In Connecticut, as in most states, decisions about child custody are decided based on a standard known as “the best interests of the child(ren).” The parents’ wishes and desires are important only to the extent that they will promote what is best for the children. There is a difference between legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody relates to who will make major decisions for the child about health, education, religion, etc. Physical custody describes the living arrangement for the child which will be set forth in a parenting plan.
When the parents agree to share joint custody, there is a presumption that it is in the best interests of the child for the court to approve joint custody. This is because, in general, there is strong evidence that children are better off when they have a strong relationship with both parents.
How does a Connecticut court determine what is in a child’s best interests? Our statutes lay out 16 factors that the court should consider. However, in any specific case there may be additional relevant factors. If you are making an argument for custody before a court, you and your lawyer should analyze these and other relevant factors.
The 16 factors to be considered in Connecticut are:
- The child’s temperament and developmental needs
- The disposition and capacity of each parent to understand and meet those needs
- The child’s informed preferences and any other relevant and material information obtained from the child
- The wishes of the parents as to custody
- The child’s past and current relationship and interactions with each parent, any siblings and any other people who may significantly affect the child’s best interests
- Each parent’s ability and willingness to facilitate and encourage a continuing relationship with the other parent, as appropriate, including compliance with court orders
- Either parent’s manipulative or coercive behavior in an effort to involve the child in the parents’ disputes
- Each parent’s ability to be actively involved in the child’s life
- The child’s adjustment to home, school and community
- How long the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment, along with the desirability of maintaining continuity in that environment; a parent’s voluntarily leaving the family home prior to the divorce generally is not held against that parent
- The stability of each of the child’s existing and proposed residences
- All individuals’ mental and physical health, except that a parent’s disability is not to be determinative
- The cultural background of the child
- If domestic violence has occurred between the parents or other individuals or between the parent and child, the effect of the abuser’s actions on the child
- Whether there has been child abuse or neglect in the family
- Whether a parent has satisfactorily completed a parenting education program, if required
If custody is in dispute, your task, along with your divorce lawyer, will be to consider how these and any other relevant factors will influence a decision about legal or physical custody. Then you must be able to show how they support your preferred custody arrangement. No one factor will be given more weight than another and each case will present a unique combination of factors. An experienced attorney can provide very valuable guidance on these important decisions.