Child Custody and Visitation Laws in Connecticut

Learn more about how Connecticut courts make decisions for parents who can't agree on custody issues.

What Types of Custody Are Available in Connecticut?

Like most states, Connecticut offers parents physical and legal custody, as well as parenting time. In most situations, one parent will file a motion (a court form) to start the custody process. In this form, you’ll either ask for the court to approve a joint parenting plan or ask the judge to decide custody and parenting time for you. The process can be tedious and slow, but in the end, the judge will create a custody order that contains specific information about each parent’s authority, rights, and responsibilities.

In rare cases, waiting for the court to evaluate custody during a trial might not be in the child’s best interest. If you believe that your child’s health or welfare is in danger, you can request an emergency ex-parte custody order, which is where you ask the judge to make an immediate order regarding custody. The court will still hold a hearing, but it will happen faster than a regular custody trial. Both parents have a right to care for their child, so judges will only issue emergency orders in situations where the court finds that there is an immediate and present risk to the child’s physical or psychological well-being.

If We Can’t Agree on Custody, How Will the Judge Decide?

The court encourages parents to work together to create a parenting plan that works best for their family. If you and your ex-spouse agree on who should care for the child’s daily needs, and who should be responsible for making significant decisions affecting the child, you can submit a joint parenting plan to the court for a judge to approve. The court presumes that the parenting plan is in the child’s best interest when the parents agree.

If you can’t agree, the court will decide custody based ob the children's best interests. If both parents want sole custody, the court must consider what’s best for the child’s physical and mental health, and the judge will decide using the following factors:

  • the child’s developmental needs
  • each parent’s capacity to understand and meet the child’s needs
  • the parents’ and child’s wishes
  • the past and current relationship and interaction with the child and parents
  • each parent’s willingness and ability to facilitate and encourage an ongoing relationship between the child and other parent
  • whether either parent is guilty of manipulating or coerce the child into favoring that parent during the custody trial
  • each parent’s ability to be actively involved in the child’s life
  • the child’s adjustment to home, school, and community environments
  • the length of time that the child lived in a stable and satisfactory environment
  • the stability of each parent’s residence
  • the child’s and parents’ mental and physical health
  • the child’s cultural backgrounds
  • whether either parent is guilty of domestic violence, and
  • whether there is a history of child abuse on the child or siblings of the child.

What Is Physical and Legal Custody?

Now that you know what custody options are available to you in Connecticut, it’s important to understand the difference between physical and legal custody. Physical custody refers to each parent’s time with the child and includes where the child will live, and which parent will be responsible for the child’s daily needs.

Legal custody refers to a parent’s right to make decisions relating to the child’s education, health, or general welfare. Some of the most common issues that arise with legal custody include the child’s residence and relocation, major medical procedures, and religious upbringing. For example, if you would like your child to received braces from an orthodontist, but the other parent disagrees, and you share legal custody, you’ll need to ask the court to decide.

What Does It Mean If Custody Is Sole or Joint?

In addition to deciding physical and legal custody, the judge will also evaluate whether the parents should share custody or if sole custody would be more appropriate.

Courts prefer joint legal custody, meaning each parent will have an equal say in any decision that affects the child in a significant way, like schooling, or medical procedures. It’s rare to see a situation where one parent has sole legal custody, but if one parent is abusive, absent, or neglectful, it might be appropriate.

Unlike sole legal custody, which is rare, sole physical custody is more common. Joint physical custody doesn’t mean the child will spend the same amount of time with each parent. The court may order the child to stay the weekdays with one parent and weekends with the other, or, in some cases, the child will alternate one week with each parent. As the child gets older, joint custody arrangements can be challenging to maintain, which is why the court is more likely to order sole physical custody.

It’s essential for the child to have a healthy relationship with the non-custodial parent, so if the court awards one parent sole physical custody, the judge will create a visitation schedule for the child and the other parent.

I’m Not the Custodial Parent, Will I Still See My Child?

It depends. In most cases, the non-custodial parent will have unsupervised parenting time with the children. On the other hand, if the court declared the other parent the “custodial parent” because you are unfit, abusive, or drug or alcohol dependent, you may have limited or supervised visitation with your child.

It’s best for families to work together to create a schedule that works best for everyone, especially the child. It’s important to consider each parent’s work schedules and the child’s extra-curricular and social calendars.

Whether you develop a visitation schedule, or the court does, it should include:

  • holidays
  • weekend and mid-week visitation
  • school breaks
  • summer extended parenting time, and
  • pick-up and drop-off information.

Modifying an Existing Custody or Parenting Time Order

As time goes on, you may find that your current arrangement is no longer working for your family. Stability is essential for children, so the court will only consider modifying the current agreement if you can prove that there has been a significant change of circumstances since the last order. If you are successful in demonstrating a substantial change, the judge will evaluate custody and parenting time using the same factors as the initial custody decision.

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