When you and your spouse decide to divorce, you will need to determine custody for your minor children. In Utah, the decision about where your children will live and who will make decisions for them could be a separate case or part of your divorce agreement. Care for children may also be determined by the courts if there is a termination of parental rights, neglect or dependency or for other reasons when parents are deemed unfit to keep their children. In Utah, care for the child will fall into two different categories which include sole and joint arrangements.
Legal and Physical Custody
In addition to these two types of care, legal and physical custody must also be decided. The parent who is able to make important decisions about the child has legal care while physical determines where the children will live.
Joint Legal and Joint Physical Custody
In joint legal and joint physical care, the children live with both parents and both parents make important decisions regarding the children. This type of arrangement works well when the parents can communicate with each other easily. The parents work together to decide major issues which may include religion, types of medical treatment, education and other life events. Joint legal has no bearing on where the child lives. A joint physical arrangement means that the children will spend at least 111 nights per year in the home of each parent, something that works best when the parents live in close proximity to each other.
Joint Legal and Sole Physical
It is possible the courts could create a joint legal and sole physical arrangement. In this situation, the children live with one parent more than 225 nights per year and have visitation with the other parent. However, the parents must still work together to make important decisions about the children. This may be a better option if the parents do not live in close proximity to each other.
Best Interest of the Child
In all instances, the courts will make a decision they feel is in the best interest of the child. In most cases, a joint legal arrangement is assumed to be the best option for children unless one or more of the children have special needs or the parents live far apart. If there is evidence of domestic abuse involving the children or one of the parents or if there is another factor the court finds would be detrimental to the children, they may choose to go with a sole legal arrangement.
What Does the Court Look At?
There are many factors that determine whether joint custody is the best option for the children. The courts generally look at:
- Ability and desire to care for the children
- Benefit of keeping siblings together
- Extended family relationships
- Financial conduct
- History and nature of parent/child relationship
- Moral conduct
The court will also consider whether one parent or another is willing to allow frequent and continuous contact with the other parent. Protective actions may be taken into consideration in the case of domestic violence, neglect or abuse. The desires of the children may also be taken into consideration. In Utah, added weight is given to the desires of children over the age of 14. Gender is not a factor in determining custody.
Determinations for Joint Custody
In a joint arrangement, it is imperative that the parents are able to communicate effectively. The courts will look at each parents’ ability to focus on the welfare of the children, their ability to communicate with the other parent and their ability to encourage love and affection with the other parent. For joint physical arrangements, the courts will also look at the distance between homes. A parenting plan must be put in place for any joint arrangement.
No matter what type of arrangement is created, it is important to remember that it is a court order and it must be obeyed. Custodial parents may not withhold visitation for any reason, including failure to pay child support. In addition, a non-custodial parent may not stop paying child support because they are not given time with their children. Violation of the court order could lead to a motion filed asking the court to intercede. A parent who consistently violates an order could be held in contempt and serve time in jail.
Contact an Ogden Child Custody Attorney
If you and your spouse are in the process of a divorce and have minor children, contact Kaufman, Nichols & Kaufman to learn more about joint custody and other arrangements available. They will advise you on the best options for you and your children, helping you keep your relationship with them and providing you with the ability to make decisions for them. You can arrange for a no obligation consultation by calling today.