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Legal Information: Connecticut

Connecticut Custody


General info and definitions

What is custody?

Custody is the physical care and supervision of a child under 19 years of age. Custody or “legal custody” also refers to the parental right to make major decisions concerning the child, including the child’s education, health care and religious training.1

1 C.G.S. § 46b-115a

What is physical custody?

Physical custody is the term used to describe the person that lives with the child on a day-to-day basis.1

1 C.G.S. § 46b-115a

What is joint custody?

Joint custody means an order awarding legal custody of the minor child to both parents, providing for joint decision-making by the parents and providing that physical custody shall be shared by the parents in such a way as to make sure the child of gets continued contact with both parents. The court may award joint legal custody without awarding joint physical custody where the parents have agreed to merely joint legal custody. A judge can assume that joint custody is in the best interest of a minor child if the parents agree.1

1 C.G.S. § 46b-56a

What is mediation?

The court may order you to take part in mediation. The session will be conducted informally as a conference or series of conferences, or by telephone. It will consist of a neutral third party, working with the parties involved to reach a mutually agreed upon solution. Each party has one challenge if they disagree with the mediator chosen. If you have been abused, make sure to tell the judge. It may affect his/her decision about whether or not to send you to mediation. If you are a victim of domestic violence, you may want to consider asking a judge to waive mediation.

If the mediator determines that mediation efforts are unsuccessful, s/he will end mediation and notify the judge that the mediation efforts have failed. The custody proceeding will then continue.1

1 C.G.S. § 46b-59a

Should I start a court case to ask for supervised visitation?

If you are not comfortable with the abuser being alone with your child, you might be thinking about asking the judge to order that visits with your child be supervised. If you are already in court because the abuser filed for visitation or custody, you may not have much to lose by asking that the visits be supervised if you can present a valid reason for your request (although this may depend on your situation).

However, if there is no current court case, please get legal advice BEFORE you start a court case to ask for supervised visits. We strongly recommend that you talk to an attorney who specializes in custody matters to find out what you would have to prove to get the visits supervised and how long supervised visits would last, based on the facts of your case.

In the majority of cases, supervised visits are only a temporary measure. Although the exact visitation order will vary by state, county, or judge, the judge might order a professional to observe the other parent on a certain amount of visits or the visits might be supervised by a relative for a certain amount of time – and if there are no obvious problems, the visits may likely become unsupervised. Oftentimes, at the end of a case, the other parent ends up with more frequent and/ or longer visits than s/he had before you went into court or even some form of custody.

In some cases, to protect your child from immediate danger by the abuser, starting a case to ask for custody and supervised visits is appropriate. To find out what may be best in your situation, please go to CT Finding a Lawyer to seek out legal advice.

Who can get custody

Who is entitled to custody?

If there is a disagreement between a parent and a non-parent about custody, a judge can assume that it is in the best interest 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.1

1 C.G.S. § 46b-56b

Can a parent who committed violence get custody or visitation?

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.1 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.

1 C.G.S. § 46b-56(c)(14)

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

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.1

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.2

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.3

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.4

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.5

1 C.G.S. § 46b-59(b)
2 C.G.S. § 46b-59(c)
3 C.G.S. § 46b-59(d)
4 C.G.S. § 46b-59(e)
5 C.G.S. § 46b-59(f)

The custody process

How 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 physical and emotional safety of the child;
  2. the child’s nature (temperament) and the developmental needs of the child;
  3. the ability and willingness of the parents to understand and meet the needs of the child;
  4. 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;
  5. the wishes of the child’s parents as to custody;
  6. 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;
  7. 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;
  8. any manipulation by, or coercive behavior of, the parents in an effort to involve the child in the parents’ dispute;
  9. the ability of each parent to be actively involved in the life of the child;
  10. the child’s adjustment to his or her home, school and community environments;
  11. the length of time that the child has lived in a stable and satisfactory environment and the desirability of continuing in such environment – – however, if a parent leaves the home during or leading up to the court case to lessen stress in the home, this won’t be held against the parent;
  12. the stability of the child’s existing or proposed residences, or both;
  13. the mental and physical health of all individuals involved – however, 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;
  14. the child’s cultural background;
  15. 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;
  16. whether the child or a sibling of the child has been abused or neglected, as defined by law; and
  17. whether the party satisfactorily completed participation in a parenting education program.1

1 C.G.S. § 46b-56(c)

Where 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.1

1 C.G.S. § 46b-115k

What are the steps for filing for custody?

