“Custody” refers to parents’ rights and obligations regarding their children. “Physical custody” refers to which parent the child spends the most time with. “Legal custody,” on the other hand, refers to access to information and decision-making authority in issues regarding religious worship, extracurricular activities, medical treatment, and education. Joint legal custody is presumed except in cases where it would not serve the child’s best interests.
As with many other issues contested in litigation, the most efficient way to reach a resolution is to negotiate a settlement that accounts for the rights and preferences of all involved, including parents and children. However, when negotiation fails, it becomes necessary to involve a court.
Court Involvement – Hire a Custody Attorney
Courts must base custody decisions on what is in the best interests of the child. This is sometimes difficult to prove and requires courts to consider over a dozen factors. These factors include, among other things, whether both parents participated in raising the child before the separation, instances of child or spouse abuse, and the parents’ ability to cooperate with one another when making parenting decisions. Determination of the best interests of a child is a fact-intensive process. Before involving a judge or court commissioner in a custody or parent-time decision, a party must sit down and apply these factors and assess the strengths and weaknesses of their position. This process is much easier when assisted by a candid and experienced attorney.
Physical custody determines, very generally, who the child spends their time with. However, the other parent is usually awarded “parent-time” (visitation) with the child. Parent-time is often one of the most important issues to resolve. Utah’s divorce statutes provide guidance as to the minimum rights of the parties. For example, Utah Code Sections 30-3-35 and 30-3-35.1 describe typical parenting schedules. These schedules are favored by the courts in the event of disagreement. If parties need to deviate from these boilerplate schedules the best opportunity to do so is through out-of-court negotiation and mediation. When developing an agreement regarding parent-time, parents should consider their ability and desire to spend time with their child. In addition, it is vital to become familiar with Utah’s advisory guidelines regarding parenting and parent-time schedules.
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