How Domestic Violence Affects Child Custody in Connecticut

Understand the impact of domestic violence on child custody in the state of Connecticut.

Domestic violence is a serious issue that can impact many aspects of your life, including who should have custody of your child. This article discusses how domestic violence affects child custody decisions in Connecticut.

If you are a victim of domestic violence, you should immediately seek assistance to get to safety as well as legal assistance to help you in court. There are many organizations in Connecticut that offer assistance. For a list of domestic violence service providers by region, check out the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence website. If you have questions about domestic violence or child custody in your particular case, you should contact a local family law attorney.

How Judges Decide Custody

In Connecticut, the law says that if you and your child's other parent can't decide which of you should have custody, you can petition the court, and a judge will make the decision for you. To make a custody decision, the judge has to look at what is in the "best interests of the child." To determine the best interest of the child, the judge may consider any of the following factors:

  • the personality and developmental needs of the child
  • the ability and willingness of each parent to understand and meet the needs of the child
  • the child's preference, if the child is mature enough to have a preference
  • the past and current relationship of the child with each parent and the child's siblings
  • the willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a relationship between the child and the other parent
  • any attempts by either parent to involve the child in the parents' disputes
  • the involvement of each parent in the child's life
  • 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 environment and the desirability of continuing that environment
  • the stability of the child's existing or proposed residences
  • the mental and physical health of each parent
  • 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, and
  • whether each parent completed a parenting education program.

For the full text of the statute regarding the best interest custody factors, see Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 46b-56(c). For more information about how the judge determines what's in a child's best interest, read the article Child Custody in Connecticut: Best Interests of the Child.

The Complexities of Domestic Violence

In Connecticut, judges must consider any history of domestic violence in determining who should have custody. However, domestic violence is a complicated thing that isn't always easy to identify. So what is domestic violence? Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior in a family or household relationship used by one person to gain power and control over another person.

Connecticut law defines family or household member to include any of the following persons, regardless of their age:

  • spouses or former spouses
  • parents and their children
  • persons related by blood or marriage
  • persons not related by blood or marriage but who reside or previously resided together (for example, roommates)
  • persons who have a child in common, regardless of whether they were ever married or lived together, and
  • persons who are currently or previously in a dating relationship.

Furthermore, domestic violence includes many more actions than just hitting. Some examples of the actions that constitute domestic violence include, but are not limited to:

  • physical abuse
  • sexual abuse
  • emotional abuse
  • economic abuse (for example, controlling all of the finances within the relationship)
  • psychological abuse (for example, threats or intimidation), or
  • stalking.

There are a number of ways that Connecticut law tries to help keep victims of domestic violence safe and hold abusers accountable. For example, an abuser can be fined or thrown in jail if a criminal proceeding is brought against the abuser and the abuser is found guilty. As a victim, you will receive a criminal protective order against the abuser, which limits the abuser's ability to contact or communicate with you. A criminal protective order can last anywhere from the length of the criminal proceeding to a lifetime.

Victims of domestic violence in Connecticut can also ask the superior court for a civil restraining order, also called "relief from abuse." Civil restraining orders help protect you from further abuse by doing things like requiring your abuser to leave the home, stay away from you, or stop contacting you. Civil restraining orders can last for up to one year, but you can also request an extension. Information about how to obtain a civil restraining order is available from the Connecticut State Courts website, and for the full text of the statute regarding civil restraining orders, see Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 46b-15.

Effect of Domestic Violence on Custody

As stated, domestic violence is just one factor that the judge considers when deciding what's in a child's best interests in terms of a custody arrangement. It's important to remember that the domestic violence does not have to be between you and the child's other parent. For example, if you were in an abusive relationship with another person after your child's other parent, the judge will consider that too. The judge will also consider any violence by you or your child's other parent against the child.

Because domestic violence is only one of many factors that the judge considers in determining custody, it is possible for a judge to grant custody to a parent who committed domestic violence. Furthermore, even if the abuser doesn't get custody, they will usually still receive some form of visitation (also called "parenting time"), except in extreme circumstances. This is because it is usually in a child's best interest to have a relationship with both parents, even when the parent committed domestic violence.

However, if you can prove to the judge that you're child's physical, mental or emotional health would be in danger if parenting time were granted to the abusive parent, the judge may limit parenting time or require that it be "supervised visitation," which means it will occur only under special conditions. For example, the judge may order that a third party, like a social worker or a responsible family member, supervise the parenting time. If you're concerned about your safety during pick up and drop off of your child by the other parent, you can also ask the judge ot order that all exchanges of your child occur at a police precinct, supervised exchange program (if one is available in your community) or at another safe public place.

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