Month: November 2019

What is the Difference between a Family Services Evaluation and a Private Custody Evaluation in a Connecticut Divorce?

This Week’s Blog by Sarah E. Murray.

I Have a Contested Custody Case: What are My Options for a Custody Evaluation?

In some divorce cases in Connecticut where legal or physical custody is at issue, or where there is a significant custody-related dispute, such as a dispute regarding a parent’s relocation with the children, a custody evaluation can take place. A custody evaluation is performed by a neutral mental health professional, such as a psychologist or social worker, who is trained to perform custody evaluations in litigated custody cases. The purpose of the custody evaluation is to cull information about the parties and their children that has bearing on the particular custody dispute, to interpret that information for the Court, and, typically, to make recommendations regarding the dispute. A custody evaluation does not take place in every custody case in Connecticut; however, if the parties or the Court decide that a custody evaluation is necessary, there are options for the type of custody evaluation that can take place. Two types of custody evaluations in Connecticut are evaluations that take place through the Family Services Unit and evaluations that are performed privately by forensic psychologists.

Who Decides Whether a Custody Evaluation Will Occur?

Many times, the parties and their counsel in a contested custody case will agree that a custody evaluation should take place. Typically, experienced counsel will agree as to the type of custody evaluation that is appropriate given the particular facts and circumstances of the case. If there is an agreement as to both the decision to have a custody evaluation and the type of custody evaluation, the parties and their counsel will prepare a Stipulation setting forth the scope of the evaluation and will present the Stipulation for approval by the Court.

If there is no agreement that a custody evaluation should take place, or, if there is no agreement as to the type of custody evaluation that is appropriate for the case, one or both parties can file a Motion requesting that the Court order a custody evaluation. If a Motion is filed, the Court will hear argument from both parties as to why a custody evaluation should or should not take place and the type of evaluation that is appropriate. The judge will then decide whether to order a custody evaluation, and, if ordered, the type of custody evaluation. If a private custody evaluation is ordered, the Court will enter orders as to how the evaluator will be paid.

What is a Family Services Evaluation?

The Family Services Unit is an arm of the Connecticut Judicial Branch system that assists the Court in the resolution of disputes in family law cases, including custody cases. They have offices in each courthouse. The Family Services Unit provides several different services to the Court system, including Issue-Focused Evaluations and Comprehensive Evaluations in contested custody cases. An Issue-Focused Evaluation involves the evaluation of a limited disputed issue, and so the information-gathering is usually tailored to that issue. These evaluations typically take the least amount of time to perform because they have a limited scope. A Comprehensive Evaluation is more appropriate when broad custody and/or parenting plan issues are in dispute.

Family Relations Counselors, who work in the Family Services Unit, are trained in mediating custody disputes and in performing custody evaluations. If a case is referred to Family Services for an evaluation, whether by agreement of the parties or by a judge, a Family Relations Counselor will be assigned to perform the evaluation.

A Family Services Evaluation will typically include meetings with both parties, whether jointly or individually, meetings with the children, and home visits. Both parties usually will sign releases so that the Family Relations Counselor can speak with collateral sources, such as the children’s teachers, doctors, and mental health professionals. The Family Relations Counselor may also speak with the parties’ mental health professionals and doctors as well.

How Does a Private Custody Evaluation Differ from a Family Services Evaluation?

In a private custody evaluation, a forensic psychologist performs the custody evaluation, as opposed to the Family Services Unit. One of the biggest differences between a private custody evaluation and a Family Services Evaluation is cost, as the Family Services Evaluation is performed at no cost to the parties, whereas the private custody evaluation must be paid for by the parties. The private custody evaluator will perform many, if not all, of the same tasks as a Family Relations Counselor, as described above, but the private custody evaluator will often perform psychological testing on the parties and the children. After performing these tests, the forensic psychologist will analyze the results, particularly with respect to how the results inform any recommendations as to custody. For a variety of reasons, including the psychological testing, private custody evaluations usually take longer to complete than Family Services Evaluations. Some parties opt for a private custody study, however, because they think that the psychological testing will provide valuable information regarding their case.

Will a Written Report be Prepared in Both Types of Custody Evaluations?

Yes. The written reports prepared in a custody evaluation should set forth in detail the findings of the custody evaluator, the days and times he or she met or spoke with the parties, the children, and collateral sources, and will include his or her recommendations. In a private custody evaluation, interpretation of psychological testing results will be included.

Are the Recommendations in the Custody Evaluation Binding?

Regardless of what type of custody evaluation takes place in your case, the results are not binding on either party. That said, the recommendations in a custody evaluation are given great weight by a Court in deciding custody disputes. It is typical in a custody trial that the custody evaluator testifies in Court and that his or her report is entered into evidence. While a judge has discretion in custody cases and does not have to agree with the custody evaluator, the custody evaluator’s analysis will be presented to the Court for consideration.

