Madonna’s Christmas Custody Battle & What a Connecticut Court Might Do

img_1556-300x240On Christmas, Madonna shared this photo of her and her son, Rocco, commenting “Merry Xmas to the sunshine of my life.”

It is not uncommon for custody disputes to arise (or become more heated) during the holiday season.  When they involve celebrities, the family’s personal struggle can wind-up in the press.

So it is with the custody battle between Madonna and Rocco’s father, Guy Ritchie, about where their 15 year-old son will live. Madonna and Guy, who have two children together, divorced in London in 2008.

Two days before Christmas, Madonna sought Rocco’s return from London, where he had been visiting with his father. The Manhattan Supreme Court ordered him to Madonna’s New York home in time for Christmas.

According to Guy’s attorney, Rocco ‘expressed very clearly’ that he did not want to return to New York.  Press coverage in both the United Kingdom and here speculates about his reasoning.  What seems clear is that Rocco did not come back to New York for Christmas, and that his passport is currently being held by his London attorney.

Custody disputes involving the return of a child from one country to another are generally initially dealt with under the Hague Convention where both countries are signatories.  In this case, the United States and the United Kingdom are both signatories, so the Hague Convention will likely be used to determine which country’s courts will hear custody dispute.

We are often asked whether, in Connecticut, there is a certain age at which a child can choose which parent wants to have custody.

Connecticut courts have held that the law requires only that the court take the child’s wishes into consideration and that the court’s ultimate determination of the child’s best interest depends on all the facts of a particular case.  A child’s preference is never the only criteria for making a custody decision in a dissolution of marriage proceeding, regardless of the child’s age. In fact, neither case law nor Connecticut statutes establish or designate a particular age that is considered old enough to state a preference in a custody determination.

In any proceeding for an annulment, dissolution of marriage, or legal separation, judges use the “best interests of the child” standard in awarding custody of minor children. If both parents agree, the statutes establish a presumption of joint custody. There is also a presumption that it is in the child’s best interest to be in the custody of a parent over a non-parent. But, testimony or other evidence can rebut both of these presumptions. The court must consider any “relevant and material information obtained from the child, including the informed preferences of theIMG_1558 child” in making or modifying an order. The court exercises its discretion in each case and set of circumstances in considering the appropriate age of a child expressing a custody preference.

Of course, long-distance parenting presents its own special issues, and maintaining and promoting the parent-child relationship at a distance requires commitment and cooperation from both parents. Although it isn’t easy, it can be done.  We proudly assist our clients in developing a parenting plan that details the obligations and responsibilities of each parent and addresses the unique issues of parenting at a distance.

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The attorneys at Freed Marcroft will listen to you and help you cope with the present and plan for the future during your divorce.  Please contact us if you or someone you know would like more information about our family law practice.

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Written by Meghan Freed