Due to Mother’s Pattern of “Contemptuous Conduct,” Award of Sole Custody to Child’s Father Was Proper

Appellate Court of Connecticut: Post-Judgment Divorce Action

In a post-judgment divorce action involving contemptuous conduct, the Appellate Court of Connecticut considered a defendant’s numerous claims that the trial court erred in its child custody determination. The plaintiff father and defendant mother were married for fourteen years and had one child together. Pursuant to a comprehensive separation agreement, the parents shared joint legal custody, while the mother had primary physical custody of the minor child.

Five years after the court dissolved their marriage, the father moved to modify the custody order due to a change in circumstances. He alleged that the mother alienated the child from him and constantly deprived him of his parenting rights without judicial reprimand. The court issued a temporary order granting the father sole physical custody of the child pending further proceedings.

Court Decision

After three days of hearings, the court granted the father’s motion, finding that the minor child was in “a healthier environment” since the transfer of custody. The mother, on the other hand, “wrongfully engage[d] in efforts to manipulate the minor child,” a characterization imputed by numerous unbiased parties. The court noted the mother’s past inability to comply with court orders, “lengthy pattern of contemptuous conduct,” financial waste, a pattern of parental alienation, and history of false reports of abuse and neglect to government agencies, resulting in wasted investigational efforts.

The court found that the father established a change in circumstances, and it was in the child’s best interests that the father receive sole legal and physical custody. In addition, the court entered orders that severely restricted the mother’s ability to file motions in the matter due to her previous abuses of the system.

Appeal

On appeal, the mother contended that the court abused its discretion by modifying the order, but the Appellate Court quickly rejected this argument. Trial courts have broad discretion in determining what is in the best interests of a minor child, and in this case, there was substantial evidence supporting the trial court’s conclusion. As such, an abuse of discretion did not occur.

The mother also contended that the court orders that restricted her own ability to seek modification of custody and parenting access were impermissible. In its ruling, the trial found that “the defendant has filed … numerous pleadings and complaints that have resulted in unnecessary litigation.” The Appellate Court stated that the imposition of conditions with respect to a party’s ability to file motions, in circumstances such as this, are warranted and do not constitute an abuse of discretion.

Final Outcome

Finally, the mother argued that it was improper for the trial court to base its decision, in part, on a finding of parental alienation. She alleged that because the father did not present expert testimony, and the court did not make any findings with respect to the theory, the court abused its discretion. The Appellate Court readily disagreed, saying that such considerations – manipulation and coercion by a parent – are permitted under General Statutes § 46b-56 (c). Therefore, because the mother failed to establish any grounds for reversal, the Appellate Court affirmed judgment.

Whether advancing or defending a motion to modify custody or visitation, a divorced parent is best served by consulting with an experienced family law practitioner. Should you have questions regarding matrimonial matters, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com. Call today to schedule a free initial consultation.