Judges Are Finding that Shared Custody is In the Best Interests of Children
More parents are agreeing to shared custody when they divorce. Under Connecticut law, there is a presumption that joint legal custody is in the best interests of the children. Legal custody means both parents make important decisions about their children together. The law can be found in Connecticut General Statutes 46b-56a(b). In exceptional circumstances, such as physical abuse or substance abuse, sole legal custody may be awarded. The term physical custody means where the children primarily live. There was a time when one parent, usually the mother, had primary physical custody. The other parent, usually the father, would have parenting time with the children. Now there is a trend toward the children living with both parents. It is now more common to see expanded parenting plans. In these cases, the parents share both legal and physical custody of their children. The children will live with both parents according to a parenting arrangement in the divorce agreement.
What Factors Do Judges Consider When Awarding Shared Legal and Shared Physical Custody
- Do the parents live in close proximity to each other making it easier to transport the child to school without a lengthy care ride for example.
- Ability for the parties to co-parent – consistent if not similar rules in each house makes transition back and forth easier. However children can adapt to different rules in each parent’s home.
- A judge will consider how the parents treat each other and communicate – are they able to be civil and work together. Conflict between the parents is unhealthy for the children. A shared custodial arrangement takes cooperation, mutual support and respect.
- Child’s preference – as the child gets older, their preference is more considered. This does not mean that children get to decide the custodial arrangement. The child’s preference is just one factor to consider.
- Stability in each home environment. A judge is going to evaluate each parent’s home to ensure the children will be safe, secure, and well taken care of. The well-being of the children is always paramount.
- Does the child have special needs and how will those needs be met and handled in each household.
Movement Toward Shared Physical Custody and Shared Parenting
There appears to be a movement towards the presumption of shared physical custody as well as shared legal custody. The courts need to look at all factors to ensure the parenting plan is in the best interests of the child. In most divorce matters, the parents have either a shared or very expanded parenting plan. This trend shows that parents can work together and communicate. The well-being of their children is always the priority. When parents work with a divorce mediator, they can be creative with their parenting plans. Parents maintain control over the parenting arrangement rather than letting a judge decide. When both parents work, the parenting schedule must be flexible. Cooperation is key when work demands require a parent to change the schedule at the last minute. In the end, the parenting schedule has to meet the needs of the children and both parents for it to succeed.
Best Interests of the Children
The phrase “best interests of the child” is the key factor when creating a parenting plan or parenting schedule. When parents live farther apart or one parent lives out of state, the parties have to work out a more creative parenting schedule. In these cases, a shared parenting schedule might not be possible. One parent might have more vacation time like school holidays and time in the summer. Courts encourage parental involvement and advise the parties to work together to share their children in the best way possible. Remember, these are your children. Connecticut courts are making it increasingly difficult for one parent to control a parenting schedule for financial gain. For example, to avoid child support because of a sharing parenting arrangement. Parental alienation and using children to “get back” at the other parent is not tolerated by the court. The courts expect parents to focus on their children which can be facilitated by working with a skilled divorce mediator.
If you have any questions or would like to speak to a divorce mediator, or one of our other skilled professionals about child custody, shared legal custody, and shared physical custody or any other family law or divorce related matter, please don’t hesitate to contact Maya Murphy, P.C. at (203) 221 – 3100 or via email at SWakefield@mayalaw.com. Our firm offers free consultations to discuss your child custody, divorce or other family matter.