Wyoming family law cases can be the most emotional and painful topics in all of the law to discuss. However, when you are faced with having to become involved in a Wyoming family law matter, whether it is a divorce, child custody battle or a fight over child support, it is best to have a basic understanding of the laws and how they will affect your particular situation. Our primer, below, will help to explain and point out the laws and rules that govern family law cases in Wyoming so that you can apply your situation to the law and make an educated decision how to proceed. The next step would be figuring out how much Wyoming family law help you need. We can connect you – for free – to a local Wyoming family law expert who can help.
The laws governing divorce are state specific, and in Wyoming, there are only two grounds for getting divorced from your spouse as found in Wyoming Statutes Annotated 20-2-104 and 20-2-105: 1. Either you or your spouse file on grounds of irreconcilable differences or 2. one of the spouses suffers from incurable insanity. Incurable insanity is proven when the insane spouse is confined to a mental hospital for a period of more than two years.
Irreconcilable differences is Wyoming’s no-fault divorce rule, where neither party places blame on the other for the marriage breaking down, the parties simply state that they no longer get along and believe the marriage is irretrievably broken. By filing a divorce on irreconcilable differences and eliminating the possibility of adultery or other grounds that some states have, Wyoming courts have eliminated the long drawn out court battles that can ensue with parties bringing in witnesses and having to prove the bad behavior with actual evidence in a court of law. This saves individuals and the court system months of tie and thousands of dollars in expense.
With a divorce also often comes other issues related to the divorce, such as spousal support, child custody and child support matters, as well as the division of marital assets. These matters can all be emotionally trying, and can seem very complicated as the laws are complex and confusing.
Wyoming has basic residency requirements that must be met for at least one of the parties to a divorce action before the divorce can be filed. Wyoming Statutes Annotated 20-2-107 states that “No divorce shall be granted unless the plaintiff has resided in this state for sixty (60) days immediately preceding the time of filing the complaint…” the plaintiff is the person filing for divorce and they must be a resident of Wyoming even if the other spouse no longer lives in Wyoming.
Mandatory Waiting Period
Wyoming also imposes on divorcing couples a short waiting period before the final divorce decree will be finalized. According to Wyoming Annotated Statute 20-2-108, the courts mandatory waiting period lasts for 20-days from the date the complaint or divorce is filed with the county.
Wyoming is different from many western states in that it divides property according to a standard known as an “equitable distribution of property.” This can be read in depth at Wyoming Statutes Annotated 20-2-114. This does not mean that marital property is automatically divided on a 50/50 basis (although many times it is). This means that a judge has broad discretion to determine what he or she believes would be a fair split of the property given the circumstances of each particular case. The factors that the court will take into account according to statute generally include: “…having regard for the respective merits of the parties and the condition in which they will be left by the divorce, the party through whom the property was acquired, and the burdens imposed upon the property for the benefit of either party and children.” This means that the court will take a close look at the length of the marriage, the age of the parties, the earning capacity of each party, who purchased the property involved, and what potential earning capacity either party has after the marriage.
Alimony – Spousal Support
Another contentious issue in a Wyoming family law case can be whether alimony is awarded from one spouse to another. Alimony is the paying of money or property by one spouse as a form of financial maintenance to a lower earning spouse after the marriage. Wyoming Statutes Annotated 20-2-114 state that the court can order a reasonable amount of alimony according to the payor spouses ability to pay.
Technically, there are three different types of alimony in Wyoming, each with their own meaning: Transitional Support (help getting a spouse education or training to get employed), Compensatory Support (court makes a decision as to compensation for that spouses contribution to the earning ability of the working spouse), or Spousal Maintenance (the court determines an amount of appropriate support for the spouse to enjoy the standard of living similar to during the marriage). In some instances this can be a one-time payment (called a lump sum payment) or other times it can be a set amount of money paid out on a monthly basis. In some instances, it can even be the awarding of a piece of real estate, like the marital home, to one party outright. In other instances, such as with Spousal Maintenance, an alimony award can be permanent.
Wyoming Child Support
Raising children is not cheap, and child support is designed to provide the custodial parent with the resource he or she needs to pay for the child’s needs. Child support in Wyoming is based on the combined income of the child or children’s parents, and the number of children who are receiving support. This is known as the income shares model because it takes into account both parents income. The applicable statute that governs Wyoming child support is Wyoming Statutes Annotated 20-2-301. This formula is based on guidelines that the state uses to arrive at a child support award amount that is reasonable and fair, however there may be limited circumstances that permit the court to adjust the amount of child support up or down depending on a large list of specific circumstances that can be found within the statute. Child support determinations last until a child reaches the age of 18, but can last even longer if the child is still in high school or has a mental or physical disability that requires payments to continue past the age of majority.
Wyoming Child Custody
Wyoming family law courts rely on a specific section of the law, Wyoming Statutes Annotated 20-5 to determine child custody cases. Wyoming makes custody decisions based on the “best interests of the child” standard. In Wyoming, the courts do not give preference to one parent over the other based on gender when it comes to child custody determinations. Rather, there are a number of factors the court considers when making Wyoming child custody determinations, but most importantly, the court will consider what custody result would be in the “best interests of the child.” Some of the factors that go into a best interests of the child determination include:
- The extent of the child’s relationship with each parent
- How capable and competent each parent is and their ability to take care of the child
- The reason each parent wants to have custody of the child
- How near to each other the parents live
- The parents ability to communicate with one another
- Whether there is a history of child or spousal abuse or neglect committed by one of the parents.
This list of factors is not exhaustive, and the court can add other factors as it sees fit. Keep in mind that the list of factors involved above take place whether parents are married and going through a divorce or are unmarried and involved in a paternity case. During a paternity case, the first step would be to establish who the biological father is legally, whether that be testifying in open court or going through genetic testing. The second step in a paternity case is establishing your parental rights to visitation or custody.
Grandparents Visitation Rights
Wyoming has enacted specific laws allowing for Grandparents to have certain visitation rights. This can be found in Wyoming Statutes Annotated 207-101. The court will base its decision on whether to allow grandparents visitation based on what is in the child’s best interests. When making the best interests determination, the court will take into account the factors listed above along with many other factors.
Wyoming Father’s Rights
The Wyoming courts do not assume that one parent is best suited for providing for a child based on his or her gender. But as a father, sometimes it seems like there are a lot of legal hoops that need to be jumped through just so that you can establish yourself as your child’s father or the primary caregiver of your child. One of the biggest challenges faced by fathers is that they need to legally establish themselves as the father of their child. There are several ways which a father can go about establishing paternity which is an essential first step.
Father’s rights attorneys and advocates have been working towards eliminating the bias against father’s being named as the primary caregiver and thus having mother’s automatically being awarded custody of a child. But it is important for fathers to begin by setting up themselves as a joint caregiver by providing financial support, mental and physical support, making breakfasts, lunches and dinners for the child, appearing at school functions, and all other things the child needs. It also means avoiding the most common pitfalls fathers allow to ruin their case.
The Next Step
Child custody, child support and divorce are just a few of the family law issues covered by the laws of Wyoming. Getting educated on the laws and how they can impact your case is essential as a first step. The next step is talking with a professional to find out the level of Wyoming family law help you may need to establish your rights. The good news is that we can connect you – for free – to a local Wyoming family law expert who can guide your case down the right path.