Salt Lake City Attorneys Who Understand the Ins and Outs of Child Custody Issues
Vigorously representing the rights of parents; serving all of Utah
One of the most contested areas of divorce is the issue of whom gets the children. Our lawyers at Huntsman | Lofgran know the court’s decision is based on its perception of what lies in the best interests of your offspring, and we work diligently to ensure that the court recognizes what you feel is in the best interests of your child in making that decision. We offer compassionate, objective counsel and tenacious representation in divorce and other family law matters.
Physical vs. legal custody, awarded either solely or jointly
The two basic types of custody are physical and legal. “Physical” refers to where your child is going to live. “Legal” refers to who is going to make key life decisions on your child’s behalf — for example, what religion is encouraged, who decides when your child should receive medical treatment or a major medical procedure, where your child goes to school, and who gives your child permission when he or she wants to get a tattoo, get married or join the military before the age of 18.
Either type can be awarded on a sole or joint basis. The court’s decision starts with the premise that joint custody is the ideal arrangement in support of a child’s best interests. The following scenarios are possible:
- Joint legal and joint physical custody — Joint custody, as this arrangement is called, means that the child lives with both parents and that both parents participate in key child-rearing decisions. The child spends at least 111 nights per year with each parent.
- Sole legal and sole physical custody — Sole custody means that the child spends at least 225 nights per year with one parent, who is also responsible for child-rearing decisions. The noncustodial parent is allotted parental visitation time as discussed below.
- Joint legal and sole physical custody — In this arrangement, the child lives with one parent for at least 225 nights per year. The other parent has regular parent time. Both parents make important decisions about their children.
- Sole legal and joint physical custody — In this arrangement, the child spends at least 111 nights per year with each parent, but only one parent is responsible for child-rearing decisions.
You may have heard of the term split custody. This refers to an arrangement in which there are two or more children involved and each divorcing parent is awarded sole physical custody of at least one child.
Parent time rights
Parent time is another phrase for visitation. As noted in the scenarios above, if your spouse has won sole physical custody, you may still have a right to parent time with your child for a minimum number of nights per year. This is not to be confused with a parenting plan, which must be filed jointly by the parents when the court orders joint legal or joint physical custody.
When the parents cannot agree on who will be responsible for what when it comes to their children, the court typically orders a custody evaluation. Conducted by either a court-appointed professional or court-approved professionals who are retained by the parents, the evaluation makes recommendations based on both parents’ capacity to parent, the developmental, emotional, and physical needs of the child, and the “fit” between each parent and child.
When there are two evaluators, the court assigns one as the principal evaluator and considers only the recommendations the evaluators arrive at jointly. In arriving at their assessment, evaluators must consider such factors as:
- The child’s preference
- The benefit of keeping siblings together
- The relative strength of the child’s bond with one or both of the parents
- The general interest in continuing previously determined arrangements in which the child is happy and well-adjusted
- Each parent’s moral character and emotional stability, ability to provide personal rather than surrogate care, reasons for having relinquished child care responsibilities in the past, religious compatibility with the child and financial condition
Evaluators may call on other professionals to assist them in their assessments, as well. For example, in cases where there is a record of domestic violence, sexual abuse, substance abuse or mental illness and the evaluator lacks specialized training or experience in those areas, our attorneys at Huntsman | Lofgran have requested the evaluator consult with a psychologist or other professional who does have the requisite training or experience.
Keep in mind that while the court is very serious about protecting your child’s best interests and keeping structure in your child’s life, visitation orders are not immutable. If circumstances change in either the life of the parents — or the child — arrangements may be modified accordingly.
Child custody can be complicated enough, even when it’s not a major point of contention
Child custody proceedings and decisions can be complicated. At Huntsman | Lofgran in Salt Lake City, we know what the court is looking for, and the arguments your counterparty may make. We work on your behalf to ensure that the court considers your needs and ideas about what is in the best interests of your child. For more information about how we can help, call us at 801-474-0031 or contact us online today.