Salt Lake City Child Custody Lawyers
Protecting the Best Interests of Children in Utah
In Utah, courts emphasize the well-being and best interests of children during the divorce process. A parenting plan is designed to outline where the children will live and spend their time. This can be the most contentious part of a divorce. When you need child custody attorneys in Salt Lake City, Nelson, Taylor & Associates offers skilled legal representation to help devise a parenting plan that works for everyone.
How Does Child Custody Work in Utah?
There are two types of custody: legal custody and physical custody. Physical custody governs which parent the child lives with, as well as establishing visitation rights (where necessary). Legal custody governs the child's well-being.
The parent the child lives with a majority of the time with is called the "custodial" parent, while the parent who spends less time with the child is the "noncustodial" parent. The custodial parent has primary physical custody of the child.
Parents often share legal custody. Legal custody determines things like where a child goes to school, the type of medical care they receive, how the parents act around and discipline the child, what religions the child is exposed to, etc. However, one parent can get total physical and legal custody if the court determines the other parent is unfit (more on that later).
The custodial parent receives a variety of benefits. For example, they're named the Head of Household (HoH) for tax purposes, which can result in certain tax breaks. For this reason, co-parents who are on good terms often create custody arrangements where they take turns acting as the custodial parent, so each parent receives HoH benefits every other year.
How Custody Is Awarded
Most custody battles end in one of two ways: Either the parents reach an agreement and sign a custody arrangement together, or the court determines an equitable custody arrangement on behalf of the parents (if they can't agree even after extended negotiations).
Parenting plans play a vital role in custody cases. Parenting plans lay out the terms of a custody arrangement. Your parenting plan will include information such as:
- How much time the child spends with each parent
- What type of care the parents can provide the child (health insurance, academic assistance, etc.)
- How the parents intend to maintain the child's well-being post-divorce
- How the parents intend to handle events like holidays that may interfere with the custody arrangement
- How the parents will act around each other
- How the parents will act around the child (for example, many parenting plans specify what actions parents can take to discipline a child, prevent the parents from disparaging one another in front of the child, etc.)
- Boundaries the parents will share for the child
- What the parents will do if one of them falls ill
- Anything else the parents or the court deems important, depending on the specificities of the case
Typically, courts prefer it when parents can compromise on an equitable custody arrangement that both parties find mutually beneficial. Most judges assume that parents understand their child's best interests better than the court does, so they prefer to leave the custody arrangement in the parents' hands.
Many judges ask parents to use a form of alternative dispute resolution, like mediation, to try and reach a compromise on their custody arrangement. If the parents can agree on the terms of their custody arrangement, they'll draft and sign a joint parenting plan to present to the court. The judge will then examine the parenting plan and sign it if it's legally sound, finalizing the case and making the custody arrangement official.
However, sometimes parents are unable to agree on a custody arrangement, even after extensive negotiations. In these cases, the court will ask each parent to draft a parenting plan. The judge then considers each independent parenting plan and uses that information—as well as any information gathered from the case so far—to draft a court-mandated parenting plan on behalf of the parents.
In custody cases, courts may consider:
- Moral standards and conduct of both parents
- Bonds between the child and each parent
- The child’s physical, emotional, and psychological needs
- Parents’ ability to cooperate in making decisions
- Ability of the parents to reach shared decisions
- Participation of each parent in raising the child before the divorce
- The child’s preferences (if appropriate)
- Any history of abuse, including alcohol or drug abuse
When possible, it is better for parents to come to an agreement, rather than allowing the court to make the final determination regarding custody. Our Salt Lake City child custody lawyers can work with you to develop a parenting plan that includes custody information and a visitation schedule. When a peaceful agreement is not possible, you can count on us to fight for your rights and best interests in court.
What Age Can a Child Decide Which Parent to Live With in Utah?
Under certain circumstances, a child may be capable of giving input on their own custody case. While there is no set age to when a child can set preference on child custody, a Utah court will give more weight to a child's decision if they are older (14+).
A judge will also examine the reasons as to why the child wants to live with one parent over the other. The child's best interests are the priority, and custody will be awarded to the parent who gives that child a safer and more comfortable environment.
If the court considers a child's opinion, the judge often takes extra measures to ensure that any other participants in the case are not manipulating the child. The court may employ an impartial third party, like a child psychologist, to ask the child questions and ensure they're advocating for their own best interests.
What Makes a Parent Unfit in Utah?
if you are attempting to gain custody from what you feel is an "unfit" parent, then there are several scenarios that you must prove:
- Has there been any sexual abuse towards the child?
- Do you have proof of child neglect?
- Has the parent been convicted of a crime that inhibits their ability to care for the child?
- Has the parent attempted to threaten the life of the child?
If you are unable to prove any of these, you can still file against them for being unfit if they have not shown the ability to adjust to their role. This essentially means that the parent hasn't taken the bare minimum to protect or care for the child. Our experienced Salt Lake City child custody attorney can assist you through this process if any questions come up.
Can Visitation be Denied to a Non-Custodial Parent?
A non-custodial parent's visitation rights cannot be withheld. If a prior court order for visitation rights is changed, denying non-custodial parents visitation rights is unconstitutional. If the custodial parent suspects the non-custodial parent of harming the child, the custodial parent should notify and report the violence right away.
Consequences for Denying Visitation
Visitation dates may clash in some situations, and both the custodial and non-custodial parent may be unable to adhere to the authorized visitation order schedules. When certain situations arise infrequently, the parents must collaborate together to devise an arrangement that helps the non-custodial parent to meet their visitation obligations. If you cannot come to an amicable understanding, contact our law firm today to speak with our Salt Lake City child custody lawyer.
Get Legal Advice for Your Custody Case
We use our extensive knowledge and experience in divorce and family law to provide realistic advice to our clients. We will assess your situation and explain how the law pertains to your circumstances so you know what to expect. Our Salt Lake City child custody attorneys offer free consultations to give you the opportunity to get advice for your situation and have your questions answered.