Utah Family Law and Divorce Attorney David C. Blum
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Utah Divorce Lawyer - Child Custody

Child custody issues can be some of the most hotly-contested issues in a Utah divorce case. Choosing the right divorce attorney can be critical to ensuring that your rights and interests are protected. Contact us today to see how Utah divorce lawyer David Blum can help you

What factors are considered in determining custody in a Utah divorce?

Whether considering an initial custody decision in a divorce action or a subsequent request to change custody, the single most important factor that a court must consider is "the best interests of the child." No preference is to be given to either the mother or father solely because of gender. In principle, the core issue for the court in making child custody decisions is what will be best for the child. In practice, it often seems that preference is given to the parent who has previously been the child's primary caregiver.

The Utah legislature has set out a number of factors that can be considered by the court in making a child custody determination. These factors include the following:

  • specific instances of past conduct (either positive or negative) of each parent
  • each parent's demonstrated moral standards
  • which parent will more likely act in the best interest of the child
  • which parent is more likely to allow the child to have frequent and continuing contact and communication with the noncustodial parent
  • the depth, quality, and nature of the relationship between the parent and child
  • any prior instances where a parent has intentionally exposed the child to pornography or other materials deemed "harmful to a minor"
The legislature has also set out factors that should specifically be considered in determining questions of joint legal custody or joint physical custody. But these factors can also be considered in any other child custody decision. These factors include:
  • whether the child's physical, emotional, and psychological needs will be benefited by joint legal or joint physical custody
  • the ability of the parents to give first priority to the child's welfare in making shared decisions
  • the ability of each parent to accept and encourage a positive relationship between the child and the other parent
  • the role of each parent in raising the child prior to the divorce
  • how close the parents' residences are to each other
  • the maturity of the parents, including their ability to shield the child from conflicts that may arise between the parents
  • the past history and present ability of the parents' ability to cooperate with each other in making joint decisions
  • any prior history or potential for child abuse, spousal abuse, or kidnapping
The Utah Rules of Judicial Administration also contain guidelines for custody evaluations prepared to assist a court in making a custody determination. Included are the following factors that a custody evaluator may consider:

  • the child's preference
  • any benefit that may be achieved by keeping siblings (including half-siblings) together
  • the strength of the bond between the child and either or both of the parents
  • any benefit that may be achieved by continuing a previously determined custody arrangement where the child appears to be well-adjusted and happy
  • emotional stability and moral character of each parent
  • the duration and depth of each parent's desire for custody
  • each parent's ability to provide personal care (as opposed to surrogate care by a grandparent, neighbor, etc.)
  • a parent's excessive drinking, drug use, or other factors that may create a significant impairment of the parent's ability to function as a parent
  • reasons for past relinquishment of custody
  • religious compatibility between the parent and child
  • financial conditions
  • any evidence of abuse (either of the child in question, another child, spouse, or other person)
The factors listed by the legislature in the Utah Code and by the Judicial Council in the Rules of Judicial Administration are not intended to be a complete or exclusive list. Because the ultimate goal is to make a custody decision that serves the best interests of the child, a court or a custody evaluator is free to consider any other factors that are determined to be relevant.

How is custody determined in a Utah divorce action?

A number of processes can be involved in reaching a formal custody determination by the court. In some cases, both parents can reach an agreement on their own, and a stipulated order may be granted by the court. In other cases, negotiations or mediation may assist the parties in reaching a mutually-agreeable resolution.

In some cases, the court may order that a custody evaluation be prepared to assist the court in making its determination. A formal custody evaluation can be expensive, and the court has authority to determine which parent must pay the costs of the evaluation, or to split the costs between the two parents.

In cases where negotiations and mediation fail to bring the parties to an agreement on custody, the court may make a final custody decision at trial based on evidence presented by both parties. Trials in Utah divorce cases do not involve juries, but instead are heard and decided by a judge. The court is required to base its decision only on a preponderance of the evidence.

Choosing a Utah Attorney for Child Custody

Given the importance of the issues and consequences involved in a child custody decision, having the assistance of an experienced attorney is critical. Utah divorce attorney David Blum has extensive experience in child custody matters. He has assisted clients in reaching negotiated and mediated resolutions even when there has been significant differences between the parties initial positions. He has also successfully protected his clients' rights and interests in litigating child custody issues all the way through trial.

If you are facing a child custody dispute, contact us today to see what the right attorney can do for you.

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