Sometimes your house feels a bit like a circus and you are the famous P.T. Barnum. You carpool kids, host team parties, cook meals, fold laundry, and check homework. Things can be busy and loud, but you wouldn’t have it any other way. Now that you are no longer living with your children’s other parent, however, that parent has vowed to take a more active role in raising your children. You’re worried, because if you couldn’t make your relationship work, how will you agree on raising your kids? What are your legal rights to parent your children?
For general background, take a look at Findlaw’s article on child custody basics. Then, return to this page for more detailed information about your Bridgeport child custody case.
Who is Entitled to Custody in Connecticut?
Connecticut presumes it’s best for a child to be in the custody of a parent. If there is a custody disagreement between a parent and non-parent, a judge will award custody to the parent unless there is evidence that being with the parent would harm the child. A court can give custody to a non-parent or government agency if both parents are deceased or have been deemed unfit by a judge. In circumstances where two parents cannot agree on a parenting plan, they can open a child custody case and have a judge make child custody decisions.
How Do I Open a New Child Custody Case in Bridgeport?
How you proceed with a custody case generally depends on your relationship with your child’s other parent. If you are married to the other parent and one or both of you files for divorce, you can get custody orders as part of that case. In the event you are already divorced from the other parent, but were not granted custody as part of the divorce, you can file a petition for change in custody in the county where the divorce was issued. If you were never married, you or the other parent can file for custody in Fairfield County, if your child has been living here for at least 6 months.
A court will not issue custody orders until the child’s father is legally identified in a process called paternity. Once paternity is established, a father gains legal rights and responsibilities, including financially supporting the child.
Where Do I File for Child Custody?
To file for custody orders in Bridgeport, you need to complete an application and other required paperwork. Once your application is filled out, take it to the Court Clerk located at 1061 Main Street in Bridgeport. The Clerk will review the paperwork and give you instructions for providing a copy to the other parent and filing it with the court.
There are fees associated with opening a custody case. The costs generally are in the $400 range. If you cannot afford to pay the fees, you may apply for waiver by a judge.
The paperwork will contain a Notice of Hearing letting you know when and where your first custody hearing will be held. Additionally, within 60 days of filing the case, you and the other parent must participate in a mandatory Parenting Education Program.
Can I Get Custody Orders Without Going to a Court Hearing?
Possibly. If both you and the other parent agree to attend mediation, you may be able to reach a parenting plan though mutual agreement. Even if you reach an agreement, however, a judge must approve it to make it enforceable.
What Will Happen at the Court Hearing?
First, the judge may order you and the other parent to go to Family Services to speak with staff about resolving issues related to your custody case. If you are able to negotiate an agreement together at that time, it will be provided to the judge for review.
If you are unable to reach an agreement, you may have a hearing where the judge and the other parent (or his/her attorney), question both you and the other parent. The judge may issue a decision that day or send you custody orders in the mail.
Alternately, the judge may set another hearing for a later date if you or the other parent wants to hire an attorney or if there are complicated issues associated with your case. In that circumstance, the judge may order an evaluation to help with the custody assessment. As part of the evaluation, an evaluator will prepare a report with custody recommendations for the court.
At a hearing, the most important factor a judge considers is the “best interests of the child.” The judge weighs many elements in determining the best interests, including the following:
How Can I Enforce a Custody Order?
If you have custody orders that the other parent is not following, you can file a petition for civil contempt of court to enforce the orders.
How Do I Modify a Court Order?
You can ask the court to make changes to existing custody orders, but generally there must be a substantial change in circumstances since the orders were first issued and the modifications must be in the best interests of the child.
To schedule a modification hearing, you will need to complete an application and other required paperwork, and file these with the clerk of the court that issued the initial orders. You will also need to provide the paperwork to the other parent and pay additional court fees.
Where Can I Go for Help with My Child Custody Case?
Family disagreements are generally emotionally challenging, but child custody cases can be particularly stressful for both parents and children. Family counseling resources are available to help. You may also consider consulting an experienced family law attorney in Bridgeport to explain your legal rights and suggest the next course of action for your needs. Free or low-cost legal representation is also available to those who qualify. If you are not represented by an attorney, the Court Service Center located on the first floor of the Fairfield Judicial District Courthouse may be able to provide you with administrative assistance.
Contact a qualified attorney.