Ending a relationship is never an easy thing, regardless if the couple is dating, in a committed relationship, or married. Untying the life a couple has built together can be a long and emotional process, and these feelings are only amplified when the couple shares children. When a married couple chooses to divorce and they share children, part of this process involves determining the custody of those children. Utah Child custody cases can often be frustrating, emotional, and heated, making it a very difficult process for both the parents and the children involved in the case.
Parenting Plans in Utah
The Utah family law court system encourages parents to come up with their own parenting plan that is in the best interest of the child involved. When parents create these plans, they need to include details including who the child will live with during which times, schedules during the work week as well as the weekends, and how holidays will be shared including major holidays and school vacations. An example of this is a plan outlining that the child lives with one parent during the work week and spends weekends with the other parent.
In addition to these details, the parenting plan should outline any visitation and who is responsible for transporting the child to and from these visitations and where they will be held. Special occasions and birthdays should also be addressed, such as the child’s birthday, parents’ birthdays, and Mother’s and Father’s Days. Although it is not required by the court, parents may also decide to outline in their parenting schedule how they will share the child’s costs, such as educational expenses, medical expenses, and the costs of any extracurricular activities.
Child Custody Issues in Utah Family Courts
Should the parents be unable to agree on a parenting schedule that suits them both and also is in the child’s best interests, it is then left up to the family court system to make these determinations for them. The judge presiding over the case looks at a number of different factors to make a decision on a Utah child custody arrangement that is in the child’s best interest in terms of safety, health, and overall well-being. In most cases, the parent who is the primary caregiver of the child is granted primary custody, which makes the other parent the noncustodial parent.
Even though one parent has primary custody, both parents have an equal right to make important decisions about their child’s upbringing. This includes decisions regarding medical care and health, where the child goes to school, and religious upbringing – this authority to make decisions is often referred to as “legal” custody, and whom the child primarily resides with is called “physical” custody. The court then uses guidelines set forth by the state in order to schedule visitation time for the noncustodial parent.
Learn More: Utah Father’s Rights and Establishing Paternity
Factors That Determine the Best Interests of the Child in Utah
Some of the factors that assist a judge in making a custody decision include the following:
- Child’s school
- Religious background
- Community ties
- Extracurricular activities
- Availability of parents to care for the child
- Emotional bond between the child and both parents
- Development and emotional needs of the child
- Each parent’s parenting skills
- Interests shared between the parents and the child
- Age and sex of the child
In addition to these factors, the judge also looks at factors that could have a negative impact on the custody of the child as well as the ordered visitation schedule, such as:
- Allegations of child abuse
- Incarceration of a parent
- Financial inability to care for the child
- Lack of involvement in the child’s life
- Potential for endangerment to the child
- Patterns of missing/cancelling scheduled visitation
Finalizing a Child Custody Arrangement in Utah
Whether the parents have created their own parenting plan or the judge has created one for them, once these issues have been decided and approved by the court, parents are generally unable to make changes to this agreement, and the agreement becomes legally binding. Should either parent go outside of the agreed upon parenting plan in any way, it is possible for them to be punished by the court with paying fines or having to serve a jail sentence. Should either the parents’ or the child’s circumstances change in a significant way, there are methods for having to Utah child custody agreement modified.
Child Custody Modification in Utah
As mentioned, once a Utah child custody agreement is made legally binding, there is generally no way for the parents to make changes to it. However, should there be a significant change in the circumstances surrounding the parenting plan, it may be possible for the parents to have modifications made to their original agreement. The standard for having these modifications approved is very rigid – this is due in large part to the belief that too many changes in a child’s life can be detrimental to development, which is why courts only approve custody modifications in the most deserving situations.
Should a significant change in circumstances occur, such as the child attending an alternative school or one parent seeing significant work schedule changes, and the parents agree on the modifications needing to be made, the parents can present the changes to the court for approval. Should both parents agree to the changes and they are deemed necessary and within the child’s best interests, the court most likely approves them and adds them to the custody agreement, making them legally binding for both parents.
However, in cases where one parent sees a need for child custody modification in Utah and the other parent does not agree, the process becomes much more difficult. In these situations, the judge still makes the final determination about whether or not the changes are allowed, but the parent who wishes to make a modification carries the burden of proving why it is necessary even if the other parent does not agree. Once the case has been presented, the judge reviews a number of factors in order to come to a final decision. Again, most modifications are not approved as a way to provide stability for the child.
Custody and Relocation in Utah
Relocation often becomes an issue in situations where one parent has primary custody of the child and the other parent has visitation, especially if the custodial parent wants to move along with the child. In these cases, the parent wishing to relocate again carries the burden of proving why the move is necessary and needs to also prove to the judge that the relocation greatly benefits the child. Some reasons why a parent may wish to relocate include better employment opportunities, better educational opportunities for the child, or being closer to support systems.