After a marriage breaks down between parents of minor children, spouses may choose to relocate for a variety of reasons. Connecticut law recognizes that when a custodial parent seeks to relocate at the time of divorce, paternity action or in a post-judgment setting, the move may involve disruptions for the child, as well as potential stresses on parent-child relationships. For that reason, in any child custody dispute filed in family court, the Automatic Orders prohibit parents from removing minor children from the state in the absence of written permission from the other parent, or authorization obtained through a court order.
In all matters involving the custody of children, courts evaluate the evidence and base their determinations upon the best interest of the child. During a dissolution proceeding, courts generally weigh sixteen enumerated factors in determining physical custody, which typically refers to where the child will reside. Physical custody may be shared, Courts may also designate one parent as the primary physical custodian. In an initial child custody dispute, where the children will reside is generally determined with all custody issues through the lens of the best interests of the child. See, e.g. Noonan v. Noonan, 122 Conn.App 184 at 191 (2010).
Physical Custody Is Naturally Part Of Divorce Disputes
In a dissolution, various issues may need to be resolved to maintain consistency between financial orders, custody orders and other issues within the resolution of the divorce. In Blake v. Blake, the trial judge in the dissolution allowed the custodial parent to relocate to California with the minor children. The financial orders were interwoven, as the trial court expressed concern over the ability of the custodial parent to maintain a similar lifestyle for the children after moving to the West Coast. As a part of the asset allocation, the trial judge awarded the custodial parent a lot in California valued at “$1,200,000 to enable her to build a home in California comparable to the $675,000 family home in” Connecticut. 207 Conn. 217 at 233 (1988). The Connecticut Supreme Court found no abuse of discretion in the trial judge’s financial orders involving property division, child support and alimony.
Post-Judgment Relocations Place The Burden Of Proof On The Relocating Parent
In October 2006, Public Act No. 06-168 was put into effect. The law specifically addresses post-judgment parental relocation matters and applies to any relocation that would have a significant impact on an existing parenting plan.
Connecticut law presumes that it is in the best interests of a child to remain with a custodial parent. In any dispute brought in family court concerning the relocation of either parent that will have a significant impact on an existing parenting plan in a final order of the court, the relocating parent must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the move is for a legitimate purpose, the location of the move reasonably serves the purpose of moving and that the relocation serves the best interest of the child. CT ST § 46b-56d. In determining whether relocation serves the best interest of the child in a post-judgment dispute, courts consider several factors, including:
- The reasons for the relocation or for opposing the relocation
- The quality of the individual relationships between each parent and the child
- The degree to which the relocation may impact quantity and the quality of contact with the nonrelocating parent
- The degree to which the relocating parent’s and the child’s life may be enhanced economically, emotionally and educationally by the relocation
- The feasibility of preserving the relationship between the nonrelocating parent and the child through suitable visitation arrangements
It may often seem difficult for parents to view the factors and the evidence as a detached judicial authority may view the arguments. Courts have broad discretion in evaluating evidence and weighing each factor. Moreover, the judge need not place equal weight to the evaluation of each factor.
In the totality of the circumstances, the factors and evidence in support of each concept, are complex. The statutory factors are not necessarily boxes to check on a form. Thorough analysis, detailed preparation and strategic presentation in court are important when seeking to modify any existing order, including a revised parenting plan associated with the permission and authorization for a custodial parent to relocate with a minor child.