When Seeking Modification of Visitation with a Child, Parents Need Not Show a Substantial Change in Circumstances

Appellate Court of Connecticut: Post-Judgment Divorce Action

In a post-judgment divorce action, the Appellate Court of Connecticut considered, in part, whether a trial court abused its discretion when it modified a visitation order. The plaintiff argued that the court did not find a substantial change in circumstances or that modification was in the child’s best interests. Furthermore, she claimed the court erred when it did not consider the defendant’s present-day ability to parent the minor child. The judgment was affirmed.

In this case, the plaintiff mother and defendant father were married for twelve years and had two minor children at the time the mother sought dissolution of the marriage. Pursuant to a separation agreement incorporated into the final judgment, the parents had joint legal custody with primary physical custody to the mother. The father had limited visitation that did not include overnights. Subsequently, he sought sole custody of one child as well as increased visitation. Among other orders, the trial court concluded the father should have increased visitation (including overnights), and the mother appealed.

Connecticut statutes provide courts with broad authority to make or modify orders regarding various family-related issues. When the court rules on a motion to modify visitation, it does not have to find that a substantial change in circumstances has occurred. Instead, the court is guided by “the best interests of the child” standard. In this case, the court was not persuaded by the mother’s arguments. It credited the father’s testimony that he and the child had “a close and bonded relationship” and spent meaningful time together. In addition, the guardian ad litem corroborated the father’s testimony, seeing “no apparent reason why [the child] shouldn’t have expanded [visitation] time [with the father].” As such, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding increased visitation was in the child’s best interests.

When the record has sufficient information on a party’s present ability to parent a child, the court will not rely on “outdated and past parental conduct” when it makes or modifies an order that impacts the parent’s accessibility to their child. In this case, the mother argued that the court abused its discretion when it did not properly consider the father’s previous conduct, which included adolescent games that involved touching each other’s buttocks. However, because the trial court relied on the father’s present “positive and loving relationship,” it did not abuse its discretion.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Whether advancing or defending a motion to modify custody or visitation, 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 at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.