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Answers to Common Questions about Child Custody

Child custody is a complicated part of divorce that is best navigated with the help of an attorney who specializes in family law. This is especially true when considering that each divorce comes with its own set of unique circumstances, and that every state has unique legislation relating to child custody.

How does child support work?

Child support, also known as child maintenance, is court-ordered financial support from a noncustodial parent to the other parent as a contribution to the costs of raising his or her children. Child support generally applies to children who are minors (except in the case of children with special needs) and is paid on a monthly basis. A minor is defined as a child under the age of 18, or up to 21, depending on the state. In Utah, the age of majority is 18 years of age.

How are child custody and visitation determined?

Depending on the age of a child, the judge at his or her discretion may ask for the child’s preference in terms of which parent that child will live with. This, however, is often not the only factor in determining which parent will receive child custody. A court will primarily consider a child’s “best interests,” which could mean which parent has been the primary caretaker, any history of domestic violence, the spouses’ employment obligations, and the stability that each spouse’s home environment would offer.

What are the different types of child custody?

Different circumstances will also call for different types of custody awarded. Legal custody refers to the right and responsibility of a parent to make decisions about the child’s upbringing, and this custody can go to one parent as sole custody, or to both parents as joint custody. Meanwhile, physical custody refers to the right of a spouse to have a child live with him or her, and this can also be granted as sole custody to one spouse or joint custody to both spouses. It is possible for a spouse to receive sole legal and physical custody, for both spouses to receive joint legal and physical custody, or for one spouse to receive sole physical custody while both receive joint legal custody. Split custody is also an option, where each parent receives custody of at least one child.

When does an obligation to pay child support end?

An obligation to pay child support typically ends when a child reaches the age of majority. However, some states require parents to continue paying child support as long as the children are still in high school. In Utah, child support does not terminate until a child reaches 18 years of age or finishes secondary education, whichever occurs later. An obligation to pay child support may also end if your parental rights terminate early, such as through an adoption or through your child being declared legally emancipated.

What about unpaid child support?

Unpaid child support can be collected even after a child has reached the age of 18. If a noncustodial parent still owes the other parent child support once the child has already reached the age of majority, the parent who is owed can take enforcement action to court.