If you have children and you are getting a divorce, the issue of child custody is one of the primary disputes to be resolved in your case. Unfortunately, this area of family law is one of the most confusing and misunderstood. Moreover, because it concerns your children, it is of primary importance and is highly emotional.
Here we provide an overview of some basic aspects of Utah child custody law. We welcome you to contact BartonWood to request a consultation about how we can help with your specific concerns. Our goals are to help you understand your legal rights and options, to advocate for your interests, and to take some of the stress off your shoulders so you can focus on your kids. We work with parents throughout Salt Lake City and the surrounding communities.
In Utah, child custody decisions are driven by statutes. Statutes are laws which are enacted by the state legislature and signed into law by the Governor. The divorce court will apply the statute to the facts of your specific case in order to come up with a custody arrangement that the court believes is in the best interest of your children.
When thinking about child custody, it is important to understand the difference between legal custody and physical custody.
In Utah, legal custody means decision-making authority. So if you are awarded sole legal custody, you are given the authority by the court to make all important decisions regarding your child’s health, education and welfare. This includes the decision regarding your child’s religious upbringing.
Joint legal custody means the sharing of the rights privileges and powers between parents and requires that both parents confer and attempt to reach an agreement prior to making important decisions regarding your child’s health, education and welfare. Technically, an award of joint legal custody should hinge on you and your spouse's ability to make joint decisions about important issues in your child’s life. This technicality, however, has changed in the past several years. Recently, the Utah legislature passed a law which requires that joint legal custody is presumed. Consequently, to obtain sole legal custody, you now must prove to the court that you and your ex-spouse cannot make joint decisions and, together, act in your child’s best interest.
In contrast to legal custody, physical custody is determined by the number of overnights spent at each parent’s house. If one parent has the child 111 overnights, or fewer, per year that parent is designated as the non-custodial parent. If both parents have over 111 overnights per year with the child, they are designated as joint physical custodians.
It is well-established that the courts believe that it is best if the parents of children determine what is in the best interest of the child regarding custody. However, in many cases, it is not possible for the parents to decide. For this reason, the legislature passed laws regarding custody arrangements that are in the best interest of children. For years, this fall-back position was sole custody to one parent with the other receiving parent time of every other weekend from Friday until Sunday evenings and one mid-week visit per week from the time the child was released from school to 8:30 p.m.
This old standard is changing, however. In 2015, a law was enacted providing for joint physical custody. This custody arrange provides for the non-residential parent’s time of one overnight every week and an extended weekend of every other Friday after school to Monday morning.
In determining whether joint physical or sole physical is in the child’s best interest, the courts look at, among other things, whether or not both parents have been actively involved in their child’s life, whether the parents are able to communicate effectively and make mutual decisions, and whether the increased parent time is in the child’s best interest.
Child custody is an area of family law that is changing to reflect changes in our society. When the original child custody statutes were enacted, the typical family had one wage-earner and one stay-at-home parent. This no longer reflects the norm. In many cases, both spouses work and both parents contribute to the day to day raising of the child. Our Utah child custody attorneys stay on top of changes in the law and help parents from all kinds of families advocate for their rights and the needs of their children. Contact our Salt Lake City office if you need representation in a Utah child custody matter or have questions about how we can help.