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:
- the physical and emotional safety of the child;
- the child’s nature (temperament) and the developmental needs of the child;
- the ability and willingness of the parents to understand and meet the needs of the child;
- 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;
- the wishes of the child’s parents as to custody;
- 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;
- 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;
- any manipulation by, or coercive behavior of, the parents in an effort to involve the child in the parents’ dispute;
- the ability of each parent to be actively involved in the life of the child;
- the child’s adjustment to his or her home, school and community environments;
- 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;
- the stability of the child’s existing or proposed residences, or both;
- 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;
- the child’s cultural background;
- 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;
- whether the child or a sibling of the child has been abused or neglected, as defined by law; and
- 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:
- A 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:
- remove the child from the state;
- interfere with the applicant’s custody of the child;
- interfere with the child’s educational program; or
- 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)
What can I do if the other party files multiple pleadings or motions against me as a way to harass me?
In any “family relations” matter, which includes custody, divorce, and relief from abuse cases, among others, if the judge sees a pattern that one party is filing meaningless (frivolous) and false pleadings or motions, the judge can punish (sanction) that party. The judge can issue any punishment that would be appropriate to allow the current court case to proceed without unnecessary delay or interference by the the harassing pleadings or motions.1
1 C.G.S. P.A. 21-78, § 10
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.