Should I Have a Family Services Evaluation or a Private Custody Evaluation?

There is no “one size fits all” approach to custody evaluations, as the facts of each particular case are different. The decision as to whether a custody evaluation should take place, and what type of evaluation is appropriate, is a decision that should only be made after careful consultation with your family law attorney. There are many different factors to consider, including cost and time.

At Broder & Orland LLC, our attorneys have significant experience with custody cases and can provide you with advice regarding the type of custody evaluation best suited for your particular situation. It is important to know your options and discuss the pros and cons of each type of custody evaluation prior to making a decision, as custody evaluations carry great weight in either the settlement of or the trial of custody disputes.

Divorce in Connecticut – Who’s on Your “Team?”

This Week’s Blog by Lauren M. Healy.

Divorce in Connecticut—Who’s on your “team?”

Whether you are just starting to consider divorce or you are in the midst of divorce proceedings, having a team of carefully selected professionals to support you can make a huge difference when navigating through divorce.

  1. Legal counsel

One of the most important decisions that you make in your divorce case is who to retain as your attorney. It almost goes without saying that you should consider the personality and experience of an attorney before deciding that he or she is “the one.” A good fit between attorney and client can make the entire process of divorce more tolerable.

Before you decide who will represent you, consider not just the individual attorney that you are hiring, but also the firm behind the attorney. For example, inquire about the size of the firm and whether other attorneys will be working on your case. The approachability and reliability of support staff is also an important consideration that is often overlooked.

  1. Emotional and mental health support

Friends and family are useful sounding boards. However, don’t be surprised if your attorney asks whether you have a therapist (psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker) in place. You may even be asked this as early as in the initial consultation. It is not meant to be invasive. Your attorney should know what type of support (other than legal support) you have as you engage in the divorce process. If you do not have a therapist, your attorney may be able to provide you with some recommendations. Experienced attorneys should have a network of therapists to consider in making a tailored recommendation for a client.

You may be concerned that there is a stigma attached to seeing a mental health provider before or during your divorce. While your attorney can best advise you about the pros and cons, experienced divorce attorneys have generally found that to be untrue. Therapists can be valuable team members during divorce.

  1. Financial experts and consultants

Depending on the issues in your case, you may need to obtain a financial expert or consultant to assist you in forensic accounting, valuing a business, financial planning, discovering assets, or even just to help with basic or complex tax issues. It is best to identify the need for experts early in your case, so they can be involved with discovery as needed. You may even develop a working relationship with the expert(s) during the divorce and continue to utilize his or her services (such as accounting or financial planning) after the divorce action.

At Broder & Orland LLC we are proud of our team approach to resolving divorce issues. We frequently staff cases with more than one attorney from our firm, in an effort to provide seamless litigation and/or settlement support to our clients. We are experienced in building support teams for our clients, which often include mental health providers and/or relevant experts and consultants.

I LOVE MY WIFE BUT MY MARRIAGE IS OVER. NOW WHAT?

This Week’s Blog by Carole T. Orland.

What should I do if I am thinking about divorce?

You should do some soul searching if you haven’t already. Reflect on what on what is happening in your relationship and whether there is any hope of repairing it. Seek marriage counseling or couples therapy to get support or assistance in working though conflicts. The decision whether or not to divorce may become clearer as you go through that process.

How can I understand what it means to get divorced?

There are many books and articles about divorce. Also, you likely have many friends and relatives who have been divorced and are happy to share their experiences (or nightmares!) with you. But the best source for the real facts is to consult with an experienced divorce attorney who will give you accurate information. This will include the how to protect yourself; divorce procedure; the discovery process; what to expect regarding alimony, child support and property division; valuations issues; how long the divorce with take; and what it will cost.

What if I don’t want my spouse to know I’m consulting with a divorce attorney?

Good question. Once you consult with a divorce attorney a privilege exists which prohibits that attorney from disclosing to anyone, particularly your spouse, any discussion about legal advice. Furthermore, an experienced divorce attorney will be discreet and never disclose to your spouse at that point that you have consulted with him or her.

Should I surprise my wife with service or give her a head’s up in advance?

Once you have decided to proceed with your divorce and unless there is some reason to believe putting your wife on notice that she will be served with divorce papers will result in an untoward consequence, it is more reasonable to let her know you will be serving her. This can be achieved by the marshal arranging with her a place and time, or if she will have an attorney, by serving that attorney. Never, ever have a marshal serve her in front of the kids or when they are home.

How do I break this to the kids?

