When parents go through a divorce or separation, one of the most emotionally charged issues they face is child custody. In Utah, custody matters are governed by specific laws and procedures designed to ensure the best interests of a child are protected. Understanding how can help alleviate some of the stress and help you prepare.
Filing a Petition for Custody or Divorce:
A case is started when a parent files a petition for custody (or a petition for divorce, if the parents are married) with the appropriate Utah court. The filing party must provide relevant information about the child, including their current living arrangements, school, medical needs, and any concerns about the other parent's ability to care for the child. In the petition, a parent will ask the court for what that parent would like to see as the final outcome of the case.
Temporary Orders and Parenting Plans:
If there is not already a prior custody order in place or if the parties are in disagreement of where the child should be, the court may issue temporary orders to establish a temporary custody arrangement until a final decision is reached. Temporary orders address issues such as temporary physical custody, visitation schedules, child support, and other matters that ensure the child's well-being during the proceedings. The court may also require both parents to submit proposed parenting plans, outlining their proposed custodial arrangements.
Evaluations and Investigations:
In some cases, the court may order custody evaluations or investigations to gather additional information about the child's circumstances and the parents' ability to provide a stable and nurturing environment. Evaluators or investigators may interview the child, parents, and other relevant individuals, review records, and make recommendations to the court based on their findings.
Mediation and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR):
In Utah, the courts encourage parents to resolve custody disputes through mediation or alternative dispute resolution methods before resorting to litigation. Mediation involves a neutral third party who helps parents reach a mutually acceptable agreement. ADR methods aim to facilitate communication, negotiation, and compromise between parents, reducing the need for court intervention.
Trial and Final Determination:
If the parents cannot reach an agreement through mediation or negotiation, a trial will be scheduled. During the trial, each parent presents their evidence and provides testimony themselves or through others who serve as witnesses, and the court evaluates the evidence and arguments presented. Based on the information gathered, the court will make a final determination regarding custody, visitation, and child support.
Modifying Custody Orders:
After a custody order is issued, circumstances may change, necessitating modifications to the existing order. To modify a custody order, the parent seeking the change must demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances and show that the modification is in the child's best interests. Parents follow a similar process for a modification as they do on the initial case, though there are a few unique limitations that apply.
The custody case process in Utah can be complex and emotionally challenging for all parties involved. By understanding the steps involved and seeking professional legal guidance, parents can navigate this process more effectively. If you are facing a custody case in Utah, consult with an experienced family law attorney who can guide you through the process and help protect your rights as a parent.
Disclaimer: This blog post is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek professional legal counsel for your specific situation.