How are custody rights determined?

Many factors, including the wishes of the parent, the best interests of the child, and the wants of the child, affect the result of a custody agreement.

When Utah parents face a divorce, they have more to consider than how to split retirement funds and other marital assets. They have to think about their children, who will take care of them and where they will live. With a statewide divorce rate of 3.6 per 1,000 residents according to the Public Health Indicator Based Information System, it is not unreasonable to think that many separation proceedings revolve around the wellbeing of at least one child. There are a number of custody arrangements available, but figuring out which one is right for each family can require the help of a judge or mediator.

Parent wishes

In an uncontested separation, the two parents may be able to figure out the custody arrangement on their own. In this case, the parents alone would decide who gets the children for each holiday, where the kids go to school and other major decisions.

Even if the divorce is not uncontested, parent wishes may still play a role in the custody agreement. For example, a judge or mediator may listen to the wants of both the mother and father as the rights are determined.

Best interests

While parental wishes can play a role in the outcome of a custody agreement, the more pressing matter is the best interests of the child. If there are any disagreements between the mother and father on parent time, the court may turn away from their wishes and start focusing more on what would benefit the children most. A child's best interests may be determined by considering certain factors, including the following:

  • The quality of each parent-child relationship
  • The moral character of each parent
  • The likelihood of the parent encouraging a continued relationship with the other spouse

The person determining how the custody rights should be split up wants to make sure the children will receive the best care possible. In some cases, financial situations may play a role in who gets custody, but financial support for the child may make that less of a factor.

Child wishes

If a child would rather live with one parent over the other, it may affect the final custody arrangement, but he desires of the child are still not as important under the law as are his or her best interests.

In a Utah custody dispute, the way the child's voice is heard in mediation or in court is through the work of an appointed independent custody evaluator, a person with specific professional qualifications. The evaluator will conduct a thorough and detailed investigation of the parents and their respective households as well as of the child's wishes. The evaluator provides his or her opinion of the impact on the child's best interests of each factor in a long list.

One of many factors the Utah court rules require the evaluator to consider is "the stated wishes and concerns of each child, taking into consideration the child's cognitive ability and emotional maturity."

Utah residents may struggle to make it through divorce proceedings. Whether a couple has children or high-net-worth assets, it may be beneficial to turn to the knowledgeable attorneys at Kristopher K. Greenwood & Associates, LC, for help with a marital separation.