Tag: child custody

Mediation in Divorce Cases

This Week’s Blog by Carole T. Orland

What is Mediation in the Context of Divorce?

Mediation can be a helpful approach in certain divorce cases. Typically the mediator is a lawyer who objectively tries to help resolve your case or specific issues within the case.

Are There Different Kinds of Divorce Mediations?

Yes.  Sometimes the parties hire a divorce mediator before either one has filed for divorce or shortly thereafter. Often the reason is that they are desirous of an amicable process and resolution at a moderate cost.

In other instances, the parties litigate the divorce with counsel and at some point decide they want assistance in settling the case, typically before trial. In this model, they usually hire a retired judge or elder statesman of the bar to conduct a session with the parties and counsel. This process can last anywhere from several hours to a full day.

On occasion, parties who are represented by counsel may hire a mediator near the beginning of the case to help resolve disputes as the case is litigated.

Is Mediation the Opposite of Litigation?

Not necessarily. As described above, mediation is often done in the context of litigation. Litigation is not necessarily a scary term and does not have to be contentious or nasty. It is often a conventional way of moving the divorce process along. In some instances it can be easier, quicker, and less expensive than mediation.

When Does Mediation Without Counsel Work Best?

If the parties have trust in each other and share the same objective and timetable for resolving their divorce, mediation can be a good approach. Of course, it is key to hire a reputable, experienced mediator. 

When Does Mediation Not Work Best?

Often, trust has eroded leading up to divorce. Also, sometimes the parties are on such unequal footing with regard to an understanding of financial issues, that the well informed party has an inherent advantage to the detriment of the other party. A common refrain is: “Let’s go to mediation. We will avoid lawyers and save money. We can work this out!” Sometimes, that obfuscates the underlying motive of trying to “put one over” on the other party. A failed mediation can be a real detriment to ultimately resolving the divorce as it can be a waste of time and money, as well as a disappointment when it is perceived that a spouse has not acted in good faith.

Is Mediation a Good Approach to Resolving the Part of the Case Relating to Child Custody and Parenting Time?

It can be. Good divorce lawyers make it their business to resolve custody and parenting issues at the beginning of the case. But an alternative might be that the parties resolve these issues on their own with a mediator. In that case, the mediator may be a mental health professional, such as a family therapist.

What Does it Mean to Have a Mediation Coach or Review Counsel?

Most of the time, parties who hire a mediator on their own will also separately hire lawyers to coach them as to divorce laws, strategy, and outcomes. They also may hire review counsel to review the Separation Agreement drafted by the mediator. The coach and review counsel are often the same person. This adds another layer to the process and additional cost. There is also the potential that review counsel’s opinions may de-rail the process at the end of mediation. It is important for parties to stress to their review counsel that they are not looking to re-write the proposed Separation Agreement, but rather looking for any potential minefields.

At Broder & Orland LLC, with offices in Westport and Greenwich, CT, we are experienced in all forms of divorce mediation. We act as mediators for parties who have or do not have counsel, and attend mediation with our clients in many of the cases we litigate.

Imputing Income for Child Support Purposes

This Week’s Blog by Andy M. Eliot

How is Child Support Generally Determined in Connecticut?

In Connecticut, the amount of a non-custodial parent’s child support obligation to a custodial parent is directly tied to the respective incomes of both parents. Pursuant to the Connecticut Child Support Guidelines, parents’ respective incomes are plugged into a mathematical formula which yields a presumptively correct weekly child support obligation that one parent must pay to the other.

What Does Voluntary “Underemployment” Mean?

Voluntary underemployment occurs when a parent (whether it be the child support obligor or the parent receiving child support) voluntarily earns less income then he or she is capable of earning based upon his or her education, training and past earnings.  Consider, for example, a scenario in which a child support obligor voluntarily leaves a high-paying job on Wall Street shortly before a child support award will issue to pursue a far less lucrative career as a musician; this would be an example of “voluntary underemployment.”

Do Courts Have Any Means to Redress Voluntary Underemployment in Issuing Child Support Awards?

