Ending a relationship is never an easy process, though married couples who share children often have the hardest time moving on with their lives. Not only do divorcing couples have to untie the life they built together by splitting assets and divvying up marital possessions, but they also have to go through the difficult and often emotional process of deciding the custody of any children they share. No parents want to spend time away from their child, which is why Wyoming child custody cases often turn the courtroom into a battlefield, with each parent vying to get as much time with the child as possible.
How Child Custody is Decided in Wyoming
Like many other family court systems across the country, the Wyoming family law court system uses the “best interests of the child” standard in order to make the best possible decisions during custody cases. Judges in this state have a number of options when it comes to developing a child custody order including variations for both legal and physical custody. Legal custody refers to which parents have the right and responsibility to make important decisions about the child’s life, and physical custody refers to which parent the child resides with.
Wyoming judges have the right to award either sole or joint legal custody as well as sole or joint physical custody for the child involved in a custody case. In order to come to this decision, the judge takes a number of factors into consideration and also how it applies to the best interests of the child standard. Regardless of either parent’s wishes, the court’s primary function is to make sure the child is placed in a beneficial Wyoming child custody arrangement that provides a loving, supportive, and stable home with consistent parent contact.
As mentioned, the judge considers a number of factors, including but not limited to:
- The relationship between each parent and the child
- Each parent’s ability to provide for the child
- Each parent’s physical and mental ability to care for the child
- Each parent’s willingness to accept parenting responsibilities
- How the parents interact with one another
- How both parents plan to maintain and encourage a strong a positive relationship between the child and the other parent
- If there is any history of child abuse or other abuse from either parent
Custodial Parent vs. Noncustodial Parent
To the Wyoming court system, the parent whom the child spends the majority of time with is the custodial parent and the other parent, who usually has visitation, is the noncustodial parent. The court system in this state does not take the parents’ gender into consideration when deciding who the custodial and noncustodial parents are. Regardless of the physical custody order, both parents have access to the child’s medical and school records unless ordered otherwise by the judge. Additionally, if the court orders joint legal custody, both parents have an equal right and responsibility to make important decisions about the child’s upbringing.
Parenting Plans in Wyoming
For parents who are able to effectively communicate and cooperate with one another, they have the option of creating their own parenting plan to present to the judge. In many cases, the judge orders the parents to attend counseling or mediation in order to come to an agreement on their own and create a Wyoming child custody arrangement that best suits the child as well as the parents, their schedules, and their wishes for child custody in Wyoming. This parenting plan should include details such as:
- How the parents plan to share time with the child
- The exact schedule of when the child resides with each parent
- How the parents plan to transport the child between homes
- How the parents plan to schedule/share school vacations, such as summer break
- How the parents plan to schedule/share holidays, such as Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc.
- Who is responsible for paying the child’s expenses, such as medical bills, school dues, or other expenses
- Who is responsible for making important decisions about the child’s upbringing, such as health, education, community involvement, etc.
- Which third party is responsible for caring for the child when neither parent is available to do so
- How the parents plan to resolve any conflicts regarding the custody order or the child’s upbringing
- How the parents plan to support and encourage a positive relationship between the child and the other parent
Child Custody Modification in Wyoming
Once the judge has made an order for custody, whether the parents have submitted their own parenting plan or one was created by the court, this order is legally binding, and both parents must abide by the outlined agreement. When changes need to be made a custody order, which often happens as the child ages and as the parents’ life circumstances change, the parents need to submit the modifications to the judge for approval. In most cases, when both parents are in agreement on the changes needing to be made, they are approved by the court.
In cases where parents cannot agree on proposed changes, they often have to have a court hearing to have the matter decided by a judge. In these circumstances, the parent proposing changes to the agreement needs to prove to the court the changes are necessary and within the child’s best interests. The judge then considers the modifications and a number of other factors in order to make a final decision. Should the modifications be approved, they then become a part of the custody order.
Custody and Relocation in Wyoming
The issue of relocation is another one that needs to be approved by the court before it can be added to a Wyoming child custody order. Relocation often becomes a heated issue when one parent is the custodial parent and wishes to move farther away from the noncustodial parent with visitation. Often time, relocation means the noncustodial parent has less time with the child or has a harder time fulfilling visitation– because of this, relocation issues can often become heated and emotional in the courtroom for both parents.
In these cases, the parent wishing to relocate needs to prove to the court why the move is needed and what benefits the child will see from the relocation. Once the judge has heard both sides of the argument, he or she takes the parents’ wishes and concerns into consideration as well as the child’s wellbeing, the child’s best interests, and a number of other factors to make a final decision. Once a decision is made, it becomes part of the custody order.