Utah places a strong emphasis on both parents having meaningful contact with their children following a divorce. To that end, the law sets a minimum visitation requirement as part of most custody arrangements. Agreements between parents are encouraged and will be supported by the court so long as they promote the child's best interests. Utah courts retain the authority to modify an existing order if conditions change and may find a parent in contempt if an order is not followed.
Types of Custody
Under Utah law, custody is separated into two related categories, legal and physical. The power to make major life decisions for a child, including religious affiliation, where the child attends school and health care matters, falls under the category of legal custody. This is in contrast to physical custody, which describes where the child lives from day to day. Each component of custody may be ordered to one parent or both parents jointly. For practical reasons, physical custody is not always divided evenly between parents.
When Utah parents can agree to a custody arrangement, they can submit a parenting plan to the court and request that it be adopted by court order. However, the court is not obligated to follow the parent's suggestion; a judge must evaluate whether the arrangement promotes the best interests of the child. In making this determination, the court will balance such factors as the degree to which each parent participated in the raising of the child, the geographic proximity of each parent's residence and the ability of each parent to cooperate in making child-related decisions.
Unless the child's well-being would be put in danger, Utah law provides a minimum amount of visitation that must be granted to noncustodial parents. The exact time differs depending on the age of the child, with parents of children between the age of 5 and 18 generally getting one weeknight per week as well as alternating weekends. Parents of children under 5 start with six hours of contact per week, with a gradual increase over time to include overnights. Regardless of the visitation arrangement, both parties must honor the order's provisions. Failure to follow the schedule may result in a finding of contempt, accompanied by fines or even jail time.
If either parent wishes to modify an existing custody order, he may submit a request to the court. If the parties agree on the modification, the court will adjust the provisions of the order so long as it is consistent with the child's best interest. If the parties do not agree, the parent seeking modification needs to demonstrate to the court that a material and substantial change in circumstances has occurred since the date of the original order and that a modification is necessary to further the child's best interest. Examples of changes warranting modification could include the remarriage of either parent or the child changing schools.