Relocation of a Minor Child OK, Father Failed To Supply Adequate Record for Court To Review

In a divorce action regarding the relocation of a minor, the Appellate Court of Connecticut upheld a lower court’s ruling allowing a mother’s relocation with her minor child to Virginia. Because the father failed to provide articulable facts in support of an additional claim, the court declined to review it.

The plaintiff, mother, and defendant, father, were married in Darien in 1998, and had one minor child. The mother worked in marketing and sales in Danbury, but her sales territory was moved to four southern states, including Virginia. Because on-site presence was necessary both during and after the sales process, the mother believed relocation was necessary for advancement in leadership and management positions within the company. She further expressed concern about the cost of living in Fairfield County and being able to provide her child a good, stable life. Meanwhile, at the time of dissolution, the father was a sales representative working out of his house. He had two children from a previous marriage, and there was constant dispute over his payment of child support and alimony.

The parties’ child suffered from numerous medical problems, including epilepsy. To better inform care providers, the mother developed a comprehensive package of information for their use in the event of an emergency. The father downplayed the significance of the child’s condition, and frequently disputed with the mother over the child’s medication and other matters of the child’s upbringing, which the child witnessed. While litigation was pending, the mother accrued $18,000 in medical expenses for the child, but the father did not offer to pay any amount of these costs.

A guardian ad litem (GAL) was appointed in 2005 and he met with both parties and the child. The GAL concluded that the mother was the primary caregiver, and he both recommended that she be awarded sole custody and supported the proposed relocation. A family relations counselor agreed with these conclusions. The court awarded sole legal custody to the mother, as it was in the best interests of the child because she was more nurturing and aware of the child’s needs. It noted the father had the ability to frequently visit the child in Virginia, and as such did not order weekly child support payments. However, the father was required to pay $346 for each missed visit. The father was ordered to maintain his life insurance until the child reached majority age. The father appealed these decisions, noting insufficient evidence on the record supporting the decision allowing relocation, stating it was improper to penalize him for missed visitation, and arguing that the court exceeded its jurisdiction with respect to the life insurance order.

Relocation issues that arise at the initial judgment for the dissolution of marriage are governed by the best interest of the child standard, articulated in Connecticut General Statutes § 46b-56. Subsection (c) lists sixteen factors that a court may consider, but it need not assign any weight to any factor. In this case, the Appellate Court found ample evidence on the record supporting the trial court’s decision allowing relocation, but did not find an abuse of discretion in the decision.

It is not the power of an appellate court to find facts, but to review claims on a complete factual record developed by the trial court. It is the duty of an appellant to supply the court with an adequate record for review. In this case, the Appellate Court declined to review the father’s claim with respect to the visitation penalty, as he did not present his claim adequately. In fact, he submitted a scant brief devoid of any legal authority supporting his claim, and the court would not make speculations to fill in the holes.

Decisions regarding post-secondary education may occur after the dissolution of marriage, so courts have the authority to retain jurisdiction to later order educational support for adult children. The court may provide for assurance of that support with life insurance. In this case, the Appellate Court found no abuse in discretion by the trial court and upheld this order, since it was clearly tied to a future educational support order.

Whether advancing or defending a motion seeking custody, visitation, and child support, a 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 JMaya@mayalaw.com.