Case Summary: Battistotti v. Suzanne A., 182 Conn. App. 40 (2018)

Officially Released May 15, 2018.

In short: (1) where there is uncontroverted evidence of substantial visitation expense, it is abuse of discretion for the trial court to fail to analyze whether such expense warrants a deviation, and (2) the trial court has substantial discretion to order restrictions as to parenting and access. 

This appeal stems from a ten-day trial in a custody action over one minor child.  Father resided in New York and maintained an apartment in Greenwich solely for purposes of visitation with the child.  The trial court found that Father demonstrated “considerable lack of knowledge and understanding of the needs of his son … While his parenting skills improved with supervision,  the evidence reveals that his singular focus on what he perceives to be the failings of the [Mother] appears to diminish his capacity for recognizing and prioritizing the developmental needs of his son.”  The trial court ordered sole legal custody and primary physical custody to Mother and that Father’s parenting time occur solely within the town of Greenwich, in which town Father rented an apartment solely for purposes of exercising his visitation.  The orders further prohibited Father from transporting the child in any moving vehicle without advance notice to Mother.

Father appealed, claiming that the trial court improperly determined his earning capacity to be $174,000 per year, erred in considering how its orders financially impacted him, and abused its discretion in confining his access to Greenwich.

The Appellate Court held that, where the trial court had found Father had rented and renovated an apartment purely for purposes of visitation, the trial court abused its discretion in failing to analyze whether such visitation expenses justified a deviation from the child support guidelines.  The Appellate Court did not address Father’s claim as to earning capacity, as it reversed and remanded for further proceedings as to child support based on Father’s claim as to visitation expenses.  It did, however, reiterate the requirement that the trial court first calculate the presumptive child support based on actual incomes and then making a finding that application of the guidelines would be inequitable based on an earning capacity.

The Appellate Court determined that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by geographically restricting Father’s parenting time.  The decision suggests that some reading between the lines may be necessary, as the shortcomings in Father’s parenting referenced in the decision do not appear to be related in any substantial sense to geography.  There is no indication of flight risk or other location specific issue.  It is a reminder of the substantial deference given to trial courts as to the best interests of the child.