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Understanding the factors used to determine child custody

What is in the best interests of the child is always the guiding interest for child custody decision. There are two ways that child custody orders are commonly established in Utah. Provided the parents are able to agree, and the child custody arrangement they agree upon is in the best interests of the child, the court will order the child custody arrangement the parents have agreed to. If the parents are unable to agree on a child custody arrangement, the court will order an arrangement that is in the best interests of the child.

There are several considerations that the court evaluates to determine what is in the best interests of the child. In general, the court will consider the conduct of the parents and their moral standards; the parent that is more likely to act in the best interests of the child; the parent that is more likely to foster continued and frequent contact with the other parent; and the nature and extent of the relationship the child has with its parents. The court may also consider the wishes of the child but it does not necessarily determine child custody.

There is a long list of factors the court may also consider when determining child custody and what is in the best interests of the child. The court may consider the impact of different custody arrangements on the child in a number of different ways, including the child's development; the ability of the parents to place what is in the best interest of the child first; the ability of the parents to encourage a loving relationship between the child and the other parent; the amount of participation each parent has had in raising the child; the distance between where the parents live; the maturity of the parents and their willingness to protect the child from disputes between them; the ability of the parents to engage in a cooperative relationship, managing shared decisions; and any history of abuse. The court also has discretion to consider additional factors to ensure the best interests of the child are achieved.

Child custody concerns can sometimes be contentious because strong emotions are naturally involved for both parents. Understanding how child custody decisions are made can help parents focus on reaching agreements that are in the best interests of the child which is a process the family law system can help guide them through.

Source: Utah Courts, "Child Custody and Parent Time," Accessed June 14, 2016

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