Yes.  In such circumstances, courts have the discretion to attribute or “impute” income to a parent (whether it be the parent paying child support, the parent receiving child support, or both) for purposes of determining child support obligations.  In other words, when plugging a parent’s income into the mathematical child support formula set forth in the Connecticut Child Support Guidelines, courts may utilize an income figure that reflects the amount of income that a parent could potentially be earning (commonly referred to as “earning capacity”), rather than the amount the parent is actually earning at the time.

How do Courts Determine what Amount of Income to Impute to a Party?

In determining a party’s earning capacity for purposes of imputing income to that party, there is not a precise methodology that Courts employ.  Rather, in any given case, the determining Court will examine the unique set of facts in that particular matter in order to make a determination.  However, factors that Courts typically would consider in this context would include the relevant party’s historical earnings, employment history, vocational skills, employability, age and health.

Are Experts Ever Used to Determine Earning Capacity?

Yes.  In cases where earning capacity is an issue, it is common for either or both parties to hire vocational experts for the purpose of proving (or disproving) the other parent’s earning capacity. A vocational expert will generally testify about what a person with similar experience and expertise should make.

Cases involving earning capacity claims are complex and, in order to be handled properly, require a great deal of attention and expertise.  At Broder & Orland LLC, we have extensive experience handling matters where earning capacity is at issue and have a well-established track record of achieving favorable results for our clients in such matters.

What Should I Expect at my Initial Divorce Consultation in Connecticut?

This Week’s Blog by Sarah E. Murray

What is the Purpose of the Initial Divorce Consultation?

After having made the difficult decision to contact an attorney regarding divorce and after making an appointment to meet with him or her, it is natural to feel apprehensive or to be unsure of what to expect at that initial meeting.  Most Fairfield County divorce clients have many questions about the divorce process, possible outcomes, and how Connecticut law applies to his or her case.  Those are all appropriate issues to be discussed in an initial consultation.  One of the primary purposes of the initial divorce consultation, in addition to information gathering, is for the potential client and the potential lawyer to meet in order to determine whether both the client and the lawyer are comfortable working together.  As a client, it is important to feel that you can trust your divorce attorney and that there is good communication between you and your divorce attorney.  The initial consultation is a good opportunity for both the lawyer and client to assess whether they can have a good working relationship during a sometimes difficult process.  

What Do I Need to Bring with Me to My First Meeting with a Potential Divorce Lawyer?

Among other things, it is important for a divorce attorney to have as much information as possible so that he or she can accurately evaluate the case and give the appropriate advice.  Of course, if you were the person served with divorce papers, you should bring those papers to the initial consult so that the attorney can review them and explain them to you.  At the first meeting with a divorce lawyer, however, it is not required that you bring any other documents with you.  The divorce attorney will listen to you and ask questions in order to gain a better understanding of the basic facts of the case.  There will be plenty of time after the initial consultation for you to provide relevant documentation to your lawyer.  While you do not need to bring documents with you to the initial consult, there are some documents that you can bring to make the meeting more productive.  For example, if there is a Prenuptial or Postnuptial Agreement in your case, you should bring a copy of that to the meeting.  Most top Fairfield County divorce attorneys will even ask to see the document in advance of the meeting so that he or she can review it beforehand.  Some people also like to bring relevant financial documentation to the meeting, such as tax returns and bank and brokerage accounts, so that specific financial questions they have can be addressed.

Is What I Discuss at My Initial Divorce Consultation Confidential?

The short answer to this question is: yes.  The information you provide to a potential divorce lawyer, even if you do not hire that person, is kept confidential.  Keep in mind, however, the caveat discussed below.

Should I Bring My Friend (or Family Member) to the Initial Consultation Meeting?

It is normal for people to want emotional support at an initial divorce consultation.  If a third party is present in a meeting between a potential client and a lawyer, that presence can jeopardize the confidentiality of the meeting, as confidentiality and attorney-client privilege typically only extend to the potential client.  If you deem it critical to bring a friend or family member with you to the initial consultation, you can discuss how to handle it with the potential divorce lawyer with whom you are meeting.  You and the divorce attorney may decide to have the friend or family member wait in the reception area during all or part of the meeting in order to protect the information discussed.

What are the General Topics Discussed during the Initial Consult?

