties agree or the court orders otherwise.


Medical and dental insurance can be just as important to your child as financial support from the other parent. Usually, at least one parent must provide health insurance for your child if it is available through work or another group insurance plan at a reasonable cost. The judge or family support magistrate All child support orders are paid through an income withholding order unless the parties agree or the court orders otherwise decides what is a reasonable cost. The judge or family support magistrate also decides how uninsured medical and dental expenses will be shared, if you and your spouse cannot reach agreement. There is a state health insurance program for children called the HUSKY Plan (Healthcare for UninSured Kids and Youth). The court may order you to apply for the HUSKY Plan for your child(ren) if other insurance is not available to you or your (ex)spouse at a reasonable cost. You may also apply for the HUSKY Plan on your own. For more information call toll-free 1-877-CT HUSKY or visit www.huskyhealth.com


Either parent may make a motion asking the court to order educational support for a child to attend an institution of higher education or a private occupational school for up to four academic years or until the child attains twenty-three years of age, whichever is sooner. If no educational support order is entered at the time of your divorce, and your divorce decree does not specifically provide that a later motion for educational support may be filed, no educational support order may be entered thereafter.