What is Child Custody in a Connecticut Divorce Case?

This Week’s Blog by Eric J. Broder

  • The term “child custody” can be broken down into two separate definitions, legal custody and physical custody.
  • Legal custody addresses which parent has the right to make major decisions concerning the child(ren). Major decisions include those relating to a child’s education, health/medical, and religion. Based upon my experiences as a Connecticut divorce lawyer I can estimate that over 95% of Connecticut parents have joint legal custody. It is certainly the exception for a party to have sole legal custody.
  • Physical custody addresses the schedule of which parent has time with the child on a given day. In actuality, a parent who is with a child one day a week has physical custody of that child on that day. At times, language is written into a divorce agreement establishing a child’s residence for school purposes.

What happens if the Parties Do Not Agree to Joint Legal Custody?

  • In the event the parties cannot agree on joint legal custody the process is called a contested custody case. This will mean that third parties will become an integral part of the case. For example, the court may appoint a Guardian ad Litem for the minor child to investigate and make a recommendation as to the best interest of the child(ren) or an AMC to represent the child(ren).
  • After hearing all the relevant information in such a case a Judge will decide custody based on the “best interest of the child(ren)”.

What is the Role of the Guardian Ad Litem in a Connecticut Divorce Case?

  • A Guardian ad Litem (“GAL”) is appointed to ensure that the children’s best interests are represented in the event of a custody battle. A GAL may be an attorney or mental health professional. Connecticut has specific certification requirements in order for someone to be appointed as a GAL.
  • The GAL will meet with various individuals involved in the child’s life, including the parents, therapists/counselors, close family friends, teachers, and anyone else who has a strong tie to the family and the child. A GAL will analyze this information and make a recommendation to the court as to what is in the best interests of the child(ren).

What is the Role of the Attorney for the Minor Child in a Connecticut Divorce Case?

  • An Attorney for the Minor Child (“AMC”) is generally appointed to represent the child(ren) in cases involving older children. While there is no specific age at which an attorney will be appointed, I find that children in middle school and high school are more likely to have an attorney appointed to them rather than a GAL. The attorney has the ability to represent the child’s wishes, but also is concerned with the child’s best interest.
  • Unlike a GAL, an AMC will not be permitted to testify during a trial. However, the attorney may and will ask questions of the parents as well as other third parties on the witness stand.

Who Pays the Fees of The Guardian Ad Litem/Attorney For The Minor Child?

  • The parties are responsible for the fees however it is not always an equal split. A court may apportion a different percentage to each party depending on the parties’ financial situation. These fees can and will become costly in the event there is a contested custody trial.

As experienced Fairfield County divorce lawyers, the lawyers at Broder & Orland LLC have represented both mothers and fathers at trial in complex contested custody matters. These cases can and will become expensive, and sadly, have a lasting impact on the children and the parents. We work hard to resolve custody and parenting disputes to ensure that the children’s best interests are always at the forefront.