What Are the Types of Child Custody in Utah?
When parents of minor children don’t share a household, it becomes necessary to decide custody of the children. Often, the question of custody arises in a divorce, but it can also come up in the context of a paternity case or for unmarried parents who don’t live together. Whatever the situation, child custody cases can be challenging and confusing for parents, especially if they are not familiar with the language used in these cases. Let’s discuss the different types of child custody, and the words used to describe child custody in Utah.
Child custody in general refers to who cares for and makes decisions for a child. The law recognizes that there is a difference between day-to-day care and decision-making and responsibility for decisions about larger issues, such as religion, medical treatment, and education. Custody of a child is, therefore, divided into two categories: physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody refers to the parent with whom a child lives. Legal custody refers to decision-making authority regarding major issues in a child’s life.
Physical Custody of Children in Utah
Physical custody depends on how many overnights a child spends with each parent. Physical custody may be joint, sole, or split. Joint physical custody means that a child spends at least 111 nights per year with each parent at their home. As a practical matter, especially when children are in school, joint physical custody works best when the parents live relatively close to one another. Some parents even commit to living in the same neighborhood to minimize the stress on their children of moving back and forth between houses. Joint physical custody allows both parents to be a regular presence in their child’s day-to-day life. However, joint physical custody does not mean that both parents have an exactly equal amount of time with their child.
In sole physical custody, one parent has the child living with him or her for at least 255 overnights per year. A parent who has sole physical custody of their child is called the “custodial parent” and the other parent is called the “non-custodial parent.” A non-custodial parent may still spend plenty of time together with their child; that is referred to as “parent-time.” There are plenty of reasons that a loving, involved parent may be a non-custodial parent. If the parents live far apart, it may make sense for the child to spend the school year in one parent’s home and to see the other for extended periods during school breaks. It may also be more practical for one parent to have sole physical custody if the other parent frequently travels for work and has an unpredictable schedule. Sole physical custody may also be appropriate if one parent has been minimally involved in the child’s life.
Less common than either joint physical custody or sole physical custody is split physical custody. Split physical custody is sometimes ordered in a family with multiple children, when each parent has sole physical custody of one or more children.
Parents can, and usually do, reach an agreement about physical custody and parent-time. However, even when parents agree, the court must find that a custody arrangement is in the best interest of the child before signing a custody order.
Legal Custody in Utah
Legal custody, or decision-making authority, may be sole or joint. In Utah, there is a “rebuttable presumption” in favor of joint legal custody. Utah courts prefer that both parents be actively involved in making major decisions for their children unless there is a good reason for a different arrangement, such as evidence of domestic violence or abuse by one parent. In other words, unless one parent introduces evidence strong enough to counter the presumption that joint legal custody is in a child’s best interest, the court will order joint legal custody.
Utah Child Custody Arrangements
Depending on the needs and circumstances of a family, there are a variety of possible custody arrangements. Parents often have both joint physical and joint legal custody arrangements. However, it is also common for one parent to have sole physical custody, but for parents to share legal custody. Even in split physical custody situations, parents may share joint legal custody of all children, regardless of which parent each child resides with.
In situations in which it is not in the best interest of the child for parents to share legal or physical custody, one parent may have sole legal and physical custody of the child. If necessary in those situations, the non-custodial parent may have supervised parent-time with the child.
The majority of child custody cases in Utah are settled between the parents, often with the help of their attorneys or through mediation. If you have further questions about the different types of child custody, or need help resolving a Utah child custody dispute, please contact Barton Wood to schedule a consultation.
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