Judicial District of New Haven


      Child Custody; Family Relations; Whether Due Process Requires that Counsel be Permitted to Attend Family Services Custody Evaluation Interview.  Following the dissolution of the parties’ marriage, a disagreement arose concerning the custody and visitation of their minor child.  The trial court referred the parties and their dispute to the family relations office for a custody evaluation.  The family relations office is part of the Court Support Services Division of the Connecticut Judicial Branch.  The defendant’s attorney sought permission from the family relations office to attend the parties’ initial interview, but permission was denied in accordance with that office’s practice of excluding counsel from custody evaluations.  The matter was brought before the trial court, which explained that the family relations evaluation process is voluntary and that the only way for a party to participate in that process is to do so without an attorney.  Because the defendant chose not to participate in that manner, the court vacated the referral for a family relations evaluation and subsequently ordered that a custody evaluation be performed by a private evaluator at the defendant's expense.  The defendant brings this public interest appeal pursuant to General Statutes § 52-265a, claiming the trial court erred in refusing to permit his attorney to accompany him in the family relations proceedings.  He contends that, as he has a constitutionally protected interest in the care and custody of his child that will be affected by the family relations proceedings, he has a due process right to the assistance of counsel in those proceedings.