SPC Blog: What You Need to Know

Do Connecticut courts encourage shared parenting?

Cindy Cartier, a lawyer who does divorce mediation, writes “In recent weeks, my phone has been ringing off the hook with folks interested in mediation over litigating their family law issues.  Upon inquiry, many of them are hearing of court cases where the Judges are essentially sharing assets between parties and sharing parenting time with both parents.  They are saying, why litigate, costing us excessive amounts of money, when we can mediate, work together and reach an agreement that works for everyone. This is encouraging and hopefully a sign that people are seeking the benefits of mediation vs. litigation.” [Editor note: mediated solutions are more likely to be long lasting, whereas litigation – a judge controls the outcome – typically leaves an unhappy party who may go back to court.]

“Under CT law, there is a presumption that joint legal custody is in the best interests of the children – CGS 46b-56a(b).  In exceptional circumstances, such as physical abuse or substance abuse, sole custody may be awarded.  However, that same presumption does not exist for physical custody in Connecticut.  That being said, it is my experience and review of recent Superior Court cases, that judges have consistently awarded expanded parenting plans/schedules where the following factors are present:

  1. Parties live in close proximity to each other – making it easier to transport the child to school without a lengthy care ride;
  2. Ability for parties to co-parent – consistent if not similar rules in each house making transition back and forth easier.  [Editor note: parallel parenting, where each parent has their own rules, has been shown to work in high-conflict cases. This makes sense: we know that children can adapt to different rules at school, camp and home.]
  3. How do parties treat each other and communicate – are they able to be civil, work together, etc.  Conflict between the parents is unhealthy for the children.  A shared custodial arrangement takes coordination, support and respect.
  4. Child’s preference – as the child gets older, their preference is more considered.
  5. Stability in each home environment.
  6. If the child has special needs – how is that going to be handled in each household.”

“There does appear to be a movement towards the presumption of joint physical custody to support joint legal custody, but the courts need to look at all factors to ensure the parenting plan is in the best interest of the child. … [In most cases the] parties have either a shared or very expanded parenting plan showing that when folks can work together and communicate, they can reach a more positive result for all parties.  The remaining cases, the parties have decided on various parenting plans that meet their needs, i.e., when they live farther apart or work demands a reduced parenting schedule.  I always encourage parent involvement and the parties to work together to “share” their children in the best way possible without making the child feel they are a tool to be used as a ping-pong ball.”

The Shared Parenting Council concludes that Connecticut courts are making it increasingly difficult to manipulate their rules to gain financially, exert power over the other parent, or to vent anger at the other parent. The courts are increasingly requiring parents to focus on their children, a process facilitated by working with skilled divorce mediators. For lists of experienced mediators and divorce financial experts, go to: https://sharedparentinginc.org/resources/.

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