Custody disputes can be the most emotionally charged area of domestic litigation and are not for the faint-hearted. Because of its nature in determining the basic building blocks of a child’s security, custody decisions must be given great and deliberate consideration. Custody cases are very case- specific and individually tailored to each family’s personal lifestyle, culture and need.
Our General Statutes give the court the power to make or modify any proper order regarding the education and support of children and of their care, custody and visitation. The court can assign custody of any child to the parents jointly, to either parent solely or to a third party, according to its judgment on the facts of the case and subject to such conditions and limitations as it deems equitable.
In exercising its judgment on custody orders, the court is guided by the undefined maxim “best interests of the child.” This undefined term, covers the whole array of parenting issues, strengths and concerns that may be brought forward as justification for any particular parenting schedule. The court may also consider the child’s preferences if he/she is of sufficient age and capable of forming an intelligent preference.
It is incumbent on the parent and lawyer to bring forward information on parenting skills, history and abilities to develop an appropriate parenting plan for the family. To assist in this, the court may appoint an attorney to represent the children if they are of sufficient age to participate or a guardian ad litem if they are of a young age or non-verbal. A custody evaluation may be ordered by the Family Relations Division of the court or a private evaluator may be retained. It may be appropriate to retain a private expert witness to evaluate a custody report so that a fuller and fairer picture of the family’s situation may be presented to the court.
All in all, custody issues must be approached carefully and with diligence. The risks of adverse parenting decisions have implications that can last for many years.