Stephen J. Buhler, Attorney at Law

How does a court determine child custody between parents?

Salt Lake City parents want the best for their children. They work hard to meet their children's wants and needs, even when times get difficult.

One time that can get particularly difficult is when spouses are going through a divorce. Often the most important issue to be decided in a divorce is which parent will be awarded child custody.

In order to determine which parent is awarded custody over the child, courts typically look at the best interests of the child. This is a legal phrase that looks at a number of different factors, many of which are set forth under Utah statute.

For instance, courts typically look at which parent is most likely to fulfill the best interests of the child and whether the parent encourages a positive relationship and continued contact between the other parent and the child. Courts also look at the parents' conduct and moral standards and the relationship between each parent and the child.

In addition to the above factors, courts look at the parents' raising of the child before the divorce. Similarly, if there is any history of abuse, this will be weighed in the court's decision.

If the child is of a sufficient age and maturity, the court may also consider a child's preference in custody matters. However, what the child desires is not the controlling factor in and of itself.

In fact, there typically is no single controlling factor. The best interests of the child look at a broad range of factors in order to determine which parent should be awarded custody. As a result, each case will be different, with different factors having an impact depending on the circumstances. Accordingly, individuals should understand which factors might be particularly important in their case, and how the court might view those factors en route to determining custody.

Source: Utah Courts, "Child custody and parent time," accessed on Feb. 7, 2015

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