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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.

General info and definitions

back to topWhat 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.*

 * C.G.S.A. § 46b-115a.

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back to topWhat is physical custody?

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

* C.G.S.A. § 46b-115a.

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back to topWhat 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.*

 * C.G.S.A. § 46b-56a.

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back to topShould 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.

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back to topWhat are some advantages and disadvantages for getting a custody order?

There are advantages and disadvantages to requesting a custody order.

Possible Advantages of a Custody Order
A custody order can:

  • give you the right to make decisions about education, healthcare, religion and other things for your child;
  • create a clear schedule listing where the child will live and when the child will have visitation with the other parent;
  • create clear instructions for how and when the child will be passed to the other parent and returned to you;
  • address any safety issues you may have with the other parent, including explaining how and when you will discuss the child and how any potential meetings will be handled;
  • prevent either parent from moving out of state with the child; and
  • give you the right to call the police or go back to court to enforce the order if the other parent does not do what the order says and to ask that the other parent be punished (“held in contempt”).
Possible Disadvantages of a Custody Order
  • Filing for a custody order can mean that you are giving the other parent an opportunity to fight for more custody or visitation than you want;
  • Unless there are drastic circumstances, judges usually try to give both parents at least some parenting time with the child and in many states the courts favor giving joint custody;
  • If there is no custody order, then in most circumstances, both parents have equal rights to make decisions about the child and to have the child live with them – a custody order can change that balance for better or for worse;
  • For some parents, a custody order is more complicated and difficult to deal with than an informal agreement with the other parent;
  • If you have a custody order, the judge can prevent you from moving the child far away from the other parent and will be involved with your family for as long as the child is a minor;
  • If you ever want to change the custody and visitation arrangement, you have to go back to court to ask the judge to modify the order; and
  • A custody case is complicated and can be expensive if you don’t qualify for free legal services and have to hire a lawyer.
Some people decide not to get a custody order because they don't want to get the courts involved. They may have an informal agreement that works well for them or may think going to court will provoke the other parent to fight for more time with the child than he or she already has.  Once the courts are involved, the judge will listen to both parents when making decisions.

Many people decide to ask for a custody order because they cannot agree with the other parent regarding decisions about the child or because they fear the other parent will not return the child. If there is no custody order in place, there might be little you can do if the other parent keeps the child away from you (unless it is a father whose paternity has not been established). To get the child back, you would likely have to go to court to start a custody case.

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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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After an order is in place

back to topIf 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 never 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 iad program in your area, please visit our CT Finding a Lawyer page.

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back to topCan 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.

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back to topCan I get temporary emergency custody?

If a protective order is granted due to domestic violence, the order may include temporary custody of minor children and temporary visitation. Custody granted with a protective order expires with that order. The judge may also extend temporary orders as s/he feels is necessary.* 

 * C.G.S.A. § 46b-15

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Other information about custody

back to topIf 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 CT Statutes page here (in the 2nd degree) and here 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.

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back to topCan I get financial support for my children and myself?

If you have temporary custody, the judge can order the other parent to pay temporary reasonable support to both you and your children. Later, as part of the custody hearing, the judge may also order child support. The amount will be in accordance with child support guidelines, unless the judge finds good reason to vary from the guidelines.*

 * C.G.S.A. § 46b-84

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back to topWhat 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.*

 * C.G.S.A. § 46b-59a

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