Any divorce involving minor children or paternity action will include orders regarding child custody. Child custody has two components: legal custody and physical custody.
Legal custody involves major life decisions affecting children such as decisions related to schooling, medical or religion. It is common for parents to share legal custody of their children and for each parent to have information and input into decisions affecting their children. Where joint legal custody is awarded, one parent may still be awarded the final decision making authority in the event the parties are unable to reach an agreement regarding their children. If a party is awarded “final say,” the parties first must consult in good faith with each other to try to reach an agreement before the party with the final decision-making authority may
In some circumstances where a parent has shown that he or she cannot act in a child’s best interest or make appropriate decision for them, a court may award sole legal custody to one parent which allows that parent to unilaterally make all decisions affecting the children. Because joint custody presumes that parents can work together to make decisions regarding their children, courts may also award sole legal custody to one parent in high-conflict cases where parents are unable to effectively communicate and make joint decisions regarding their children.
Physical custody consists of how much time the children spend with each parent. In some cases, one parent is awarded sole/primary physical custody and the other parent exercises parent time (visitation) with the child that totals less than 111 overnights with the child each year. Parent time/visitation for a non-custodial parent is often ordered pursuant to the Utah states parent time guidelines found in Utah Code Section 30-3-35 or pursuant to some other schedule as ordered by the Court.
Where parties share joint legal custody, each parent has at least 111 overnights per year with the children. The division of time that each parent spends with the children in a joint physical custody arrangement can range from a 111-254 overnight split to a 182-182 overnight split. Time spent with children during the day is not considered for purposes of a physical custody determination.
Even where parties share joint physical custody, one party is generally designated as the primary physical custodian, meaning that that parent has more time with the children and/or that parent’s residence will determine where the children attend school.
If parties agree to a timesharing arrangement for their children, courts almost always approve any such agreement. If parties are unable to agree on a timesharing agreement, parties may agree upon, or a court may order a custody evaluation which process is explained under that section of our practice areas.
The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts is the premier interdisciplinary and international association of professionals dedicated to the resolution of family conflict. Go to the AFCC site for information and expert resources on family law.