Utah Divorce Code 30-3-10.3
30-3-10.3 – Terms of joint legal or physical custody order.
• Unless the court orders otherwise, before a final order of joint legal custody or joint physical custody is entered both parties shall attend the mandatory course for divorcing parents, as provided in Section 30-3-11.3, and present a certificate of completion from the course to the court.
• An order of joint legal or physical custody shall provide terms the court determines appropriate, which may include specifying:
o either the county of residence of the child, until altered by further order of the court, or the custodian who has the sole legal right to determine the residence of the child;
o that the parents shall exchange information concerning the health, education, and welfare of the child, and where possible, confer before making decisions concerning any of these areas;
o the rights and duties of each parent regarding the child’s present and future physical care, support, and education;
o provisions to minimize disruption of the child’s attendance at school and other activities, his daily routine, and his association with friends; and
o as necessary, the remaining parental rights, privileges, duties, and powers to be exercised by the parents solely, concurrently, or jointly.
• The court shall, where possible, include in the order the terms of the parenting plan provided in accordance with Section 30-3-10.8.
• Any parental rights not specifically addressed by the court order may be exercised by the parent having physical custody of the child the majority of the time.
• The appointment of joint legal custodians does not impair or limit the authority of the court to order support of the child, including payments by one custodian to the other.
• An order of joint legal custody, in itself, is not grounds for modifying a support order.
• An order of joint legal or physical custody shall require a parenting plan incorporating a dispute resolution procedure the parties agree to use before seeking enforcement or modification of the terms and conditions of the order of joint legal or physical custody through litigation, except in emergency situations requiring ex parte orders to protect the child.
Types of custody orders
There are two kinds of child custody:
• Legal custody, which means who makes important decisions for your children (like health care, education, and welfare), and
• Physical custody, which means who your children live with.
Legal custody can be:
• Joint, where both parents share the right and responsibility to make the important decisions about the health, education, and welfare of the children.
• Sole, where only 1 parent has the right and responsibility to make the important decisions about the health, education, and welfare of the children.
Parents with legal custody make decisions or choices about their children’s:
• School or child care
• Religious activities or institutions
• Psychiatric, psychological, or other mental health counseling or therapy needs
• Doctor, dentist, orthodontist, or other health professional (except in emergency situations)
• Sports, summer camp, vacation, or extracurricular activities
• Residence (where the children will live)
Parents who share legal custody both have the right to make decisions about these aspects of their children’s lives, but they do not have to agree on every decision. Either parent can make a decision alone. But to avoid having problems and ending up back in court, both parents should communicate with each other and cooperate in making decisions together.
Physical custody can be:
• Joint, which means that the children live with both parents.
• Sole or primary, which means the children live with 1 parent most of the time and usually visit the other parent.
Joint physical custody does not mean that the children must spend exactly half the time with each parent. Usually the children spend a little more time with 1 parent than the other because it is too hard to split the time exactly in half. When 1 parent has the children more than half of the time, then that parent are sometimes called the primary custodial parent. Sometimes, a judge gives parents joint legal custody, but not joint physical custody. This means that both parents share the responsibility for making important decisions in the children’s lives, but the children live with 1 parent most of the time. The parent who does not have physical custody usually has visitation with the children.
Types of visitation orders
Visitation (also called time-share) is the plan for how the parents will share time with the children. A parent who has the children less than half of the time has visitation with the children. Visitation orders are varied, depending on the best interests of the children, the situation of the parents, and other factors. In general, visitation can be:
• Visitation according to a schedule: Generally, it helps the parents and children to have detailed visitation plans to prevent conflicts and confusion, so parents and courts often come up with a visitation schedule detailing the dates and times that the children will be with each parent. Visitation schedules can include holidays, special occasions (like birthdays, mother’s day, father’s day, and other important dates for the family), and vacations.
• Reasonable visitation: A reasonable visitation order does not necessarily have details as to when the children will be with each parent. Usually, these orders are open-ended and allow the parents to work it out between them. This type of visitation plan can work if parents get along very well and can be flexible and communicate well with one another. But if there are ever disagreements or misunderstandings, this kind of an open schedule can cause issues between the parents, and the children may suffer as a result.
• Supervised visitation: This is used when the children’s safety and well-being require that visits with the other parent be supervised by you, another adult, or a professional agency. Click for more information on supervised visitation. Supervised visitation is sometimes also used in cases where a child and a parent need time to become more familiar with each other, like if a parent has not seen the child in a long time and they need to slowly get to know each other again.
• No visitation: This option is used when visiting with the parent, even with supervision, would be physically or emotionally harmful to the children. In these cases, it is not in the best interest of the children for the parent to have any contact with the children.
Deciding custody and visitation
The law says that judges must give custody according to what is in the best interest of the child.
To decide what is best for a child, the court will consider:
• The age of the child,
• The health of the child,
• The emotional ties between the parents and the child,
• The ability of the parents to care for the child,
• Any history of family violence or substance abuse, and
• The child’s ties to school, home, and his or her community.
Courts do not automatically give custody to the mother or the father, no matter what the age or sex of your children. Courts cannot deny your right to custody or visitation just because you were never married to the other parent, or because you or the other parent has a physical disability or a different lifestyle, religious belief, or sexual orientation. In addition to custody orders, the judge will probably also make child support orders. Keep in mind that a child support order is separate from child custody and visitation, so you cannot refuse to let the other parent see the children just because he or she is not making the child support payments that the court ordered. And you cannot refuse to pay child support just because the other parent is not letting you see your children. But child support and custody are related because the amount of time each parent spends with the children will affect the amount of child support. Click to read more about child support. Sometimes, if giving custody to either parent would harm the children, courts give custody to someone other than the parents because it is in the best interest of the children. Usually this is called guardianship, where someone who is not the parent asks for custody of the children because the parents cannot care for them. Click for more information on guardianship.
