Frequently Asked Questions: Utah Family Law and Divorce
Unless extreme circumstances exist, there is a mandatory 90-day waiting period for divorce in Utah that must be met. Each divorce is unique and the timeframe cannot be guaranteed. Some factors that may lengthen the process include a custody evaluation, business valuation, or the inability to reach an agreement, which will then require a trial. The standard deadlines should place each case in a position to be certified for trial in approximately 300 days from the date you file for divorce. However, these deadlines can be extended if necessary.
When parents cannot agree on custody, often times a party will request that a neutral third party with credentials in psychology provide an opinion about what custody and parent time would be in the best interest of your children. There are several factors an evaluator will look at when determining their recommendations. However, a Utah court is not required to adopt the evaluator’s recommendations.
Mediation is a confidential process and is required by Utah courts in divorce cases. Parties must attend mediation at least once prior to trial. It is a forum where you, your spouse, attorneys, and a neutral mediator meet in an attempt to reach a settlement, whether temporary or permanent. This allows the parties to reach an agreement that caters to their family’s particular needs rather than having a judge dictate the division of the marital estate and what custody will be. Most mediators have the parties and their attorneys in separate rooms. This helps to remove some of the possible contention and allows each party their own space to negotiate terms of settlement with their attorney.
Utah courts require each party to a divorce to complete a financial declaration and provide supporting documents to the other party. These are called Initial Disclosures. These documents provide transparency between sides and helps determine a person’s gross and net income; debts; assets; investments and retirement; bank accounts; and living expenses. Gross income is used to determine child support, while net income and living expenses help attorneys and the court determine whether alimony is appropriate. Full disclosure of the marital estate is vital to the divorce process.
Under Utah child custody law, sole physical custody is when the noncustodial parent has parent time one evening each week (not overnight) and every other weekend from Friday to Sunday — or the equivalent of 110 overnights per year or less. Whereas the minimum threshold for joint physical custody is 111 overnights per year.
Legal custody of a child has to do with decision-making authority. If a parent has sole legal custody, he/she can make all major decisions regarding the child’s health, education, religion, and other important decisions. Joint legal custody requires the parents to consult with one another prior to making major decisions regarding the child. Frequently Utah courts will designate one parent as having final decision-making authority with a mediation requirement if the parties cannot agree. Joint legal custody of some kind is presumed to be in the best interest of your children unless proven otherwise.