Custody Disputes

Custody disputes in Utah require an attorney if you want to navigate these issues successfully. Fortunately, there are multiple custody arrangements valid in Utah. There are also quite a few factors that go into deciding which is right for your family.

Courts in Utah want to create custody arrangements that preserve the best interests of the child. That’s also why it’s in your best interest to work with one of the leading Salt Lake City custody dispute attorneys in Utah.

For more than 25 years, Stacey Schmidt and the legal team at Schmidt Law Firm have worked tirelessly to help families deal with even the most contentious issues. Put our award-winning reputation to work for you in assisting families to sail smoothly through child custody disputes in Utah.

What Kinds of Custody Arrangements are Valid in Utah?

For many families going through a divorce in Utah, the legal proceedings of separation are their most significant concerns. There’s no doubt that issues of alimony, division of property, and visitation are essential.

However, right alongside the hallmarks of a legal divorce are the inevitable custody disputes. These arise pretty frequently and make even the most amicable of couples feel a little anxious and crazy.

As a veteran custody dispute lawyer in Utah, Stacey Schmidt advises her clients about five types of custody arrangements. Each parent will have a physical and legal custody designation. You might want to consider which of these is a possibility for your family.

Remember, it’s all about the best interests of your child or children.

1) Sole Physical custody

In arrangements of sole physical custody, children who are minors will live with the parent who is awarded custody. If that’s you, you’re the “custodial” parent. Your child or children will live with you for 255 overnights of the year.

The other, non-custodial, parent has standard visitation rights, which, in Utah, is at a minimum of 86 overnights per year. Here’s an example of how parent time works:

  • Every other weekend
  • One weekday evening each week
  • Four consecutive weeks in a year (usually during the child or children’s summer break). There are provisions in Utah that allow the custodial parent to interrupt this time for two week

Now, the primary physical residence is where the children will live, so this determination has a lot to do with the amount of child support a non-custodial parent will pay. It also determines where the child or children will attend school.

2) Split Physical

A split physical custody arrangement is quite a unique situation — it’s not uncommon. However, judges will only consider it on a case-to-case basis. This is an arrangement with more than one child.

In this custody arrangement, the judge decides (for whatever reason), that it’s in the best interest of both children if one child lives with one parent and the other lives with the other parent. Think of the movie The Parent Trap. That’s a case of Split Physical custody.

Of course, along with a split physical arrangement, the court could also award sole or joint custody to the parents over each child.

Read on to learn more about what this means.

3) Sole Legal Custody

Sole legal custody in Utah is all about the power of decision-making. If you’re the parent awarded sole legal custody:

  • You have to give the non-custodial parent information relevant to your child/children, including decisions about their health, education, residence, or daycare provision.
  • The non-custodial parent has a right to expect this information and be kept informed. However, they can’t veto any of your decisions because you have sole legal custody.

4) Joint Legal Custody

Joint legal custody arrangements are automatically both more equal and yet more complicated. If both soon-to-be-ex partners can agree on this, that’s fantastic.

But you should know that even a request for this type of custody arrangement needs to have a “parenting plan.” The Decree of Divorce will detail which parent makes legal decisions about any legal custody issues.

Even if you both decide that you’ll play a fair and equal role in decision-making, you still need to have a playbook. This is a list of possible custody dispute issues that could arise about details like:

  • Medical care
  • Education
  • Religion
  • Daycare providers

And so much more. These domestic details shouldn’t leave any room for interpretation. That’s how small things can lead to a magnified consequence down the line.

Any custody dispute lawyer in Utah should also be able to point to a loophole in the state’s law. In case the Decree doesn’t specify who makes decisions, or how joint legal custody between the two parents will work, Utah’s courts will.

The parent who has the child/children most of the time will also be the one who, by default, gets to make decisions about legal custody issues.

What Role Does a Parenting Plan Play in Custody Disputes?

Parenting plans are crucial — legally-speaking. However, they can also do a world of good at setting personal boundaries and expectations. The most significant benefit of parenting plans is the clarity you’ll receive — set down and agreed upon by both of you.

When you submit a parenting plan in Utah, the law requires you to include mandatory and useful provisions:

  • Schedule for your child’s residence and visitation dates
  • Which parent will hold decisions-making authority on some issues
  • A process for handling the situation if one parent wants to move out of state
  • How the parents will deal with any dispute that arises
  • Any other domestic or personal/familial topic you know is necessary

While you do have much flexibility when it comes to these “other” domestic topics, your decision-making is never above the law. You’re free to create a plan that creates the best possible situation for your child/children. However, the legal rule still says that the parent with whom the child (or children) is living at the moment is the one who has the final say.

For example, if an emergency arises when your child is with your ex-partner, that parent, under joint legal custody, is authorized to make the best decision. This holds even if they make a decision running counter to what you both agreed upon in the Parenting Plan.

5) Joint Physical Custody

Joint physical custody is exactly what it sounds like: Each parent has at least 111 overnights per year. Child support is based on a joint custody arrangement rather than a sole custody arrangement. This amount decreases for the parent who has less time with the child and then continues to drop after each parent has 130 overnights per year.

If your family can work with this arrangement, the Courts will likely also assign joint legal custody. So be prepared to draw up a Parenting Plan.

Factors that Influence Custody Arrangements in Utah

By now, you may begin to see that quite a few of these Utah custody arrangements are based on:

  • Which parent gets to make decisions about the child, and
  • Where the child is domiciled for the better part of the year.

Several factors that go into determining this decision-making power:

  • Emotional ties:

    Can you make a quantitative determination on something qualitative? Courts can. They’ll focus on which parent has deep emotional bonds with the child, which parent understands the child’s needs, and who has knowledge of their hobbies and interests.

  • Financial ability:

    Financial stability is vital to a child’s wellbeing, especially during a divorce. Parents will need to produce verifiable records of their ability to care for all the child’s or children’s needs. Any streams of income must be regular, reliable, and stable.

  • Past legal records:

    Courts will always look at any previous legal records or issues. Tainted records, especially when it comes to interactions with children, work against you. This includes kidnapping, child abuse, spousal abuse, molestation, and rape.

  • Current family unit:

    A judge’s determination is not just about giving power to one parent over another. Often, a joint custody determination could be made if it’s obvious that what’s in the best interests of the child is that they have both parents in their life, equally. But the judge will also consider whether the parents have a track record or penchant for mutual maturity and cooperation.

  • Other considerations:

    Custody will also be weighed against “smaller,” though no less significant, factors like the child’s gender, health of the parents, child’s age, impact on educational opportunities, and distance between the parents.

Contact Schmidt Law for Effective Custody Dispute Solutions

You have the facts of custody arrangements in Utah. But facts are just one part of the custody equation.

You’ll still need a determined, knowledgeable, and assertive Salt Lake City custody dispute attorney to help you get through all the details of your family’s custody arrangements. Yes, even though you’re opting for a divorce, the fact is that you will always be a family for your children.

Custody disputes often come up because one parent feels powerless or because there’s no specific mediation provision or plan in place. So we’ll help you hammer out the details while you focus on what matters most: Your kids.

The team at Schmidt Law Firm is dedicated to providing your family with attentive service and aggressive legal advice. Book a 30-minute consultation with Stacey Schmidt’s custody dispute attorney team in Utah and find out why we’re the go-to legal experts when it comes to positive, beneficial, and sustainable custody dispute solutions.


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