Parent Time – Visitation
Questions regarding parent time (“visitation”) can arise in many types of actions, including divorces, adoptions, and parentage (“paternity”) matters. Parent time is related to physical custody and specifies the amount of time the child spends with their parents. “Joint physical custody” can but does not necessarily mean the parents share equal time with the child; instead, joint physical custody simply means the child spends at least 111 nights with each parent during the year. If a parent is awarded over 254 nights with the child then they have “sole physical custody” of the child.
Primary Caretaker Factor
Many factors are used to determine how parent time is allocated between the parties. One of the most important factors relates to who has been the primary caretaker of the child. The party who has been the child’s primary caretaker during the child’s lifetime has a strong argument that the child should spend more time with them. Although Utah courts are prohibited from using a party’s gender as a basis for making custody determinations, the fact that Utah has so many stay-at-home moms means that mothers often prevail when seeking primary or sole physical custody.
The “noncustodial parent,” even if not granted physical custody, has minimum rights that must be protected. Utah’s custody statutes provide the noncustodial parent with a minimum amount of “parent time” unless other factors show this would not be in the best interests of the child. Generally, a parent’s behavior must be egregious for a court to terminate parental rights or order less than the minimum parent time. In cases involving an abusive or erratic parent, courts have the option to order supervised parent time if in the child’s best interests.
Custody and parent time are two of the most important components of the “parenting plan” that should be part of the final decree. But many other parenting concerns should be addressed also. A well-drafted parenting plan should describe in detail the rights and obligations of the parties, involving everything from transportation of the children to healthy communication between the parents. The goal of the parenting plan is to keep the parties on the same page and enhance their ability to co-parent and avoid conflict in the process.
Custody and parent time decisions are some of the toughest issues addressed during family law disputes. Eric works hard to provide his clients with candid and diligent representation during this emotional process.