In general terms, the best initial consultations cover the following topics, as applicable to the facts of your case: the divorce process in Connecticut, custody of minor children and parenting plans, discovery of relevant information during the divorce, division of assets and liabilities, and alimony and child support.  Top Fairfield County attorneys will also discuss with you strategy concerns and any other issues that may be particular to your case.  In order for the divorce lawyer to give you good advice, he or she will ask many questions, ranging from basic to very personal.  The more information you provide, the more you and a potential divorce attorney can begin crafting a timeline and strategy for your case.

What Questions Should I Ask at the Initial Divorce Consultation?

There is no question too insignificant for an initial divorce consult.  A good divorce attorney will want you to feel comfortable that your questions have been answered and will welcome any and all questions that you have.  There is very little that experienced divorce attorneys have not heard or been asked; so, do not be shy about sharing information or asking questions.  Beyond the typical questions about the divorce process, how long divorces in Connecticut typically last, and what to expect with respect to parenting and finances, you should also ask questions about the financial relationship between you and the potential lawyer.  You will want to know the attorney’s hourly rate, requested retainer or other fee arrangements, and how frequently you will receive invoices reflecting time spent on your case.    

At Broder & Orland LLC, we pride ourselves on our informative initial consultations, which typically initiate an effective attorney-client relationship that lasts throughout the case.  We strive to advise potential clients in a forthright manner so that they feel comfortable about what to expect from the divorce process in Connecticut and so that they understand their options moving forward.

Divorce in Connecticut: The Guardian Ad Litem (GAL)

This Week’s Blog by Eric J. Broder

What is a Guardian Ad Litem in a Connecticut Divorce Case?

In the event that the parties cannot reach a resolution on parenting or custodial matters, a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) is often appointed by the Court, either directly by the Judge or after agreement between the parties and counsel. The primary function of a GAL is to promote and protect the child(ren)’s best interests throughout the divorce case.

Who qualifies to be a Guardian Ad Litem?

To qualify, a GAL must be an attorney in good standing who is licensed to practice law in the state of Connecticut, or a mental health professional in good standing who is licensed by the Connecticut Department of Public Health in the areas of clinical social work, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling, psychology, or psychiatry.

Further, pursuant to Connecticut Practice Book Section 25-62 there is a training program which must be completed in order for a person to qualify as a GAL.

What is the Role of the Guardian Ad Litem?

The primary role of a GAL is to determine what is in the best interests of the child(ren) with respect to custody and/or a parenting plan. The GAL will investigate all relative facts and claims, meet with the parties, the child(ren), and any relevant third parties such as teachers, childcare providers, coaches, and/or medical professionals/therapists treating the child(ren) and the parties.

The GAL will participate in court hearings and possibly testify. If the matter goes to trial, the GAL will make recommendations to the court as to how the outstanding child(ren) related issues should be decided. In my opinion, the primary function of a GAL, in addition to the above, is to strongly encourage the resolution of disputes between the parties. 

Who Pays for the Guardian Ad Litem?

The GAL is paid for by the parties. The court will review the financial affidavits to determine the percentage each party will contribute to the GAL’s fees. If the parties cannot afford a GAL’s rate there is a sliding scale that the court can apply thereby limiting the hourly rate of the GAL.

What is the Difference Between a Guardian Ad Litem and an Attorney For the Minor Child (AMC)?

The basic difference is that a GAL represents the child(ren)’s best interests and, while the AMC supports the best interest of the child(ren), he or she primarily represents the child(ren)’s legal interests.  Generally speaking, a GAL is appointed for younger children, while an AMC is appointed for older children.

Another notable difference between a GAL and an AMC is that a GAL may testify as a witness at a hearing or trial and an AMC may not.

Can a Guardian Ad Litem be Removed from a Case?

While it is an extremely rare occurrence, it is possible for a GAL to be removed from a case. In order to do so, a party must file a motion with the court to seek the GAL’s removal and prove that the GAL is not acting in the best interests of the child(ren) and has a prejudice and/or bias against one of the parties.

