Tag: Legal Custody

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.

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.