What Are My Child Custody Rights in Utah?

Some of the most contentious issues in a couple's divorce relate to child custody and visitation rights. It can be unimaginable for a parent who has spent every day with his or her children to have limits placed on time with their youngsters. Consequently, it is imperative during such trying times for parents to be aware of their rights.

When parents cannot reach an agreement, the court will step in to decide custody and visitation rights by considering the best interests of the child. According to the Utah State Courts, some of the factors considered are "the depth, quality and nature of the relationship between a parent and child." In addition, courts will consider the parents' behavior. A common consideration becomes "which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent and continuing contact with the other parent."

In making its determination, the court has multiple child custody and visitation arrangement options, depending on the circumstances of each case.

What Are the Different Types of Custody?

When determining custody arrangements, there are two types of custody to consider: legal and physical. Physical custody relates to where the child will live. Legal custody determines which parent will be responsible for making important decisions for the child.

Parents can divide or share these two types of custody in a variety of ways following their divorce. Physical or legal custody may be sole or joint. Sole physical custody means the children live with one parent at least 225 nights each year, whereas joint physical custody agreements mean the children live with each parent at least 111 nights per year.

As for legal custody, typically if a couple shares physical custody they will also share legal custody of the children. When one parent has sole physical custody of the children, the court could also decide that joint legal custody is inappropriate. Joint legal custody requires parents to be able to communicate to make the important decisions regarding their children's upbringing. These issues can include medical, religious and academic decisions among many others.

In addition, when a divorcing couple has more than one child, custody may be split. In these situations, each parent has sole physical custody of at least one of the couple's children. Parents may maintain either sole or joint legal custody.

How is Parenting Time Determined in Utah?

In Utah, a "parent-time schedule" spells out visitation rights. Utah law also guarantees noncustodial parents a minimum amount of parent-time with their children, depending on the ages of the children.

For children under five years of age, Utah law outlines minimum, required parent-time for the noncustodial parent depending on the specific age of the child. For instance, if the child is under 5 months old, Utah law requires a minimum of six hours, divided into three separate visits, each week. In addition, noncustodial parents receive a minimum of two hours on holidays. It is preferred that visitation with babies and toddlers occur in the home where the child regularly lives, an "established child care setting," or in some other "environment familiar to the child."

The minimum amount of parent-time required by law increases as the child grows older. For children between 5 and 18 years old, the parent-time schedule is complicated. The schedule must take into account after-school activities during weekdays, while still allowing the noncustodial parent at least one weekday evening visit.

As the laws concerning custody and parent time are complex, divorcing parents disputing these arrangements should consult with an experienced family law attorney to ensure their custody rights are protected.