At Broder & Orland LLC we carefully analyze and make all efforts to choose the most appropriate GAL for our client as well as his/her child(ren). Our hope and expectation is that a GAL will be able to work with the parties and their counsel directly to achieve a settlement which first and foremost benefits the child(ren).

What Do I Need to Know about Connecticut Prenuptial Agreements?

This Week’s Blog by Sarah E. Murray

How Do I know if a Prenuptial Agreement is Right for Me?

In general terms, a Prenuptial Agreement is a contract that two people sign prior to getting married.  Prenuptial Agreements can be appropriate in a variety of situations, including second marriages, marriages in which one or both parties wants to protect his or her premarital assets, marriages in which a party has an interest (or will acquire an interest during the marriage) in a closely held business, including a family business, and marriages in which one or both parties anticipates receiving a substantial inheritance during the marriage.

What Topics Are Addressed in a Connecticut Prenuptial Agreement?

A Prenuptial Agreement can be used to address each party’s rights and obligations with respect to property held by the other, whether acquired before or during the marriage, and each party’s rights to buy, sell, transfer, mortgage, encumber, dispose of, or otherwise control and manage property during the marriage.  Prenuptial Agreements address the disposition of property upon separation, divorce, and/or death and can be used either to establish the terms for or to eliminate spousal support in the event of a divorce.

Are There Other Topics Included in Connecticut Prenuptial Agreements? 

Parties can use a Prenuptial Agreement to provide for the ownership of life insurance policies, how the proceeds from life insurance policies will be disposed of upon a party’s death, and the rights of each party to the other party’s retirement plan.  Prenuptial Agreements will also state what state law will apply in enforcing or interpreting the agreement.

Are There Topics that Cannot be Addressed in a Connecticut Prenuptial Agreement?

Under Connecticut law, the right of a child to support cannot be adversely affected by a Prenuptial Agreement.  Additionally, any custody or visitation arrangements contracted to in a Prenuptial Agreement are subject to review and change by a Court at the time of a divorce.  In other words, while a couple can set forth child support and child custody terms in a Prenuptial Agreement, there is no guarantee that those terms would be upheld by a Court in the event of a divorce.

When is a Connecticut Prenuptial Agreement Enforced?  

In some divorce cases, the parties agree at the time of the divorce to abide by the terms of the Prenuptial Agreement.  In those relatively simple cases, the divorce judgment will incorporate the provisions of the Prenuptial Agreement and the parties can agree upon or have the Court decide any issues not set forth in their Prenuptial Agreement.

If the parties are unable to agree as to whether the Prenuptial Agreement will govern the terms of their divorce, the question of whether a Prenuptial Agreement is enforceable is decided during the divorce case, either as a preliminary matter or at the end of the case.

At Broder & Orland LLC, we frequently consult with clients who have questions about whether a Prenuptial Agreement would be right for them and we have significant experience representing clients who want to best protect themselves in the drafting and negotiation of a Prenuptial Agreement.

Children and Custody Disputes: Do My Child’s Wishes Matter?

This Week’s Blog by Andrew M. Eliot

Must a Judge Consider My Child’s Wishes in a Custody Dispute?

No.  It is a common misconception that Judges must consider a child’s preferences in making determinations regarding a child’s custodial arrangement.

In fact, the only factor that a Judge must consider in rendering a custody determination is the “best interests” of a child.

Will a Judge Consider My Child’s Wishes in a Custody Dispute?

The short answer is — it depends.  Under the applicable Connecticut statute pertaining to custody determinations (C.G.S. §46b-56(c), Judges may — but are not required — to consider the “informed preferences of a child,” in determining what custodial arrangement is in a child’s best interest.  In practice, and through relevant judicial decisions, Courts have interpreted this to mean that a child’s preferences shall only be considered if a child is of sufficient age and is capable of forming an intelligent preference.

How Will a Judge Determine if my Child is of Sufficient Age and Capable of Forming an Intelligent Preference?

There is no precise answer to this question and no fixed age at which a child will be deemed to automatically meet this threshold.  Rather, whether a particular child meets this initial threshold is a determination that falls within the discretion of the Judge.

