CT Third Party Custody
Third party custody can be awarded in Connecticut under some very exceptional circumstances. Most third-party actions fail and custody is ultimately awarded to a parent because they have a fundamental right to raise their children. The Connecticut Judicial Branch put out a few publications that outline what it takes for a third party to win in a custody action and the standards that will be applied to such actions.
That publication included an analysis of a landmark case in Connecticut, Fish v. Fish, that helped shape the law on this issue in Connecticut. That case has since been cited as the proper way to interpret C.G.S.A. 46b-56 and 46b-57 which deal with custody and visitation. The CT publication and Fish v. Fish will be excerpted in the following to explain this tricky custody issue.
Basic CT Principals
To begin it is helpful to outline a few basic Connecticut principles. First, “third parties cannot initiate custody proceedings, unlike third parties who are permitted to initiate proceedings in visitation cases.” Fish v. Fish, 285 Conn. 24, 72 (2008). Therefore, in order for a third party to make a claim for custody, they would have to intervene in an already initiated custody proceeding.
Next, a third party attempting to intervene in a custody proceeding needs to have proper standing. Unlike a parent who clearly has standing in a custody proceeding, a third party needs to overcome this constitutional hurdle by properly alleging a parent-like relationship.
As stated in Fish, “. . . to avoid constitutional infirmity, the standing requirement that a third party allege a parent-like relationship with the child should be applied for all of the reasons described in Roth to third party custody awards and to third parties seeking intervention in existing custody proceedings.” Id. at 44.
Overcoming a Strong Parental Presumption
If a third party does intervene properly and has standing, then the third party needs to overcome a strong parental presumption. “The statutory presumption in favor of parental custody may be rebutted only in exceptional circumstances and only upon a showing that it would be clearly damaging, injurious or harmful for the child to remain in the parent’s custody.” Id.
“Where the dispute is between a fit parent and a private third party, both parties do not begin on equal footing in respect to rights to care, custody, and control of the children. The parent is asserting a fundamental constitutional right. The third party is not. A private third party has no fundamental constitutional right to raise the children of others.
Generally, absent a constitutional statute, the non-governmental third party has no rights, constitutional or otherwise, to raise someone else’s child.” Id. at 46. Most jurisdictions have observed that third-party custody awards should be exceptional in nature and that the concept of detriment involves a type of analysis qualitatively different from that involving the best interests of the child.
Fish Court Conclusion
The Fish court concluded, “that the statutory presumption in favor of parental custody may be rebutted only in exceptional circumstances and only upon a showing that it would be clearly damaging, injurious or harmful for the child to remain in the parent’s custody.”
See In re B.G., 11 Cal.3d at 698. “We add that this does not mean temporary harm of the kind resulting from the stress of the dissolution proceeding itself but significant harm arising from a pattern of dysfunctional behavior that has developed between the parent and the child over a period of time.” Id. at 57.
“Such a standard is not constitutionally infirm or susceptible to the criticism sometimes leveled against the “best interests of the child” test because it does not allow the court to apply its own “personal and essentially unreviewable lifestyle preferences.” Roth v. Weston, 259 Conn. at 223.
“At the same time, the standard we adopt is narrowly tailored to limit the scope of intervention to those exceptional cases in which parental custody would result in significant harm to the child, thus serving the compelling state interest of protecting the liberty interests of the parents while remaining sensitive to the child’s welfare.” Id.
As you can see there are significant hurdles for a third party to overcome if they have a legitimate reason for wanting custody of someone’s child. In summation, the party must prove by a fair preponderance of the evidence facts demonstrating that he or she has a relationship with the child akin to that of a parent, that parental custody clearly would be detrimental to the child and, upon a finding of detriment, that third party custody would be in the child’s best interest.
Third-party custody is an uphill fight and only a very experienced attorney can help a client navigate these rough waters. If you need a lawyer’s assistance in a custody matter, don’t hesitate to call one of Maya Murphy’s experienced family law attorneys for a free consultation at 203-221-3100.
Written by Kyle M. Buonocore, Excerpts from Fish v. Fish, 285 Conn. 24 (2008).
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