February 1, 2023

In re K.M. et al. (AC 45269)

February 2023

Visitation Orders

Father appealed judgments vacating prior visitation orders and entering new visitation orders with respect to his children, A and B, who were committed to DCF. While the children were under protective supervision, Father moved for therapeutic visitation, which the trial court granted. DCF later filed a motion to suspend visitation, asserting that the children did not want to visit Father or his family, and attached a letter in support from the children’s clinical social worker. Father subsequently filed a motion for supplemental orders regarding therapeutic visitation, and a motion to enforce prior existing visitation orders. After hearings on these motions, the trial court granted DCF’s motion, finding credible the testimony of the children’s GAL that they did not want to have contact with Father or his family. The trial court denied in part Father’s motions, and ordered that visitation may resume when Father provided documentation that he had engaged in and had made significant progress on the clinical issues that had been identified by the court-appointed psychologist. Thereafter, the court granted Mother’s motion, which was supported by DCF, to terminate protective supervision. The court vested custody with Mother, after finding that she had made substantial progress with parenting, as well as met the children’s needs, and that the children had improved significantly while in her care. The court found that Father had not presented evidence that he had engaged in the clinical work that had been previously ordered, and reiterated that his visitation may resume when he provided documentation that he had done so.

The Court here held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in modifying the visitation orders pursuant to statute (§ 46b-121).  The record reflected that the court carefully considered all evidence and properly modified its order regarding Father’s visitation in accordance with the best interests of the children.  The court credited the expert testimony of a psychologist, who conducted court-ordered evaluations of the family and whose testimony was supported by the testimony of a LCSW and the children’s GAL; the court did not abuse its discretion in relying on that evidence in making its visitation orders.  Additionally, the court recognized that the children had an array of mental health, medical, and developmental needs, which required significant caregiver support; considered the children’s desire not to have contact with their father or his family; considered the acrimonious relationship between Father and Mother; and considered Father’s capacity to meet the needs of the children in light of expert testimony that he lacked insight into his behavior as well as how his actions and behavior impacted his children.  It found that Father, having been previously permitted to have therapeutic visitation on the condition that he comply with court-ordered therapy and demonstrate substantial progress, failed to present any evidence that he has done so.  Instead, he merely provided general evidence that he had engaged in therapy, completed a parenting program, and submitted supportive documents that pertained to events, reports, and services prior to the children’s refusal to visit with him, all of which were not specific to the court’s order. 

Accordingly, the Court here found that the trial court’s finding that Father had not presented evidence of compliance with services was not clearly erroneous.  Furthermore, the record sufficiently demonstrated that, contrary to his contention, the court considered the relationship between the children and his family as part of its best interests analysis when it modified its visitation orders.