However, in considering whether a child is of sufficient age and is capable of forming an intelligent preference, such that his or her custodial preferences may be considered by the Court, a Judge is likely to consider not only a child’s chronological age (though this will certainly be a factor), but also the child’s maturity level and intellectual capacity.  A Judge is likely to make such assessments by hearing witness testimony from relevant individuals (such as a child’s parents, a Guardian Ad Litem, and/or any relevant mental health professionals) and potentially considering additional evidence such as documentation relating to a child’s academic performance at school.

If my Child is deemed of Sufficient Age and Capable of Forming an Intelligent Preference, will a Judge Honor His or Her Wishes?

Not necessarily.  Notably, even if a Judge determines that it is appropriate to consider a child’s custodial preferences, he or she still has the discretion to determine that the expressed preferences of the child are not in the child’s best interest, and render orders that are contrary to the child’s wishes.

Parents should also be aware that Judges are often inclined to view the expressed wishes of a child with skepticism or distrust, given that a child who is the subject of a custody dispute may have conflicting feelings about custodial arrangements, may feel pressure from one parent (or both) to express certain preferences, and may have preferences that are subject to change at any moment.

At Broder & Orland LLC, we have extensive experience handling complex and emotionally charged custody disputes throughout Fairfield County and Connecticut and can help clients properly assess whether and to what extent a child’s wishes might be considered by the Court.

Emancipation Laws in Connecticut

This Week’s Blog by Lauren M. Healy

What is Emancipation?

Connecticut law provides a process for a child who has reached the age of sixteen, and is residing in Connecticut, to be declared emancipated and thereafter treated as a legal adult, with the same rights as an individual who has attained the age of eighteen.

Can My Child Request Emancipation?

Yes. In Connecticut, it is possible for either the child (who has attained the age of sixteen) or the child’s parents/guardian to petition the probate court for the minor’s emancipation. If the child files the petition for emancipation, the parents/guardian will be notified by a Summons from the Court. If it is the parents/guardian who make the petition, the child will be notified the same way. The Court must assign a Hearing within thirty days of the Petition for Emancipation being filed.

What is the Process for Emancipation in Connecticut?

After a Petition for Emancipation is filed and before the Hearing date, there is a period of information gathering.  The Probate Judge must ask the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (“DCF”) to investigate the matter and gather data that may be helpful to the Judge in the proceeding. This includes interviewing the child, the parents/guardian and speaking with other third parties, such as family members. The Judge must also appoint an Attorney for the Minor Child (“AMC”), to represent the child during the proceeding. The AMC acts as an advocate for the child’s wishes.

If warranted by reasonable cause, the Judge can also appoint a doctor or mental health professional to examine the minor. The Judge can also order the examination of a parent or guardian when there is a dispute about his or her mental health competency or ability to care for the minor.

What Does the Judge Consider When Making an Order for Emancipation?

Pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes §46b-150b, after the Hearing, the Judge may order the emancipation of the minor, if:

  • The minor has entered into a valid marriage, whether or not the marriage has been terminated by dissolution; or
  • The minor is on active duty with any of the armed forces of the United States of America; or
  • The minor willingly lives separate and apart from his or her parents/guardian with or without consent of the parents/guardian, and the minor is managing his or her own financial affairs, regardless of the source of any lawful income; or
  • For good cause shown, it is in the best interest of the minor, any child of the minor or the parents/guardian of the minor.

There is no specific definition of “good cause shown” in the context of an emancipation proceeding. The Probate Court has discretion to consider the individual circumstances of the case, and find that there is a substantial reason or excuse to order emancipation.

What Happens After a Child is Emancipated in Connecticut?

Once emancipated, the child has all of the rights of an adult and his parents are no longer his guardians. Pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes §46b-150d, the effect of emancipation includes (but is not limited to):

  • The right of the child to control his own personal life, including the establishment of his own residence;
  • The right of the child to consent to medical, dental or psychiatric care without parental consent, knowledge or liability;
  • The responsibility of the child to support himself financially;
  • The right of the child to sign contracts in his own name.

How does an Order of Emancipation Impact a Custody Agreement or Separation Agreement Regarding That Child?

