Connecticut Child Custody and Support Explained

 

Connecticut’s legal system is focused on protecting the rights and well-being of children throughout the divorce process. These are some of the important concepts which shape the decisions the court makes which affect children in divorce and custody cases.

Best Interests of the Child

This is the legal standard which guides all decisions the court makes concerning children in divorce cases, or in custody cases in which the parents never married. If there is a dispute, the court must seek out the option which is best for the child. This includes sustained growth, development, well-being, and the continuity and stability of the child’s environment. If a parent wishes to relocate a child out of state, the parent must be prepared to demonstrate, at minimum, that living accommodations, schooling and child care are in place.

Legal Custody

This is the right to make decisions for and about the minor child, including decisions about the child’s education, religion and healthcare. Legal custody is sometimes confused with physical custody (discussed below).

Joint Legal Custody

Normally, both parents are awarded joint legal custody. Even though the parents’ personal relationship may be ended, courts usually require them to continue as partners in the business of raising their children. Joint legal custody requires mutual communication and cooperation — the willingness and ability on the part of each parent to voice concerns and opinions, and rationally consider and fairly weigh the views of the other parent.

Physical Custody

Usually, one parent is primary or custodial. The other parent has visitation rights, which may include overnights, weekends and vacations. There are many possible variations, including shared custody (the child’s time with each parent is split 50/50).

Child Support

Both parents have an obligation, according to their respective abilities, to support their children until they complete the twelfth grade, or reach the age of 19, whichever occurs first. Child support payments flow to the parent with primary physical custody because, generally, that parent will pay most of the day-to-day costs of parenting. The baseline amount of each parent’s child support obligation is determined by the Connecticut Child Support Guidelines, which considers each parent’s income.

The guidelines are based on an income shares model, and reflect the principle that spending on children declines as a proportion of family income as income levels rise. The recommended support order derived from the guidelines can be deviated from by agreement, or if circumstances warrant (for example, if there is a shared custody arrangement).

Educational Support Orders

Although the child support obligation typically ends when the children finish high school, the court may enter an educational support order at the time it enters a judgment of dissolution, annulment or legal separation. The court may also reserve jurisdiction to enter an educational support order at a later date. Otherwise, the court will not have jurisdiction to impose an educational support obligation after the judgment enters. An educational support order may enter with respect to any child who has not yet reached the age of 23, and require one or both parents to pay the cost of attendance for up to four academic years toward a bachelor’s or other undergraduate degree, or vocational instruction.

The amount ordered may include room, board, dues, tuition, fees, registration and application costs, but it may not be more than the amount charged by UConn for a full-time in-state student at the time the child matriculates, except by agreement of the parents. Educational support orders, once uncommon, are becoming the norm.

Parenting Plan

In the majority of cases which settle before trial the parties’ agreement as to the above issues is set forth in a Parenting Plan, which is part of the Separation Agreement. If the case is tried, the court will decide these issues, or at least those on which the parties do not agree.

The Guardian Ad Litem and the Attorney for the Minor Child

In cases where there is a significant dispute over custody or visitation issues, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem to investigate and make nonbinding recommendations to the court. The guardian ad litem is usually a lawyer, psychologist or other professional, and gives independent advice as the eyes and ears of the court.

In appropriate cases, the court may appoint an attorney for the minor child (AMC) if it believes it is necessary to do so for the child’s best interests to be adequately presented to the court.

Parenting Education Program

Parents of minor children are required to complete a parenting education program, which is offered on a regular basis by a number of private service providers. The course includes information on the developmental stages of children, adjustment of children to the parents’ separation, dispute resolution and conflict management, guidelines for visitation, stress reduction in children and cooperative parenting. Upon completion of the program, the provider certifies the parent’s completion of the program directly to the court.

Modification of Custody and Support Orders

Custody and support orders can be modified by showing that the parties’ circumstances have changed substantially since the entry of the judgment. There is a rebuttable presumption that any deviation of less than 15% from the Child Support Guidelines is not substantial, and that any deviation of 15% or more is substantial.

Contact Lawyer Edward P. Jurkiewicz Today

Hartford area bankruptcy attorney and divorce lawyer Edward P. Jurkiewicz has over 20 years of experience representing clients. Our firm represents debtors and creditors and handles both relatively simple divorces and bankruptcies and more complex litigation matters. With this depth of experience, our firm is able to anticipate and prepare for any potential issues that could arise in your bankruptcy, divorce or family matter.

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