How is child custody and parenting-time determined in Utah?

Divorces can be remarkably difficult for couples, especially when they also happen to be parents. Indeed, during divorces couples must routinely overcome their own differences in order to ensure their children are shielded from any possible harm.

With this process in mind, splitting parents in Utah often need to work with each other, and their attorneys, in order to determine what is in the best interests of their children, particularly when questions of child custody are involved. Sadly, however, as with any type of family law matter, disputes may arise when parents cannot agree on what is in the best interests of their children, which is where a court may need to step in and assist in resolving the matter.

Utah Custody Law And The Best Interests Of The Child

Custody arrangements can typically be broken down to two distinct parts: legal custody and physical custody. Essentially, legal custody pertains to a parent's ability and right to make important decisions regarding a child, while physical custody deals with where the child actually lives.

In many cases, joint legal custody of a child will be presumed to be in the best interests of the child. Indeed, absent evidence of possible harm to a child, Utah law dictates that the best interests of a child will be best served if he or she has frequent and meaningful access to each parent.

In Utah, parents are initially encouraged to draft and agree upon a custody and parenting-time arrangement without the help of the court. In fact, parenting-time schedules agreed upon by the parents are expressly "preferable to a court-imposed solution," under Utah law. However, regardless of whether it is the parents or the court that craft the parenting-time arrangement, the plan must nonetheless be shaped by what is in the best interests of the child.

Minimum Parenting-Time Schedules In Utah

While there are many factors that a court can consider when determining the best interests of a child during custody disputes, Utah lawmakers have also created preset minimum parenting-time schedules that are presumed to be in the best interests of the child - and codified in Utah law.

Specifically, these predetermined parenting-time schedules lay out how a child's time will be divided between a noncustodial and custodial parent depending on the child's age - making sure to account for weekdays, weekends, as well as holidays. However, even though these preset schedules mandate minimum parenting time for a noncustodial parent, they can be modified up or down for several reasons, including, but not limited to:

  • Parenting-time would endanger the child's health or impair his or her emotional development
  • The financial inability of the noncustodial parent to provide adequate shelter and food
  • The distance between the child's residence and noncustodial parent
  • The preference of the child, but only if the court determines the child to be sufficiently mature

The importance of establishing a workable custody and parenting-time schedule cannot be overstated given the fact that once it is in place, it cannot be changed or altered except by court order or "mutual consent" of the parties. This further underscores the need to contact an experienced family law attorney if you are currently embroiled in a child custody dispute in Utah. A skilled attorney can help protect the best interests of your child and assist in ensuring your rights as a parent are defended.