If a child is emancipated, it has the same practical effect upon a Custody or Separation Agreement as if the child attained the age of eighteen. A parenting plan no longer applies to the child and the parents no longer have decision-making authority over the child. Also, the parents are relieved of any obligation to support the minor child, such as the payment of child support for the benefit of the child.

Whether or not the emancipation impacts the obligations of the parents to pay for college or health insurance would depend on the specific provisions of the Custody or Separation Agreement, and may continue beyond the child’s emancipation.

Broder & Orland LLC, with offices in Westport and Greenwich, CT, concentrates specifically in the areas of family law, matrimonial law, and divorce.  We have experience helping families navigate through all aspects of child custody issues and disputes, including emancipation-related cases.

Do My Child’s Wishes Matter in a Custody Dispute?

This Week’s Blog by Andrew M. Eliot

  • In adjudicating custody and parenting time disputes, Courts are required to give consideration to a child’s wishes only in instances where a child is, “of sufficient age and capable of forming an intelligent preference.”
  • There is no fixed age at which a child’s wishes must be considered by a Court in rendering a custody determination.
  • Even if a child who is child determined to be of sufficient age and capable of forming an intelligent preference expresses such a preference regarding custody or parenting time, Courts are not bound to follow the child’s wishes. Rather, Courts have the discretion to determine that a child’s preference is not in his or her best interest.

Understandably, many parents who are facing (or are in the midst of) a custody dispute, wish to know what impact their child’s wishes or preferences will have with respect to physical custody arrangements (i.e., which parent a child will predominantly reside with, and when and how often a child will be with the other parent).  There are a several common misconceptions on this topic.  Perhaps most notably, many people incorrectly believe that a child’s preferences must be considered by a Court in a custody dispute, and/or that upon reaching a certain age their child will have the absolute right to determine his or her own custody arrangement.  Each of these notions is inaccurate.

Pursuant to the applicable Connecticut statute pertaining to custody determinations (C.G.S. §46b-56(c)), the only factor Courts must consider in rendering custody determinations is the “best interests of a child.” With respect to a child’s preferences, the statute provides only that a Court may consider the “informed preferences of a child,” in determining what is in a child’s best interest.  Notably, Courts have interpreted this portion of the statute to mean that a child’s preferences shall only be considered by a Court if a child is of sufficient age and is capable of forming an intelligent preference.  Whether a particular child meets this initial hurdle is a determination that is within the sound discretion of the Court, but is generally one that depends not only upon a particular child’s chronological age, but also upon the child’s maturity level and intellectual capacity, as assessed by the Court through whatever evidence a Court deems relevant.  Such evidence may include witness testimony from individuals such as a child’s parents, a Guardian Ad Litem if one has been appointed, and/or any Family Relations officer or Court appointed mental health professional who may have conducted a custody study or psychological evaluation of the child.  Such evidence might also include documentation relating to a child’s academic performance at school, such as a report card.  If a Court determines that a child does indeed meet this initial threshold, the Court must next identify what the child’s wishes are and, finally, determine how much weight the child’s preference should be afforded.

Notably, even where it is determined that it is appropriate to consider a child’s custody preferences, Courts still have the discretion to determine that the child’s expressed preference is not in the child’s best interest, and render custody orders that are contrary to the child’s wishes.  Additionally, parents should also be aware that Courts may be inclined to view the expressed wishes of a child with a degree of skepticism or distrust, given that a child caught up in a custody dispute may be likely to have conflicting feelings about custodial arrangements, may have preferences that are subject to change at any given moment, and/or are succumbing to pressure from one parent to express preferences in favor of that parent.

At Broder & Orland LLC, we have extensive experience handling complex and emotionally-charged custody disputes throughout Fairfield County and can help clients properly assess whether and to what extent a child’s wishes might be considered by the Court.

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.

What is Parental Alienation?

This Week’s Blog by Jaime S. Dursht

“Parental alienation is the process, and the result, of psychological manipulation of a child into showing unwarranted fear, disrespect or hostility towards a parent and/or other family members. It is a distinctive form of psychological abuse towards both the child and the rejected family members that occurs almost exclusively in association with family separation or divorce, particularly where legal action is involved.”  Lorandos, Bernet and Sauber, Parental Alienation: The Handbook for Mental Health and Legal Professionals (Charles C. Thomas, Ed. 2013).

