The Connecticut Divorce: What is Family Relations?

This Week’s Blog by Christopher J. DeMattie

  • Family Relations offers a wide variety of services to help resolve parenting, custody, and financial disputes in divorce and post-judgment actions.
  • Depending on the service recommended, you can expect to meet with a Family Relations Counselor for an hour or for an extended period of time over the course of many months.

What is Family Relations Relative to a Connecticut Divorce?

Family Relations or family services is a free service offered by the Judicial Branch to assist the Court and individuals in resolving parenting, custodial, alimony, child support, and property issues.  The Family Relations Counselor assigned to your matter is typically a trained social worker or attorney.

What Services Does Family Relations Offer in a Connecticut Divorce?

Pursuant to Court Form JD-FM211 below is a list and brief explanation of the specific services:

  1. What type of alternative dispute resolution services?
  • Pre-trial Settlement Negotiations – In all Judicial Districts, Family Relations Counselors conduct pre-trial and final judgment settlement conferences with attorneys and parents in conjunction with their attendance at Family Short Calendar and other Family Civil Court dockets.
  • Mediation – Family Relations Counselors mediate custody and access disputes for up to three 2-hour sessions. These efforts are geared toward assisting parents in resolving differences in a self-determining, non-coercive, and confidential manner.
  • Conflict Resolution Conference – This is a confidential, directive process utilizing negotiation and mediation techniques to resolve the primary issues of custody and access. Parents and attorneys participate in the conferences and information from professional sources may be included. The Family Relations Counselor may offer recommendations to the parents at the conclusion of the process if the parties are unable to resolve their dispute. These recommendations are not provided to the Court.
  1. What type of Case Management Services?
  • General Case Management – A Family Relations Counselor will be assigned distinct responsibilities to assist parties in resolving their parenting issues with a report back to the Court. Some components include gathering specific information regarding the family, monitoring compliance with court orders, facilitating settlement conferences to develop parenting plans, conducting home visits, or completing other court-ordered tasks.
  • Intensive Case Management – This service offers parents in the early stages of post judgment court involvement the opportunity to enhance collaboration between the parents and formulate mutual decisions regarding the well-being/care of their children. The role of the Family Relations Counselor is to work with the parents as needed to reduce conflict, offer skills for enhanced communication, reinforce positive parenting, and report progress to the Court.
  1. What type of evaluative services?
  • Issue-Focused Evaluation – This is a non-confidential process of assessing a limited issue impacting a family and/or parenting plan. The goal of an Issue-Focused Evaluation is to explore the defined parenting dispute, gather information regarding only this issue and provide a recommendation to the parents and the Court. This evaluation format is limited in scope, involvement, and duration.
  • Comprehensive Evaluation – This is an in-depth, non-confidential assessment of the family system by the Family Relations Counselor. The information gathered by the counselor, the assessment of the family, and the resulting recommended parenting plan is shared with the parents and attorneys. This recommendation may be used to form the basis of an agreement. At the conclusion of the process, a report with recommendations is filed with the Court.
  1. What type of education services?
  • Parent Education Program (PEP) – Family Services contracts with community and private agencies throughout the state to provide this program. The PEP is a six-hour statutorily mandated, psycho-educational course for separating and divorcing parents that provides information about the impact of family restructuring on children.

What Can I Expect at my Family Relations Meeting in a Connecticut Divorce?

Typically, there are two ways to end up in Family Relations.  First, prior to having an evidentiary hearing on a Motion, you and/or your lawyer must first meet with Family Relations to try and settle the issues.  Your lawyer will present an argument and provide basic backup documents, if requested, and the Family Relations Counselor will try and mediate a resolution and/or provide recommendations.  This meeting could feel rushed as it typically lasts only between 20 and 40 minutes.

Second, if you and your spouse have disputes relative to custody or parenting time, your matter will most likely be referred to Family Relations for an intake screen.   At the intake the Family Relations Counselor will ask you a series of questions to identify the level of conflict and complexity of issues. The screening includes questions about: (a) current court orders, (b) past and present parenting concerns including substance abuse and family violence, and (c) the level of conflict.  This screen helps Family Relations determine if mediation, conflict resolution conference, issue focused evaluation, or a comprehensive evaluation is the appropriate service to help resolve the conflict(s).  Once the appropriate service is determined, an appointment will be scheduled (it may be a joint meeting or an individual meeting) and you will be asked to discuss your concerns about the children and answer concerns that the other parent may raise.  Depending on the service, you may be asked to sign release and/or consent forms to permit the Family Relations Counselor to communicate with doctors, therapists, teachers, and other relevant individuals.  Additionally, the Family Relations Counselor may conduct a visit with you and your children at your home.

Broder & Orland LLC, with offices in Westport and Greenwich, CT, concentrates specifically in the areas of family law, matrimonial law and divorce.  We have significant experience with Family Relations and understand the nuances of the process.  Our experience enables us to effectively guide our clients through the process by educating them on what to expect and to prepare them in presenting their concerns and issues in an organized and cogent fashion.