Modification of joint custody due to conflict between ex-spouses

In Baker-Grenier v. Grenier, the Appellate Court of Connecticut upheld a ruling by the New Haven Superior Court modifying a prior custody decree, finding that it was in the best interests of the parties' minor child to reside with the child's father, and that the parties share joint legal custody, with the father having final decisionmaking authority, in view of evidence that the child's mother was harboring too much anger, which impacted her dealings with the father.

Connecticut law recognizes that in cases involving custody disputes between the parents of a minor child an important consideration for protecting the best interests of the child is the fashioning of a parental responsibility plan that minimizes the child's exposure to harmful parental conflict and encourages the parents, where appropriate, to meet their responsibilities through cooperation and agreement. Connecticut courts examine the willingness of a parent to encourage a relationship between their child and the other parent.

Other factors considered when determining custody include such things as the mental and physical health of the parties, their individual preferences, information provided by the child, the cultural background and needs of the child, the past and current relationship between the child and each parent, and whether there has been a history of abuse or domestic violence.

Background

The parties are the parents of a minor son, who was born in 1998. They were married in 2005, but the marriage was subsequently dissolved in 2009. The court's judgment of dissolution of marriage incorporated an agreement by the parties to share legal and physical custody of the child and that the father would provide child support.

In 2011, the father filed a motion to modify the custody order, asking the court to grant him physical custody and to grant the mother reasonable visitation rights. A guardian ad litem was appointed to represent the child's interests, and the court ordered the matter referred to the Family Relations Office for a comprehensive evaluation. The father then filed a motion for an award of sole legal custody of the child, which the trial court denied.

At the hearing, the family relations officer submitted a recommendation to the court, based on his evaluation that the parties continue to share joint legal custody with the father having primary physical custody and final decisionmaking authority. The guardian ad litem testified that the mother "harbors too much anger" and this affected her dealings with the father.

The Superior Court ruled that it was in the best interests of the child to reside with the father. The court's decision provided that the parties would share joint legal custody of the child, but the father would have final decisionmaking authority as to the child. The ruling also set forth orders regarding a parenting plan, decisionmaking responsibilities, miscellaneous parenting plan provisions, child support, and other matters. The mother filed an appeal in the Appellate Court of Connecticut.

The Appellate Court's decision

The Appellate Court stated that the trial court has broad discretion in resolving disputes relating to the child custody, that the trial court properly acted within its discretion in granting the father's motion to modify custody and that the trial court's exercise of its discretion was supported by the evidence.

Individuals facing issues relating divorce, child custody or other domestic relations matters are urged to consult with a competent attorney, experienced in such matters for the protection of their legal rights.