  • In Family Law, parental alienation is a term used to describe the dynamic of a child’s unreasonable rejection of one parent with the encouragement/tacit approval of the other parent.
  • The issue of parental alienation arises in high conflict custody cases both pre- and post-divorce when one party seeks sole legal and/or physical custody of the child(ren).
  • Connecticut Family Courts consider evidence of parental alienation in the context of making or modifying custody orders in accordance with what is in the best interests of the child pursuant to C.G.S. § 46b-56.
  • Courts may order the involvement of mental health professionals and custody evaluation experts to investigate allegations of parental alienation and make recommendations of intervention if necessary.

Generally, parental alienation is the psychological manipulation of a child by one parent to unjustifiably reject the other parent, and although it is not regulated as a punishable offense in the United States, it is considered a crime of child abuse in other countries carrying criminal penalties. In Connecticut, allegations can, and often do, arise in cases of contested custody, and there is a wide body of case law identifying the characteristics and conduct of an alienated child as well as that of an alienating parent.   For example, children who suddenly refuse to see a parent or declare hatred of a parent based on minor or unfounded complaints may be a signal of alienation.  A parent who falsely alleges physical or sexual abuse, exaggerates allegations of substance abuse or other inappropriate conduct, interferes with the other parent’s access to school records and information, restricts the other parent’s parenting time, or involves the children with details of litigation—these may be considered efforts to deliberately undermine the relationship between the child and the other parent, and the consequences can be severe. In some cases the court may order specific interventions to remedy the situation, such as therapeutic treatment for child and/or parent, or reunification therapy, or in extreme cases, the court may order a complete reversal of custody.

The statutory factor under which the court will consider evidence is C.G.S. § 46b-56(c)(6): “[T]he willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage such continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent as is appropriate, including compliance with any court orders.”  See e.g., Hibbard v. Hibbard, 139 Conn. App. 10, 55 A.3d 301 (2012) (“Because the child has lived with the plaintiff since birth, the court does not take lightly the prospect of changing her primary residence at this point.  Nevertheless, the court determined that such a modification to the custody order was in the best interests of the child because the plaintiff demonstrates a real deficiency in her willingness and ability to facilitate and encourage such continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent. … The court referenced the plaintiff’s strategy of pursuing the elimination of the defendant from their daughter’s life and concluded that the result of leaving the child with the plaintiff would be the eventual loss to the child of her father.”)

Connecticut does not recognize parental alienation as a diagnosable syndrome as it was initially proposed in the 1980’s (officially discredited as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association in 2012). “There is insufficient evidence that the description offered of parental alienation syndrome has any scientific basis.  There is no credible evidence that this syndrome has been the subject of any scientific studies published with approval in peer-reviewed scientific literature.” Snyder v. Cedar, Superior Court, Judicial District of New Haven, NNH CV010454296, February 16, 2006 (Pittman, J.).  However, courts have made factual findings that a parent has engaged in parental alienation. See Ruggiero v. Ruggiero, 76 Conn. App. 338, 349, 819 A.2d 864 (2003) (“Following the presentation of evidence, the court stated:  [I]t’s my finding that [the plaintiff] has been guilty of parental of alienation in two ways:  One of them is that he attempted to alienate the children from [the defendant] …”). Courts also note, however, that a claim of parental alienation may be an effort by one parent to gain tactical legal advantage over another parent. Mastrangelo v Mastrangelo, Superior Court, Judicial District of New Haven, No. FA054012782S, February 1, 2017 (Kenefick, J.)  (“This was not a case of severe parental alienation orchestrated by the mother. The father had a significant role in creating the problems he had with his children … his continued attempt to expose [the plaintiff] for being an alienating mother is not going to endear his children to him. … [he] was a on a mission to punish [the plaintiff] to the detriment of seeing his children.”).

All child custody cases are complex. It is imperative for the professionals involved in every case to be knowledgeable and experienced in the particular dynamic at issue. Broder & Orland LLC, with offices in Greenwich and Westport, are experienced in custody cases involving parental alienation.