Stephen J. Buhler, Attorney at Law

What custody options are available to parents in Utah?

When couples with children separate, determining child custody arrangements becomes their number one priority. In many cases, parents end up fighting over parenting time and need the courts to help them come up with a plan that is in the best interests of the child. The courts will focus on making sure that the child is well-cared for financially, physically and emotionally.

In Utah, child custody issues can be addressed during the divorce process or as a separate case. Generally, there are two forms of custody. Physical custody refers to where the child will be living post-separation. Legal custody refers to who will be making decisions regarding the child.

With regards to legal custody, there is a presumption that joint legal custody is best for the child in most cases. This means that both parents will be equally involved in making decisions related to the child's upbringing, such as decisions regarding schooling and health issues. Joint legal custody requires both parents to be willing to communicate with each other and work together to raise the child. However, in cases where one parent is abusive, lives far away or is otherwise unfit to make these decisions, the court may grant sole legal custody to the other parent.

If the parents live in the same area and are both fit to take care of the child, the court will encourage joint physical custody. This means that the child will spend 111 nights with each parent. If one parent lives far away from the other or is unable, unfit or unwilling to have physical custody of the child, they will be given parenting time while the other parent is granted sole physical custody. If the parents cannot agree on a visitation schedule, the courts will come up with one by considering the child's best interests.

When determining physical and legal custody, courts will consider a number of factors, including the needs of the child, the relationship between the child and each parent and the parents' behavior and stability. Once a court order is in place, both parents must abide by the conditions of the order. Dealing with child custody issues can be difficult, but it is important for parents to put their emotions aside and focus on the children.

Source: Utah Courts, "Child Custody and Parent Time," accessed April 3, 2017

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