Taylor v. Taylor, 183 Conn. App. 830 (2018) (third party visitation application).
Officially released July 31, 2018.
Short version: a reaffirmation of the fact that the standard of real and significant harm for third party visitation is a high bar. Most petitioners will be unable to reach it.
Third-party petitioner for visitation appealed the denial of his visitation petition, under § 46b-59. The sole issue on appeal was whether the trial court “improperly determined that he had not satisfied his burden of providing, by clear and convincing evidence, that the denial of visitation would cause real and significant harm.” The standard for review for whether denial of visitation will result in real and substantial harm is the clearly erroneous standard. DiGiovanna v. St. George, 300 Conn. 59, 69, 12 A.3d 900 (2011).
Petitioner filed a petition for visitation with his niece’s minor child in 2012. In May 2013 family services completed an issue focused evaluation. Petitioner thereafter withdrew the petition for visitation. Petitioner filed a new petition for visitation in 2015 alleging he had a parent-like relationship. Petitioner alleged that the child lived with him for nine years, until 2012, when the child’s parent visited and never returned the child. Petitioner made various general claims similar to the statutory language regarding the child being “denied proper care and attention.”
Defendant sought to dismiss the petition for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, arguing that the petition lacked the requisite allegations of a parent-like relationship and substantial harm as required by Roth v. Weston, 259 Conn. 202, 234-35, 789 A.2d 431 (2002), which the trial court denied.
The Court appointed a Guardian Ad Litem by agreement of the parties and then held a hearing on the merits of the petition. The GAL testified that the home was appropriate, the child was happy, and the child desired not to have any contact with the petitioner. The 2013 family services report was admitted over petitioner’s objection.
The trial court denied petitioner’s motion from the bench, indicating that the GAL’s testimony alone was sufficient to support denial. The trial court further stated that the 2013 report suggested harm could come from granting of the petition.
The Appellate Court ordered the trial court to articulate (1) whether it found a parent-like relationship existed between petitioner and the child prior to 2012 and the factual basis, and (2) whether the sole basis for a lack of parent-like relationship was defendant’s refusal to allow petitioner to see the child. The trial court indicated it had insufficient testimony prior to 2012 to provide an opinion as to a parent-like relationship at that time, but that one did not currently exist. It clarified that the denial was based on failure to demonstrate substantial harm from the denial of visitation.
The judgment was affirmed on the basis that petitioner failed to demonstrate that the finding of lack of real and substantial harm was clearly erroneous.
The record makes this decision for the Appellate Court very obvious and easy. What is interesting about the case, is the Appellate Court’s demand that the trial court clarify whether a lack of parent-like relationship might have been brought about by Defendant’s cutting off contact between the child and petitioner. It is unclear what the Appellate Court would have done if the trial court had provided a different clarification.