Before filing in court for custody, you may want to consider drawing up an out-of-court agreement with the other parent. Usually, parents will have to be flexible when it comes to custody and visitation for the benefit of the child. Often times, parents who fight for sole custody will litigate in court for months or even years and end up with some sort of joint custody agreement after settlement or trial. However, sometimes fighting for sole custody is necessary because you can’t agree with the other parent, the other parent is not allowing contact, or your fear for your child’s well-being. Especially with domestic violence, many abusers will try to keep power and control over the victim-survivor through the child, so joint custody isn’t recommended due to the power difference in the relationship.

If you decide to file in court for custody, the process usually looks similar to this

1. File for custody. You may file in the family court or a court of a different name that hears custody cases. Depending on the circumstances, you may be able to request an emergency or temporary order as part of your petition. The exact petition you file may depend on whether you are married or not:

  • If you are a married parent who is also filing for divorce, you can usually include the custody petition within the divorce process.
  • 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 either parent lives.1

2. Prepare for the custody process

The court custody process is usually very long and can be emotionally and financially draining. If you are representing yourself in court, you can learn about the court process and how to present evidence on our Preparing for Court – By Yourself section. If you are able to hire an attorney, you can use this list of questions as your guide when deciding who to hire.

During the court process, you will try to prove why you should have your child’s custody. When preparing for court, you can gather evidence that helps make your case as to why you should have custody of the child. This process should be directed by the factors the law says a judge should consider when deciding custody. You can see How will a judge make a decision about custody? for more information. It’s important to consider that the judge will be focused on what is in the best interest of your child and many states consider that this is to have a relationship with both parents.

3. Prepare for trial

There will be one or more hearings, including a trial, if the parties cannot reach an agreement by themselves or as part of a mediation process. During trial, you or your attorney will be able to present evidence and to cross-examine the other party to help the judge make a decision.

If you are a victim of domestic violence, you can plan for your safety while in court and you should ask the judge to include some protections in the custody order. For example, you can ask for some of the following terms:

  • communications between the parents can only be in writing;
  • all communications can only be related to the child; and
  • a neutral third party should be present at the exchange of the child or should be the one to drop off and pick up the child.

You should also try to be as specific as possible in terms of the decision-making powers of each parent, who has the child on holidays, birthdays, etc., and the time and place for pick-ups and drop-offs of the child as to avoid future conflicts.

4. Options if you lose the custody case

There could be a couple of options that are filed immediately after the judge makes the custody order:

  • motion for reconsideration asks the judge to decide differently based on the law or new evidence.
  • An appeal moves the case to a higher court and asks that court to review the lower court’s decision due a judge’s error.

A petition to change (modify) the order is an option that would not be filed right away. You could ask for a modification if, later on, a substantial change of circumstances happens. A few examples could be if the other parent gets sent to jail, gets charged with child abuse or neglect, or moves to another state. If you are already divorced, a petition for a change in custody can be filed in the county where the divorce was issued.

To find out more about how the process works in your area, please contact a lawyer. Please visit our CT Finding a Lawyer page to find legal help in your area.​ You can also watch our Custody, Visitation, and Child Support videos where we explain the process. The videos include information about the different types of custody and visitation and related legal concepts that a judge will consider, child support, and moving out of state with your child.

1 C.G.S. § 46b-61(a)

Can I get an emergency ex parte custody order when I file my custody petition?

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.1 An order that is issued ex parte means that it is issued without prior notice to the other parent, based only on your affidavit/testimony. If the judge issues an emergency ex parte order, the judge will schedule a hearing within 14 days2 and the respondent but be served at least 5 days before that hearing.3 At the hearing, the other parent can object to the ex parte order continuing and it will be up to the judge to decide whether or not to continue the order.

