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Know the Laws: Connecticut

UPDATED February 12, 2014

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Please consider getting help from an organization in your area before proceeding with court action. To find an organization, please go to the Where to Find Help tab at the top of this page.

The custody process

back to topWho is entitled to custody?

If there is a disagreement between a parent and a nonparent about custody, a judge can assume that it is in the best interst of the child to be with the parent. This is true unless it can be shown that being with the parent would be harmful to the child.

Where the parents are no longer living or unfit, the judge can award custody to another person or to an agency such as the Department of Human Resources, depending on what the judge believes to be in the best interest of the child. If one parent is dead, is unable or refuses to take custody, or has abandoned the child, the other parent is usually entitled to custody of the child.*

 * C.G.S.A. § 46b-56b.

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back to topCan I get an emergency ex parte custody order?

Anyone who is filing for custody of a minor child can ask the court to issue an emergency ex parte order of custody when s/he believes there is an immediate and present risk of physical danger or psychological harm to the child.*

The judge will hold a hearing within 14 days to determine whether or not to grant it** and the respondent but be served at least 5 days before the hearing.***  If at the hearing (or at any time before the hearing), the judge believes that an immediate and present risk of physical danger or psychological harm to the child exists, the judge has the power to issue an emergency ex parte order for the protection of the child (and the judge can inform the Department of Children and Families of any relevant information in your affidavit for their possible investigation).  The emergency ex parte order that the judge issues can provide temporary child custody or visitation rights and can order the respondent-parent to not: (1) remove the child from the state; (2) interfere with the applicant's custody of the child; (3) interfere with the child's educational program; or (4) take any other specific action that is in the best interests of the child.**

* C.G.S.A § 46b-56f(a)
** C.G.S.A § 46b-56f(c)
*** C.G.S.A § 46b-56f(d)

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back to topHow will a judge make a decision about custody?

A judge will look at what is in the best interest of the child when s/he is deciding who will receive custody.  The judge may consider one or more of the following factors, among others: 

  1. the temperament (nature) and developmental needs of the child;
  2. the ability and willingness of the parents to understand and meet the needs of the child;
  3. any relevant and important information obtained from the child, including the child's preference (if the child is able to maturely able to form a preference);
  4. the wishes of the child's parents as to custody;
  5. the past and current interaction and relationship of the child with each parent, the child's siblings and any other person who may significantly affect the best interests of the child;
  6. the 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 following any court orders;
  7. any manipulation by, or coercive behavior of, the parents in an effort to involve the child in the parents' dispute;
  8. the ability of each parent to be actively involved in the life of the child;
  9. the child's adjustment to his or her home, school and community environments;
  10. the length of time that the child has lived in a stable and satisfactory environment and the desirability of continuing in such environment (however, the court may consider favorably a parent who voluntarily leaves the child's family home pendente lite in order to alleviate stress in the household;
  11. the stability of the child's existing or proposed residences, or both;
  12. the mental and physical health of all individuals involved (but a parent's disability will not be the only determining factor unless the proposed custodial arrangement is not in the best interests of the child);
  13. the child's cultural background;
  14. the effect on the child of the actions of an abuser, if any domestic violence has occurred between the parents or between a parent and another individual or the child;
  15. whether the child or a sibling of the child has been abused or neglected, as defined by law; and
  16. whether the party satisfactorily completed participation in a parenting education program.*

* C.G.S.A. § 46b-56(c)

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back to topCan a parent who committed violence get custody or visitation?

Possibly.  The judge will consider various factors when making an order of custody and visitation.  One factor a judge can consider is if domestic violence has occurred between the parents, between a parent and someone else, or between a parent and the child -- the judge can consider the effect that the actions of the abuser have had on the child.* However, this is only one of many factors considered and does not necessarily mean that an abuser will not get some form of custody or visitation.

* C.G.S. § 46b-56(c)(14)

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back to topI am the child's grandparent, close relative, etc. Can I get visitation?

Possibly.  Anyone can file for visitation if s/he can allege in the petition (and later prove at a hearing) that:

  1. a parent-like relationship exists between the person and the child; and
  2. denial of visitation would cause real and significant harm.*
In determining whether a "parent-like relationship" exists between the petitioner and the child, the judge can consider the following factors (among others):
  • the length of the relationship between the petitioner and the child before s/he filed for visitation;
  • the length of time that the relationship between the petitioner and the child has been disrupted;
  • the specific parent-like activities of the petitioner toward the child;
  • any evidence that the petitioner has unreasonably undermined the authority and discretion of the custodial parent;
  • the significant absence of a parent from the life of the child;
  • the death of one of the child's parents;
  • the physical separation of the parents of the child;
  • the fitness of the person seeking visitation; and
  • the fitness of the custodial parent.*1
If the person applying for visitation is a grandparent (or great-grandparent), the judge can also consider the history of regular contact and proof of a close and substantial relationship between the grandparent and the child in addition to considering the factors above.*2

In determining the best interests of the child, the judge is supposed to consider the child's wishes if s/he is old enough to be able of form an intelligent opinion.*3

Note: If a grandparent or other person is granted visitation, such visitation rights cannot be a ground for preventing the relocation of the custodial parent.*4

* CT ST § 46b-59(b)
*1 CT ST § 46b-59(c)
*2 CT ST § 46b-59(d)
*3 CT ST § 46b-59(e)
*4 CT ST § 46b-59(f)

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back to topDo I need a lawyer?

You do not need a lawyer to file for custody.  However, it may be difficult for you represent yourself in court without the help of a lawyer.  Also, if the other parent has a lawyer, it will be particularly helpful if you have a lawyer as well. To find a lawyer or legal aid program in your area, please visit our CT Finding a Lawyer page.

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back to topWhere can I file for custody? (Which state has jurisdiction?)

Custody jurisdiction is state law. However, Connecticut, like most states, has adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), which we explain here.

Under the UCCJEA, you can only file for custody in the "home state" of the child. (There are exceptions to the "home state" rule -- see below.)

The "home state" is the state where the child has lived with a parent or a person acting as a parent for at least six consecutive months. If your child is less than six months old, the "home state" is the state where the child has lived from birth. (Temporary absence from the state does not change anything.)

If you and your child recently moved to a new state, you cannot file for custody in that new state until you have lived there for at least six months. Until then, the other parent can start a custody action in the state that your children most recently lived in for at least six months.

There are exceptions to the home state rule. In some cases, you can file for custody in a state where the children and at least one parent have "significant connections." Usually, however, you can only do this if there is no home state or if the home state has agreed to let another state have jurisdiction. This can be complicated, and if you think this applies to your situation, please talk to a lawyer in both states about this.

You can also file for temporary emergency custody in a state other than the home state if:

1. the child is present in that state, and
2. the child has been abandoned or it is necessary in an emergency to protect the child because the child, or a sibling or parent of the child, is subjected to or threatened with mistreatment or abuse.*

 * C.G.S.A. § 46b-115k.

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back to topWhat are the steps for filing for custody?

It depends on the particulars of your situation. To find out what the process will be like for you, please consult a lawyer in your area. To find a lawyer or legal aid program in your area, please visit the CT Finding a Lawyer page under the Where to Find Help tab at the top of this page.

Generally, if the parents are married, one or both of the parents usually files for custody as part of a divorce action. If the parents are already divorced, the parent who does not have custody can file a petition for a change in custody in the county where the divorce was issued. If the parents were never married or live separately, either parent can file for custody in the county in which the child has been living for at least six months.*

 * C.G.S.A. § 46b-61

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