Ways to get a custody and visitation court order
In most cases, parents can make their own agreements for custody and visitation, without a court order. If you make an agreement between the 2 of you, the agreement becomes binding and enforceable. But if 1 of you does not follow the agreement, a court cannot enforce it until it becomes a court order. So if you and the other parent agree on custody and want a court order that either of you can enforce if 1 of you violates the agreement, you can turn in your agreement to a judge. The judge will probably approve the agreement, sign it, and it will become a court order. After the judge signs your agreement, file it with the court clerk. Click for more information on writing up a custody and visitation agreement or parenting plan. If you cannot agree, the judge will send you to mediation and a mediator from Family Court Services or another court-related program will help you. If you still cannot agree, you and the other parent will meet with the judge. Generally, the judge will then decide your custody and visitation schedule. Learn more about mediation of custody cases. In some cases, the judge may appoint a child custody evaluator to do a custody evaluation and recommend a parenting plan. A parent can also ask for an evaluation, but the request may not be granted. Parents may have to pay for an evaluation. The judge also may appoint lawyers for children in custody cases. The judge will also decide who will pay for the children’s lawyer’s fees. After a judge makes a custody or visitation order, 1 or both parents may want to change the order. Usually, the judge will approve a new custody and visitation order that both parents agree to. If the parents cannot agree on a change, 1 parent can ask the court for a change. That parent will probably have to complete certain forms to ask for a court hearing and prove to the judge that there is a significant change in circumstances (for example, the children would be harmed unless the order is changed) or other good reason to change the order. Both parents will most likely have to meet with a mediator to talk about why the court order needs to be changed.
The Different Types of Child Custody
Physical custody means that a parent has the right to have a child live with him or her. Some states will award joint physical custody when the child spends significant amounts of time with both parents. Joint physical custody works best if parents live relatively close to each other, as it lessens the stress on children and allows them to maintain a somewhat normal routine. Where the child lives primarily with one parent and has visitation with the other, generally the parent with whom the child primarily lives (called the custodial parent) will have sole or primary physical custody, and the other parent (the noncustodial parent) will have the right to visitation or parenting time with his or her child.
Legal custody of a child means having the right and the obligation to make decisions about a child’s upbringing. A parent with legal custody can make decisions about the child’s schooling, religious upbringing and medical care, for example. In many states, courts regularly award joint legal custody, which means that the decision making is shared by both parents. If you share joint legal custody with the other parent and you exclude him or her from the decision-making process, your ex can take you back to court and ask the judge to enforce the custody agreement. You won’t get fined or go to jail, but it will probably be embarrassing and cause more friction between the two of you — which may harm the children. What’s more, if you’re represented by an attorney, it’s sure to be expensive. If you believe the circumstances between you and your child’s other parent make it impossible to share joint legal custody (the other parent won’t communicate with you about important matters or is abusive), you can go to court and ask for sole legal custody. But, in many states, joint legal custody is preferred, so you will have to convince a family court judge that it is not in the best interests of your child.
One parent can have either sole legal custody or sole physical custody of a child. Courts generally won’t hesitate to award sole physical custody to one parent if the other parent is deemed unfit — for example, because of alcohol or drug dependency or charges of child abuse or neglect. However, in most states, courts are moving away from awarding sole custody to one parent and toward enlarging the role both parents play in their children’s lives. Even where courts do award sole physical custody, the parties often still share joint legal custody, and the noncustodial parent enjoys a generous visitation schedule. In these situations, the parents would make joint decisions about the child’s upbringing, but one parent would be deemed the primary physical caretaker, while the other parent would have visitation rights under a parenting agreement or schedule. It goes without saying that there may be animosity between you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse. But it’s best not to seek sole custody unless the other parent truly causes direct harm to the children. Even then, courts may still allow the other parent supervised visitation.
Parents who don’t live together have joint custody (also called shared custody) when they share the decision-making responsibilities for, and/or physical control and custody of, their children. Joint custody can exist if the parents are divorced, separated, or no longer cohabiting, or even if they never lived together. Joint custody may be:
• joint legal custody
• joint physical custody (where the children spend a significant portion of time with each parent), or
• joint legal and physical custody.
Joint Custody Arrangements
When parents share joint custody, they usually work out a schedule according to their work requirements, housing arrangements and the children’s needs. If the parents cannot agree on a schedule, the court will impose an arrangement. A common pattern is for children to split weeks between each parent’s house or apartment. Other joint physical custody arrangements include:
• alternating months, years, or six-month periods, or
• spending weekends and holidays with one parent, while spending weekdays with the other.
There is even a joint custody arrangement where the children remain in the family home and the parents take turns moving in and out, spending their out time in separate housing of their own. This is commonly called bird’s nest custody or nesting.
Pros and Cons of Joint Custody
Joint custody has the advantages of assuring the children continuing contact and involvement with both parents. And it alleviates some of the burdens of parenting for each parent. There are, of course, disadvantages:
• Children must be shuttled around.
• Parental noncooperation or ill will can have seriously negative effects on children.
• Maintaining two homes for the children can be expensive.
Utah Divorce Lawyer
When you need legal help with divorce in Utah, please call Ascent Law LLC for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506