If the judge decides not to issue an ex parte order immediately, the judge must still schedule a hearing on the matter although it may not necessarily be within 14 days.3 If at any time before or after 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 order 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.2

1 C.G.S. § 46b-56f(a)
2 C.G.S. § 46b-56f(c)
3 C.G.S. § 46b-56f(d)

Is there anything I can do if my abusive partner continually files court proceedings against me?

In any family relations matter, the judge has the power to punish (sanction) the abuser if s/he is filing motions or petitions in a pattern that the judge believes is “frivolous and intentionally fabricated.” In other words, there is no good reason for the abuser to file against you and s/he is making up these claims. If you think the abuser is doing this, you can file a motion or raise the issue with the judge while you are in court. If the judge does sanction the abuser, the punishment will be focused on making the case move forward without delay.1

“Family relations matters” means the following types of cases:

  1. separation, annulment, or divorce proceedings;
  2. alimony, support, and custody related to a separation, annulment, or divorce;
  3. name changes;
  4. relief from abuse orders;
  5. civil support obligations;
  6. custody and visitation, including habeas corpus;
  7. habeas corpus cases brought on behalf of a mentally ill person, unless that person has been charged with a crime;
  8. appointment of a commission to investigate whether someone is wrongfully confined;
  9. juvenile matters;
  10. paternity/parentage;
  11. appeals from probate court related to:
    • adoption or termination of parental rights;
    • appointment and removal of a guardian or conservator;
    • custody; or
    • orders of commitment;
  12. any of the following from another state or country:
    • prenuptial or separation agreements;
    • matrimonial or civil union decrees; or
    • divorce, separation, or annulment of a civil union;
  13. interstate custody under the UCCJEA; or
  14. any other matter concerning children or family relations that are within the power (jurisdiction) of the Superior Court.2 

1 C.G.S. § 46b-1a
2 C.G.S. § 46b-1(a)

Do 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.

If you are going to be in court without a lawyer, our Preparing for Court – By Yourself section may be useful to you.

After an order is in place

If a custody order is already in place, how can I get it changed?

Because custody is decided in the best interest of the child, an order is not usually permanent.  If you have a custody order already in place, you can petition the court to make changes to it or modify it.  Generally, you can only ask to have a custody order modified if there has been a change in circumstances.

To modify a custody order, you will generally need to go to the court that issued the order, even if you have moved.  Generally, once a court has jurisdiction, that court will keep jurisdiction, even if you move to another state. If you have moved, you can ask the court to change the jurisdiction to the new state that you are in. This is often complicated, and as with all custody issues, we recommend that you talk to a lawyer about this. To find a lawyer or legal assistance program in your area, please visit our CT Finding a Lawyer page.

Can I change the state where my case is being heard?

For information on trying to transfer a custody case to another state/ changing a final custody order a different state, please see our Changing a final custody order page.

This is often complicated, and as with all custody issues, we recommend that you talk to a lawyer about this. To find a lawyer or legal aid program in your area, please visit the CT Finding a Lawyer page.

If the other parent takes the kids out of the state without my permission, what can I do?

The answer to this question is very complicated and may depend on many different factors. If the other parent takes the children out of state or somewhere else in the state in violation of your rights to custody or visitation under a court order, you can file a petition for contempt of court.  If there is no custody order, some factors that may be considered are whether the parents are married (and considered to have equal parental rights) or, in the case of unmarried parents, whether the father’s paternity has been legally established.  Also, there could be a big difference if the other parent is planning a brief visit out of state, a long absence, or if s/he is planning on moving out of state for a long time.  You can find Connecticut’s custodial interference criminal laws on our Selected Connecticut Statutes page in the 2nd degree and in the 1st degree. However, these laws can be hard to interpret we strongly suggest talking to a lawyer who specializes in custody matters to find out if the other parent’s actions are legal or not.  See our CT Finding a Lawyer page for information about resources in your state.

If I move to a new state, can I transfer my child custody case there?

After a final custody order is issued, there may come a time when you and your children move to a different state. For information about how to request to transfer the custody case to a new state, please go to the Transferring a custody case to a different state section in our general Custody page. However, it’s important to keep in mind that you may likely first need to get permission from the court or from the other parent to move your children out of state. Please talk to a lawyer to make sure your plans to move don’t violate your custody order or your state’s parental kidnapping laws.