Parenting Education Programs Pass Constitutional Muster

General Statutes § 46b-69b

The Connecticut legislature was concerned with the impact of divorce on minor children, and as such passed a statute allowing the Judicial Department to establish parenting education programs in actions seeking dissolution of marriage. General Statutes § 46b-69b, which came into effect in January 1994, provided the court’s tools to implement courses designed “to educate parents… on the impact on children of the restructuring of families.” Parents had to take part in such a program only once within sixty days of the filing for dissolution of marriage, but participation could be waived by the court.

Supreme Court Case of Connecticut

In a case heard by the Supreme Court of Connecticut, a pro se defendant contested the constitutionality of § 46b-69b, claiming his substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution were violated. After the defendant’s wife filed for divorce, the defendant filed a motion for exemption from the parenting education program, claiming the state impermissibly infringed on “a parent’s fundamental right to exercise case, control, and custody over his or her child.” He further argued that the state lacked a compelling interest to issue an automatic order requiring participation in the program. The trial court denied the motion and upheld the statute, and the defendant appealed.

Dutkiewicz v. Dutkiewicz

After the Court addressed a threshold question of mootness, it moved on to the defendant’s substantive due process claim. The Court needed to determine the level of review to apply, which depended on whether a fundamental right was involved. The Court agreed that strict scrutiny applies when the state interferes with a parent’s decision-making authority with respect to their children. Indeed, there is substantial state and federal case law on this point. However, the statute in question, in this case, did not infringe on a parent’s decision power – rather, it sought to educate and provide information. As the Court stated:

It is clear from the text of the statute that the purpose of the course is to educate parents and provide them with information aimed at lessening the adverse impact on children that may result from the restructuring of the family. … [W]hat the parents choose to do with the information is entirely up to them. … [N]othing in the statute requires parents to change the way that they care for their children; nothing in the statute authorizes the state to deprive parents of control or custody of their children.

Dutkiewicz v. Dutkiewicz, 289 Conn. 362, 380 (2008). Furthermore, children were not directed to participate in the program as well. Because a fundamental right was not implicated, the Court stated rational basis review applied. As long as the purported violation of a right can be “rationally related to a legitimate government purpose,” the law will be upheld. Such review is satisfied “so long as there is a plausible policy reason for the classification.” In this case, the Court determined that rational basis review was satisfied because the law was rationally related to the state’s legitimate interest in promoting the welfare of children. Therefore, the Court affirmed the judgment.

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.