We recently witnessed one of the most egregious violations of parental rights we have ever had the unfortunate opportunity to witness and it stems from an bad interpretation of Utah’s child protective order statute.
The Utah child protective order law allows “any interested person” to seek such an order if the child is being abused or in imminent danger of being abused. Additionally, the statute permits a court to do the following:
- Make a determination and order temporary custody for any child who is the subject of the petition;
- Order parent-time whether supervised or unsupervised;
- Order child support; and
- Anything else the judge wants to order which is “necessary” to protect the child.
Consider the above powers given to the judge and now imagine the following factual scenario: Mom has two ex-husbands and had one child with each. Mom has primary custody of both children. She now has a boyfriend. Ex-husband #2 does not like boyfriend and files an ex parte child protective order against boyfriend. Judge awards custody of both children to husband #2. Boyfriend makes no claims and does not file a petition against either ex-husband. Now there is a situation where ex-husband #2 has custody of both children, one of the children is the biological child of ex-husband #1. In this scenario shouldn’t mother continue to have custody of her children? There are no claims brought against her. Additionally, if custody isn’t given to mom, shouldn’t ex-husband #1 get custody of his child?
Well, this is exactly what we witnessed and although the law is written in a way that would make such a decision legal, it is absolutely not in line with the intent of the child protective order statute. It was never the intent of the Utah Legislature to allow a third party to get custody of a child simply by bringing a child protective order against a different third party when neither parent is a threat to the child.
We have never seen this happen because it is so wrong and never have we seen a judge interpret the statute in this way. Unfortunately, the Utah child protective order statute is written in a way that is so ambiguous that it allows the outright violation of parental rights.