In most families where divorce is on the horizon, fighting, bickering and unbecoming behavior have been evident even to the youngest kids. Even if there has been little outward animosity, kids can sense tension. Also, most kids are tuned into divorce through their friends, neighbors or relatives. It probably won’t be a huge shock to them that mom and dad are getting divorced. However, they are likely to be sad and sometimes, angry. Be proactive about alerting teachers, clergy, and professional providers that a divorce is imminent so your kids can receive the support and sensitivity they need. And always watch for signs that your kids are experiencing negative effects, such as health issues, deteriorating school performance, and relationship difficulties. Talk to your spouse about arranging counseling or therapy for your kids, if necessary.

The decision to divorce is one of the toughest ones you will make in your lifetime. And especially so if you still love your wife, as is sometimes the case. At Broder & Orland LLC, our divorce attorneys are sensitive to the emotions that go hand in hand with a divorce as we dispense experienced legal advice. We will virtually hold your hand through the process, while protecting you and advocating on your behalf to the utmost extent. We are available to arrange a discreet consultation with you in our Westport or Greenwich office, whichever is more convenient for you.

 

What is an Uncontested Hearing?

This Week’s Blog by Nicole M. DiGiose.

What is an Uncontested Hearing?

 An Uncontested Hearing is the final step in the divorce process, after which the marriage of the parties is dissolved. An Uncontested Hearing occurs only after the parties have reached an agreement on all outstanding issues and memorialized that agreement into a written Separation Agreement and Parenting Plan (if applicable). Generally, both parties will be required to appear in Court on that date. The actual Uncontested Hearing only takes about 15 – 20 minutes.

What Documents need to be Prepared/Submitted before an Uncontested Hearing?

 Prior to an Uncontested Hearing, the parties are required to electronically submit or “e-file” certain documents and forms. In every case, their Separation Agreement and Financial Affidavits must be e-filed. If there are minor children the following documents must be e-filed: the parties’ Parenting Plan, Child Support Guidelines, and an Affidavit Concerning Children. If there is an award of alimony or child support, an Advisement of Rights re: Income Withholding must be e-filed. Finally, if the parties have elected to waive the twenty-day appeal period, a Stipulation to that effect is typically e-filed as well.

Do I have to take the Witness Stand?

 If you are the Plaintiff, yes. You will be called to the witness stand, sworn under oath, and asked certain questions by your attorney and potentially the other attorney or the judge. The Defendant is typically asked fewer questions under oath, and usually remains at counsel table.

 What Questions will I be Asked?

 Both parties will be asked about the agreement: whether they read it, signed it, understand it, believe it to be fair and equitable under the circumstances, believe it to be in the best interests of the minor children (if applicable), signed it of their own free will absent coercion or duress, and would like it to be entered as a Court order? If either or both parties have agreed to waive alimony, he, she, or they will be asked if they understand that if alimony is waived, they cannot later make a claim for alimony. The Plaintiff will be asked basic background questions: when and where the parties were married, the names and birth dates of the minor children (if applicable), whether or not either party or any minor child is receiving state aid, and if the marriage of the parties has broken down irretrievably with no hope of reconciliation? The Plaintiff will then be asked about the salient points of the parties’ agreement. This exercise will generally not be repeated with the Defendant. Instead, he or she will be asked if he or she agrees with the Plaintiff’s responses.

 What Happens After the Canvas?

 After both parties have been canvassed, the Court will make certain findings: that it has jurisdiction, when and where the parties were married, the names and birth dates of the minor children (if applicable), the presumptive amount of child support pursuant to the Child Support Guidelines and whether or not the application of the Guidelines is appropriate under the circumstances (if applicable), that the Parenting Plan is in the best interests of the minor children (if applicable), and that the parties’ agreement is fair and equitable. After it has made its findings, the Court will order the marriage of the parties dissolved and the maiden or prior name of the wife restored if she so desires.

 Is my Divorce Final that Day?

Yes, provided the parties have agreed to waive the twenty-day appeal period.

Can I have my Maiden Name Restored?

 Yes. As part of an Uncontested Hearing, you may request that the Court restore your maiden or prior name. While the restoration of that name is a valid Court Order, there is still follow-up work to be done such as going to the DMV or Social Security Office.

 Are there any Final Documents that I need?

Yes. You should keep copies of all of the Uncontested Documents in a safe place. It is also advisable to obtain Certified Copies of your Judgment File and Certificate of Dissolution of Marriage. You may need these documents to prove that you are divorced or to complete the process of restoring your prior name. At Broder & Orland LLC, we will prepare and send to you a packet of all Uncontested Documents.

At Broder & Orland LLC, we have extensive experience in settling cases and attending Uncontested Hearings throughout Connecticut, including Stamford, Bridgeport, Danbury, and New Haven. Uncontested Hearings may seem intimidating, but our skilled and compassionate attorneys will ensure that you are adequately prepared to bring your case to a conclusion.