Ireland v. Ireland
In Ireland v. Ireland, 246 Conn. 413, 717 A.2d 676 (1998) the Court provided additional considerations for a trial court to evaluate when determining a child's best interest in postjudgment relocation matters. In Ireland, a parent with primary physical custody sought to relocate with the child outside the state of Connecticut after having primary physical custody for six years.
The Ireland court held that "a custodial parent seeking permission to relocate bears the initial burden of demonstrating, by a preponderance of the evidence, that (1) the relocation is for a legitimate purpose, and (2) the proposed location is reasonable in light of that purpose. Once the custodial parent has made such a prima facie showing, the burden shifts to the noncustodial parent to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the relocation would not be in the best interests of the child." Id., 428.
To determine whether the proposed relocation is for a legitimate purpose and is reasonable to achieve that purpose, the Ireland court held that a trial court must evaluate the following factors: "Each parent's reasons for seeking or opposing the move, the quality of the relationships between the child and the custodial and noncustodial parents, the impact of the move on the quantity and quality of the child's future contact with the noncustodial parent, the degree to which the custodial parent's and child's life may be enhanced economically, emotionally and educationally by the move, and the feasibility of preserving the relationship between the noncustodial parent and child through suitable visitation arrangements." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id., 431-32.
The court further explained: "No single factor should be treated as dispositive or given such disproportionate weight as to predetermine the outcome. . . . There are undoubtedly . . . many cases where less frequent but more extended visits over summers and school vacations would be equally conducive, or perhaps even more conducive, to the maintenance of a close parent-child relationship, since such extended visits give the parties the opportunity to interact in a normalized domestic setting. . . .
"Our Supreme Court emphasized that the list of factors it endorsed . . . should not be considered exclusive, nor should any single factor be presumed to carry dispositive weight. Moreover, any other facts or circumstances that could have a bearing on the court's determination of the child's best interests should be considered and given the appropriate weight in a court's analysis. We believe that the factors set forth in this opinion, considered with an eye toward ensuring the child a life as comfortable, stable and happy as possible, will prove valuable to courts in determining the best interests of the child." Id., 434-435.
Although the defendant claims that the court refused to apply the Ireland factors, the reasoning articulated by the court shows that it in fact did so. Because the court did apply the Ireland factors in reaching its custody decision, we will assume, without deciding, that such application was proper.
Ireland does not mandate that a court consider each factor individually and separately. The Court even encouraged trial courts to consider any appropriate additional factors and to weigh each factor at the court's discretion, so long as no single factor considered was dispositive or was "given such disproportionate weight as to predetermine the outcome." Id., 434.
In Ireland v. Ireland, 246 Conn. 413, 717 A.2d 676 (1998) the Court adopted the criteria as set forth in Tropea v. Tropea, 87 N.Y.2d 727, 740-41, 665 N.E.2d 145, 642 N.Y.S.2d 575 (1996), as the criteria that Connecticut courts should consider in relocation cases. Ireland v. Ireland, supra, 246 Conn. 433.
The court also stated that the guiding principle to be applied in such cases is the best interests and welfare of the children involved. Id., 419. After noting that the General Assembly and our courts have traditionally eschewed defining the term, "best interests of the child," the court endorsed the use of the Tropea criteria for making that determination in future relocation cases. Id., 433.
The first of those factors is "each parent's reasons for seeking or opposing the move . . . ." Id., 431.
In its memorandum of decision, the court addressed each party's reasons. The court found that "the plaintiff intends to move to California with the children if permitted by the court for the purposes of marrying her boyfriend, Dan." The court found that by so moving and marrying, the plaintiff would "reach her goal of raising the children in a two-parent home . . . without the necessity of working on a full-time basis or the assistance of a nanny." The court also found credible, however, the testimony of a former mutual friend of the parties that another reason for the plaintiff's move to California is to "separate herself from her ex-husband and avoid the need to deal with him on a regular basis."
The court found that the defendant opposed the move "for the love of his children and the need to be an active participant in their maturation and development." The court did not find that "hatred" for his ex-wife was one of the defendant's reasons for opposing the move
The second Ireland factor involves "the quality of the relationships between the child and the custodial and noncustodial parents . . . ." Id., 431-32.
The third Ireland factor to be considered in relocation cases is "the impact of the move on the quantity and quality of the child's future contact with the noncustodial parent . . . ." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id., 432.
The court specifically found that the move from Connecticut to California will have a "deleterious effect" on the defendant's relationship with his children. The court found that the quality and quantity of the defendant's contact "will be negatively impacted," in part, because of the defendant's arduous work schedule as a physician. The court further found that the defendant presently lives in Simsbury, the plaintiff lives in West Hartford, and visitation is regularly scheduled and carried out each week. The court determined that the regular weekly visitation schedule, which both children enjoy, will be "thwarted." Among the court's other salient findings was that the children "will not have weekly contact for dinners, sporting and school events, and bi-weekly overnight stays with their father while living 3000 miles away." The court, therefore, properly considered that factor of the Ireland inquiry. We further conclude that those findings adequately addressed the fifth factor concerning "the feasibility of preserving the relationship between the noncustodial parent and child through a suitable visitation arrangements." Id., 432.
In Ireland, the Court stated that "it may not be realistic to try to preserve completely the quality and nature of the relationship that the noncustodial parent enjoyed with the child, especially if such preservation is maintained at the cost of the custodial parent's ability to start a new, potentially improved life for herself or himself and the child." Ireland v. Ireland, supra, 246 Conn. 422.
In determining what is in the children's best interests, the trial court must consider what is in the custodial parent's interest because that interest is interrelated with the children's best interests. Id., 422-23.