At the beginning of this legislative session, several members of the Utah House introduced HB0107, a bill that, if passed, would substantially change the way child custody is determined by the courts, and the way domestic relations attorneys litigate custody and parent-time issues in divorce or separate maintenance actions. Additionally, the bill would change the minimum parent-time schedule currently contained in U.C.A. 30-3-35 and 30-3-35.5.
What would the bill change?
1. Establishing a presumption in favor of joint physical custody so that children can have the benefit of nearly equal time with both parents. Recent studies suggest that children of divorced or separated parents are more emotionally and developmentally healthy when they have about equal access to both parents. In particular, boys who have greater access to their fathers after a divorce are less likely to act out violently and often perform better in school.
2. Placing the burden on the party asking for something other than joint physical custody of proving that such an arrangement is in the best interests of the child.
3. Defining joint physical custody as any arrangement in which both parents exercise, at a minimum, 30% of the yearly overnights with the minor child. Clearly, joint physical custody is not always a 50/50 share, and factors such as distance between the parents and the child’s school, etc., will likely affect how close to a 50/50 timeshare the parties will be awarded.
In addition to the above-mentioned changes, the bill seems to put both parents on equal footing before the Court with regard to custody and parent-time determinations. Most importantly, however, is that the bill seeks to provide Utah’s children with as much in terms of post-parental separation normalcy as possible, by giving them the opportunity to continue building their relationships with both parents — a feat that studies suggest can only be accomplished by spending a significant amount of time with each parent.
It will be interesting to monitor this bill as it develops during the legislative session. If it is passed, it will be important for divorced and divorcing parents to consult with a qualified attorney to determine what impact, if any, it may have on their current custody and parent-time arrangements.