When parents divorce, they may agree on a child custody and visitation arrangement that works for them and their child. If they can't agree, Utah courts create an arrangement for them. In Utah, visitation is called parenting time, and courts must create a visitation schedule that is in the best interests of the child involved.
Joint Custody Arrangements
Utah allows parents to agree to joint legal or joint physical custody of their child. Joint legal custody means they share decision-making authority, while joint physical custody means they share parenting time equally. To share parenting time, Utah requires the parents to file a joint parenting plan describing the parenting arrangement, such as how the parents plan to reach a decision when they disagree, the schedule of when the child will stay with each parent and plans if one parent wants to relocate. The court also must determine if the plan is in the child's best interests.
Children Under Five
If parents do not agree on a visitation schedule, the court considers Utah's minimum schedule, set by statute, when designing a parenting time arrangement. For children under five years old, the minimum schedule is at least six hours of parenting time each week and at least two hours on each holiday. Utah law lists a preference for the weekly parenting time to be divided into three periods and in the child's custodial home or other familiar environment for the child. Depending on the child's age, the state's laws give other minimums, though the child's best interests are always considered.
Children Over Five
Children between five and 18 years of age have a different minimum parenting time law. With these children, Utah gives one weekday evening and alternating weekends to the noncustodial parent. Unless the parenting time order specifies otherwise, the child spends Wednesday evenings with the noncustodial parent from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., but the noncustodial parent also can take the child immediately after school until 8:30 p.m. If school is not in session, the child can spend an entire weekday with the noncustodial parent. Weekend visitation generally begins immediately after school or at 6 p.m. on Friday until 7 p.m. on Sunday. The parenting minimums address holidays, vacations and other situations.
As children grow, parents change jobs and parents relocate, it may become necessary for the parents' original parenting time arrangement to change. Utah allows the original order to govern what happens when one parent relocates. For example, an order can describe what happens if a military parent deploys. If the original order does not address these situations, parents can ask the court to modify their visitation arrangement. As with the original order, courts issues a modification if it is in the best interests of the child.