While there a number of mental health concerns about which to be aware when considering the minor children involved in a Connecticut divorce process, there are only two main legal categories which need to be addressed from the court’s perspective: Legal custody and physical custody. At the Law Offices of Eric R. Posmantier, LLC, we strive to treat these issues with a decidedly “kids first” mentality.
Child-Related Divorce Concerns
Custody: Pursuant to Connecticut General Statute § 46b-56, at any time after the commencement of a divorce process, the court can issue orders (“temporary” or “permanent”) regarding the legal custody and physical custody of a child. The law requires the court to consider the “best interests of the child” in fashioning all such custody orders.
What is Legal Custody? This is the right to make major decisions on behalf of the child. “Legal custody” is term given to the party (or parties) making the important decisions for a child, such as those impacting education, religious upbringing, and of course mental and physical health treatment.
Normally, joint legal custody is awarded to the parties. Connecticut General Statute § 46b-56a defines “joint custody” as follows:
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. The court may award joint legal custody without awarding joint physical custody where the parents have agreed to merely joint legal custody.
In extreme circumstances, usually where mental health or serious substance abuse is a concern, or parents are completely unable to communicate with one another (even with help), the court might award sole legal custody to one parent or the other.
What is Physical Custody? This term essentially refers to the parenting schedule. A determination of each parent’s “parenting time” with the children, and the children’s school enrollment, are often most important when considering physical custody.
Creating a workable parenting plan can often be the most emotional and difficult part of a divorce process. Attorney Posmantier and Attorney Stokes work to help resolve parenting disputes as quickly and painlessly as possible.
In our firm, we insist on not referring to parenting time as “visitation,” even though that is the term referenced in the applicable statute. Generally, a parent is not, and should not be deemed a “visitor” in a child’s life. The specific words used can matter, especially to a young child. “It’s time for Daddy’s (or Mommy’s) visitation” will land very differently on a child than “It’s time for Daddy’s or Mommy’s parenting time.”
Pursuant to Connecticut General Statute § 46b-56a, a proper parenting plan may include the following:
- A schedule of the physical residence of the child during the year;
- Provisions allocating decision-making authority to one or both parents regarding the child’s health, education and religious upbringing;
- Provisions for the resolution of future disputes between the parents, including, where appropriate, the involvement of a mental health professional or other parties to assist the parents in reaching a developmentally appropriate resolution to such disputes;
- Provisions for dealing with the parents’ failure to honor their responsibilities under the plan;
- Provisions for dealing with the child’s changing needs as the child grows and matures; and
- Provisions for minimizing the child’s exposure to harmful parental conflict, encouraging the parents in appropriate circumstances to meet their responsibilities through agreements, and protecting the best interests of the child.
What do the Connecticut courts consider when addressing parenting disputes?
The court must consider the “best interests of the child” in making and modifying custody orders. Pursuant to Connecticut General Statute § 46b-56, in determining the best interests of the child, the court may consider, but shall not be limited to, one or more of the following factors:
- The temperament and developmental needs of the child;
- The capacity and the disposition of the parents to understand and meet the needs of the child;
- Any relevant and material information obtained from the child, including the informed preferences of the child;
- The wishes of the child’s parents as to custody;
- The past and current interaction and relationship of the child with each parent, the child’s siblings and any other person who may significantly affect the best interests of the child;
- 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;
- Any manipulation by or coercive behavior of the parents in an effort to involve the child in the parents’ dispute;
- The ability of each parent to be actively involved in the life of the child;
- The child’s adjustment to his or her home, school and community environments;
- The length of time that the child has lived in a stable and satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity in such environment, provided the court may consider favorably a parent who voluntarily leaves the child’s family home pendente lite in order to alleviate stress in the household;
- The stability of the child’s existing or proposed residences, or both;
- The mental and physical health of all individuals involved, except that a disability of a proposed custodial parent or other party, in and of itself, shall not be determinative of custody unless the proposed custodial arrangement is not in the best interests of the child;
- The child’s cultural background;
- The effect on the child of the actions of an abuser, if any domestic violence has occurred between the parents or between a parent and another individual or the child;
- Whether the child or a sibling of the child has been abused or neglected, as defined respectively in section 46b-120; and
- Whether the party satisfactorily completed participation in a parenting education program established pursuant to section 46b-69b.