Child custody and visitation disputes can be tough to handle, especially when they carry such a heavy emotional burden – and such high stakes. Throughout our legal practice, we have always focused on the children, so we have the necessary experience and professional knowledge to show the court that you are providing for your child’s best interests. We also recognize that every case is unique, and wherever possible we try to resolve cases before they turn into drawn-out litigation that takes its toll on children and parents alike. At the same time, we are known for taking on difficult and lengthy cases that just need to go to trial because the other side wants to bleed you dry with never ending motions and review hearings. Let Spencer Family Law help you negotiate or litigate your custody and visitation matter. We can also help you petition for modification of an existing custody order, or enforcement of that order when the other side doesn’t want to follow the rules.
Call (385) 999-2474 or contact us online to discuss your custody and visitation concerns today.
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Child custody involves two components: Legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody refers to a parent’s authority to make legal decisions on behalf of the child, and physical custody refers to where the child lives and sleeps. Note that a parent can be granted sole legal and sole physical custody, or both parents can be granted joint legal and joint physical custody. It is also possible for parents to have joint legal custody but for only one parent to have sole physical custody. In special cases involving more than one child, there may be a split custody arrangement for each parent to have sole physical custody of one of the children, though this is disfavored.
In Utah, the default is to give both parents joint legal custody, unless there is a compelling reason to award sole legal custody. However, in cases where there is domestic violence, certain special needs, or significant distances between the homes, the default may not apply. We have also successfully argued against joint legal custody where one spouse is chronically uninvolved in legal decisions, or repeatedly obstructs the decision making process resulting in harm to the children. In other cases, it makes sense to share joint decision making because it is best for the child, even if it is harder for the parents.
The Court can apportion legal decision making to one parent on certain topics, like education or health care, and apportion legal decision making to the other parent on other topics. One parent may also be awarded “final say” or “final decision making authority” if the parents cannot agree, in order to prevent a stalemate on important decisions. Be aware that this can be abused, and so final decision making must be exercised only after the parents have followed the protocol for discussion and dispute resolution that accompany this kind of order.
Where the parents want or are granted joint physical or joint legal custody, certain types of provisions like where the kids will go to school, how costs are divided up for extra curricular activities, and what happens if one of the parents wants to move more than 150 miles away have to be included in a parenting plan. The parenting plan can be a separate document, or can be included in the parties’ petition or order.
Deciding on Custody Based on the Child’s Best Interests
If parents settle a custody arrangement with their attorneys outside of court, the court will review the proposal to ensure it addresses the child’s best interests. If parents can’t come to an agreement on their own, the court will make the final decision on custody again based on the child’s best interests.
According to Utah Code § 30-3-10, such best-interest factors may include:
- each parent's physical and mental health;
- the child's ties to the community, sibling relationships, and relationships with extended family members;
- each parent's willingness to encourage a relationship between the child and the other parent;
- the child's physical and emotional needs;
- the child's relationship with each parent;
- the distance between the parents' residences;
- domestic violence incidents;
- the child's preference if of a sufficient age and maturity; and
- other factors.
Parent-Time or Visitation
The child custody order must also specify a visitation schedule detailing weekly, monthly, holiday, and summer parenting time arrangements. Under Utah law, both parents are entitled to regular time with their child and neither parent can prevent visits from the other. In cases in which a parent has struggled with substance abuse or violence, a judge may order supervised visitation.
A noncustodial parent is entitled to minimum visitation, which usually equates to one night per week with the child and overnight visits every other weekend. If parents cannot agree on their own visitation schedule, the state has templates for minimum parent-time for children under five years old and for children between five and 18 years old.
If you are currently in the midst of a custody battle, it is critical that you enlist the help of an experienced custody lawyer who can help you build a strong case for legal and physical custody. Throughout our practice, we have focused on the best interests children, so we are prepared to show the court why it is best for your children to live and spend time with you. We also have experience with helping parents petition for the modification of custody orders, such as in the case of relocation for a new job or educational opportunity. Whatever your custody matter, we can make the legal process smooth and stress-free for you.
Schedule an initial consultation online or at (385) 999-2474 to get started.
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