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September 23, 2016

What will occur if the parties cannot agree is an expensive, long and drawn-out case in which the children will become directly involved.

· What is Legal Custody?

Often at a consultation, a client will walk in and tell us he/she wants custody of the children. However, what most people do not realize is that the overwhelming majority of divorcing couples throughout Connecticut have joint legal custody of their children. This is true even in some of the most contentious cases.

As any top divorce lawyer in Greenwich, Westport, Stamford, Darien, or New Canaan will tell you, legal child custody can generally be defined as the parent who is responsible for the major decisions that impact the well-being of the children. More specifically, legal child custody in Connecticut is based on who makes health, education, and religious decisions concerning the children. At Broder Orland Murray & DeMattie LLC, we find that most people actually agree on these issues. For example, if the children are doing well and are happy in their current school, there is no education issue to address. Further, people generally agree to follow the child’s pediatrician or appropriate physician’s advice in caring for his/her health and medical well-being. With regard to religion, a child is often already involved, or not involved, with a religion. We rarely see disagreements in this area.

· Who becomes involved in Child Custody Cases?

When the parties cannot agree on how to make major decisions concerning the health, education, and religion of the children, the worst of the worst occurs-a custody battle; a battle which, if left unresolved, will most likely result in a full-blown trial. This means that after spending tens of thousands of dollars in fees and costs, a judge will tell you who will essentially be “in charge” of your children.

Once it is determined that you will have a child custody case, subject to the children’s age, a Guardian ad Litem and/or an Attorney for the Minor Child will be appointed. The parties will have to pay for the services of a Guardian ad Litem or an Attorney for the Minor Child in addition to their own attorneys’ fees. These fees are not paid for by the State of Connecticut.

The general difference between Guardian ad Litems and Attorneys for the Minor Child are as follows: The primary role of a Guardian ad Litem is to gather all of the necessary information concerning children directly from the appropriate sources. For example, a Guardian ad Litem will often talk to the child’s therapist, physician, nanny, teacher, coach, or other influential members of the child’s day-to-day life. A Guardian ad Litem will also meet with the child individually and with both parents. Also, a Guardian ad Litem is permitted to testify on the witness stand in Court.

An Attorney for the Minor Child differs in that the attorney will actually advocate for what the child wants. This attorney will meet extensively with the child and the parents, as well as meet with the same contacts as the Guardian ad Litem.

In addition to the Guardian ad Litem and/or Attorney for the Minor Child, it is possible that a psychological evaluation of both parties and the children will be ordered by the Judge. This means that a psychologist will meet extensively with everyone in the case, administer numerous psychological tests, and issue a lengthy and detailed written report. Once again, the parties would have to pay for the costs of the evaluation. In our experience, these reports are never flattering; they contain extremely personal and in-depth information about the entire family. Once the writing is on paper, it can never be “taken back”. The psychologist will also be testifying in open court at trial about the psychological issues concerning the parties and their children.

In addition to the above, the Court may order that a family relations study take place. In this situation, an individual from the family relations office from the courthouse where the case is pending, will visit with the parties and the children, and then talk to all of the sources that the Guardian ad Litem and/or Attorney for the Minor Children have already spoken to. This party, after gathering the necessary information, will issue a written report listing their recommendations. This same person will be testifying at Court in the event there is a trial.  More on Legal Custody v. Physical Custody

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