Custody modification cases arise when parents or legal guardians seek changes to an existing child custody arrangement.
In Utah, the court's primary consideration is the best interests of the child. However, if a court order is already entered that alleges to meet the best interest of the child, a parent much first overcome certain requirements before they can ask the court to revisit the custody order and modify it. In this blog post, we will explore the key elements that Utah courts consider in custody modification cases.
- What is a Substantial Change in Circumstances:
- Utah courts require a substantial change in circumstances to consider a modification of custody. This means that the circumstances of the child or one or both parents must have significantly changed since the original custody order was established. Examples of substantial changes may include a parent's relocation, the child's safety concerns, a parent's inability to provide adequate care, or a change in the child's needs.
- Child's Preference:
- It is rare but the court may take into account the child's preference, depending on the child's age and maturity. Older children, typically those over the age of 14, may have the opportunity to express their preferences regarding custody arrangements. While the court considers the child's preference, it is not the sole determining factor and will be weighed alongside other relevant factors after a parent has established a change in circumstances exists. The child’s preference change does not usually constitute enough of a change to warrant a custody modification. Additionally, a child’s custody preference is usually best communicated through a guardian ad litem (an attorney for the child) rather than directly to the court.
- Parent-Child Relationship:
- The quality and stability of the parent-child relationship is crucial in custody modification cases. The court will evaluate each parent's involvement and commitment to the child's emotional, educational, and physical well-being. Factors considered include the level of support provided, the ability to provide a stable and nurturing environment, and the parent's ability to meet the child's individual needs. This factor does not exclusively rely on how the child perceives the relationship, but rather if the parent is a reliable and consistent parental figure for the child.
- Co-Parenting Ability:
- The court assesses each parent's willingness and ability to foster a healthy co-parenting relationship. A parent's ability to communicate effectively, cooperate with the other parent, and encourage a positive relationship between the child and the other parent is considered. The court may also consider any history of parental alienation or attempts to undermine the other parent's relationship with the child.
- Parental Fitness and Stability:
- The court evaluates the overall fitness and stability of each parent. Factors taken into account include mental and physical health, history of substance abuse or domestic violence, criminal records, and any negative behaviors that may affect the child's well-being. The court may also consider the parent's work schedule, financial stability, and living conditions.
- Child's Adjustment and Continuity:
- The court considers the child's need for stability and continuity when evaluating custody modification requests. Disrupting a child's established routine and stability may have adverse effects on their emotional well-being. The court may assess the impact of proposed changes on the child's education, extracurricular activities, relationships with friends and extended family, and community ties.
After first establishing that there is a change in circumstances related to the issues a parent desires to modify, the courts prioritize the best interests of the child. It is essential to consult with an experienced family law attorney who can guide you through the process and help present a compelling case that demonstrates the child's best interests in seeking custody modification. Remember, each case is unique, and the court's decision will ultimately depend on the specific facts and circumstances presented.