19 Fam. Advoc. 43 (1996-1997)
Connecticut's Child Custody Court

handle is hein.journals/famadv19 and id is 223 raw text is: ;,1V     /'

BY CHRISTINA P. BURNHAM

Connecticut's Regional Family Trial
Docket (IRFTD) was created to
eliminate some of the pain that cus-
tody cases create for children, The
RFTI) accomplishes this by settling
84 percent of the referred complex.
difficult, and long-standing custody
cases. Every case is given a full-day
pretrial with a gender-balanced team
of two special masters. The teams are
composed of one family law attor-
ney and one family therapist, each of
bwhom donates a day of time to the
Sr  court.
In the past two years, the court
has resolved 189 cases, including a
postjudpnent modificatiou in which
the parents had fought over their six-
year-old child for five years. The
referral noted that things tend to get
a bit heated sometimes' Also settled
was a case in which the maternal
grandparents were seeking visitation
with their three-year-old grand-
daughter. The grandparents had
raised her since she was three weeks
old, when her mother was killed in
:1    an accident and her father was
unable to cope with the baby. The
grandparent%' contact with the baby
had ceased when the father remar-
ried and resumed parenting.
Like many other jurisdictions,
k       Connecticut has experienced an

explosion of cases filed each year.
Aaron Ment, chief court adininistra-
tor of the Superior Court, instituted
the RFTD to address the growing
list of contested custody cases.
Originally a trial court for only two
judicial districts, the program has
evolved into a statewide court locat-
ed in Middlesex Superior Court in
Middletown.
In 1994,Judge Joseph L. Steinberg
started the special master program
with full-day pretrials. Many court-
houses across the state were already
using family law attorneys as special
masters in financial cases. Steinberg
announced to the leaders of the
Hartford County Bar Association's
Family Law Committee his plan to
use special masters in custody cases.
The bar responded with 10 gender-
balanced teams, each initially consist-
ing of two experienced family law
attorneys who had extensive experi-
ence handling financial cases as well
as representing children.
In the first month, 2() lawyers
handled 19 cases: 17 were settled, and
two went to trial before Steinberg.
For the next docket, the New Haven
County Bar Association fielded spe-
cial master teams that settled 11 out
of 14 cases, or 78 percent. On the
third go round, the Connecticut Bar
Association's Family Law Section
provided the attorney teams. Their
settlement rate was 86 percent; 13
Christina P. Burnham is an attorney and court
officer of the Regional Family Trial Docket in
Middletown, Connecticut.

4  C  1.' 4 V 43

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