Determining how to co-parent children is often one of the most challenging aspects of divorce. Even when both parents genuinely want what is best for their children, sometimes they disagree about what the best thing is.

A Fairfield child custody lawyer can assist a parent in negotiating a workable arrangement that supports the children’s best interests. Although negotiated agreements are almost always the best way to handle custody when splitting from a co-parent, our experienced family law attorneys can help you achieve your parenting goals in court if necessary.

Child Custody Fundamentals

Parents negotiating how they will raise their children while living apart must get familiar with the common terms used in court and legal documents to describe co-parenting arrangements. Two of the most important are:

  • Legal custody, which means who makes important decisions for the children; and
  • Physical custody, which means where the children live and when.

When children spend roughly equal time with each parent, that arrangement is referred to as shared physical custody. In a shared physical custody arrangement, one parent may be deemed the primary physical custodian for purposes of school enrollment, meaning their address will be the children’s official address for school registration, medical records, and similar purposes.

A parenting plan is an arrangement the parents create that describes who has legal custody, how the parents intend to divide time with the children, who pays child support and how much, and how parents will resolve disagreements. A judge must approve any plan the parents develop to ensure it meets the children’s best interests. According to Connecticut General Statutes § 46b-56(c), a judge may consider the following factors when determining whether a co-parenting arrangement serves the child’s best interests:

  • Ages of the children
  • Mental and physical health of each parent
  • Each parent’s desire and ability to meet the children’s needs
  • The relationship of each child with each parent
  • Whether the child currently lives in a stable environment and whether it is desirable to maintain that stability
  • Each parent’s capacity to encourage and nurture the children’s relationship with their co-parent
  • Whether either parent has a history of domestic violence, substance abuse, or coercive behavior

A judge also may consider the wishes of a child capable of expressing a reasoned opinion, but the child’s wishes are only one factor and not determinative.

The law does not favor mothers over fathers in custody arrangements. It presumes that children benefit from spending substantial, meaningful time with each parent and favors shared custody if the parents can put aside their differences for the children’s benefit. When parents cannot communicate effectively without hostility or potential violence, an arrangement giving one parent legal and primary physical custody might provide a safer and more stable environment for the children. A seasoned Fairfield attorney can assist a parent in developing a shared custody arrangement or seeking sole custody, if appropriate.

Developing a Plan that Meets the Best Interest Standard

Parents know each other and their children well. They are best positioned to create a co-parenting arrangement that works with everyone’s schedule and commitments and is doable for each parent. Courts prefer that parents negotiate with each other to develop a parenting plan rather than ask the judge to impose one.

Some parents communicate well concerning their children and can establish an acceptable parenting plan without help. However, other parents who have difficulty effectively communicating or aligning their views need assistance. Parents can seek assistance through non-adversarial means, such as via mediation or working with a collaborative divorce team. When such options would not be appropriate, each parent’s individual custody attorney can negotiate an acceptable co-parenting plan.

When none of these methods work, and the parents have a contested custody dispute, each parent must submit their proposed parenting plan to a judge. The judge can accept one plan or impose a different one. In most cases, a plan the parents agreed to works better for everyone, especially the children. Parents should make every effort to avoid a contested custody dispute.

Special Considerations for Unmarried Parents

Unmarried parents living apart do not necessarily need a custody agreement or parenting plan, but it is advisable to have a formal agreement. Having a court-approved agreement means that either party can ask the court to enforce it if necessary.

Unmarried fathers who expect a role in their children’s lives should take steps to establish their paternity, even if they are living with the children’s mother. If the mother dies, an unmarried father could retain custody of the children but might need to prove he is their biological parent. If the father establishes legal paternity soon after the children are born, he will not need to resolve those issues before seeking custody if the couple breaks up or the mother dies.

A proactive child custody lawyer in Fairfield can help an unmarried couple establish a father’s paternity. A dedicated legal professional can also assist unmarried parents living separately to develop a custody arrangement that benefits their children.

Seek Help on Child Custody Issues from a Fairfield Attorney

Custody issues trigger intense emotions, and those sometimes get in the way of achieving a workable parenting plan. Working with a Fairfield child custody lawyer can ease the process.

It is advisable to begin discussing custody issues as soon as you decide to divorce. Call today to speak with a qualified attorney about your situation.

Connecticut Family Lawyer | CT Family Law | Dolan Family Attorneys N/a
1305 Post Road, Suite 205 Fairfield CT 06824 (203) 990-1387