child custody

At What Age Can a Child Choose Which Parent They Live With in Utah

Factors the Courts Consider When Making Custody Decisions

When making custody determinations, the Utah courts consider many factors to ensure that the child's best interests are being met. The courts may examine the parent's ability to meet a child's physical, emotional, educational, medical, or other special needs. They will also consider demonstrated parenting skills and the capacity for effective co-parenting, such as the ability to communicate openly with the other parent and encourage a loving relationship, play significant roles in the court’s decision.

However, when are a child's own wishes considered? Utah has no stated age at which a child's preference is automatically considered. Instead, the courts will consider "the stated wishes and concerns of the child," depending on the child's maturity and cognitive ability. In short, the court will consider a child's state preference when appropriate and relevant.

Advocating for Your Child's Custody Preference

If your child has expressed a preference to live with a different parent and you wish to advocate for this change, you first need to understand the process of child custody modifications in Utah. Custody arrangements are not set in stone; modifying them requires a legal process and appropriate grounds.

Pursuing Child Custody or Parenting Time Modifications

To modify an existing custody or parenting time order, you must demonstrate a significant change in circumstances since the original order was established. Courts require proof that the modification is necessary to serve the child's best interests.

Common grounds for seeking a custody change can include:

  • Changes in the child's needs or circumstances: This can include educational needs, emotional or psychological well-being, or a significant change in the child's routine.
  • A parent's inability to fulfill their parental duties: This could involve neglect, abuse, or substantial changes in the parent's ability to provide a stable environment.
  • The child's expressed wishes: Depending on the child's age and maturity, their preference may be considered, especially if other valid reasons for a change accompany it.

If you are considering seeking a child custody modification in Utah, you are strongly encouraged to consult with an experienced attorney, like ours at Nelson, Taylor & Associates, PLLC. Though this process can be navigated alone, the steps are complex and numerous, making professional guidance beneficial.

Initiating the Modification Process

To begin the parenting time modification process, the requesting party must complete and file the appropriate forms in the same court that issued the original custody decree. It is important to note that the petitioner and respondent remain the same as in the original case.

Upon filing a petition to modify, the court will issue a Domestic Relations Injunction. This injunction enforces rules against harassment and other actions that could affect the case while it is pending.

The filed documents must then be served to the other party, following all specified court procedures. Proof of service must be provided to the court within 120 days.

Acceptable methods of service include:

  • Personal service
  • Service by mail
  • Service by commercial courier

Once served, the other parent can file an answer, and the court will schedule a hearing. If the other parent doesn't file an answer, the parent asking for the modification can ask the judge for a default judgment.

What Happens If Both Parents Agree to the Modification

If you and your co-parent agree to all aspects of the change, either before or after submitting the petition to modify custody or parenting time, the process can become significantly smoother and faster. When there is mutual agreement, you can both file a stipulation or consent agreement with the court. This document outlines the agreed-upon changes and demonstrates to the court that both parties support the modification.

After Submitting the Petition

If the agreement is reached after the petition has already been submitted, you and your co-parent should promptly inform the court by filing an amendment to the original petition noting the new stipulation. The court will then review the stipulation and, provided it meets all legal requirements and serves the child's best interests, will likely grant the modification without further contention.

In both scenarios, consulting with an experienced attorney to ensure the stipulation is correctly drafted and filed can help the process go more smoothly. If you or your co-parent are considering a modification to a custody order, reach out to Nelson, Taylor & Associates, PLLC today for guidance.