Legal Custody and Divorce in Utah

Physical Custody and Legal Custody

There are two types of custody in Utah: physical and legal.  Physical custody is a little bit easier to understand for most people than legal custody, and even the statutes relating to legal custody are a bit vague.  The Utah Code defines legal custody as follows:

  • The sharing of the rights, privileges, duties, and powers of a parent by both parents;
  • It can be authority given to one parent to make specific decisions;
  • It does not affect the physical custody of the child unless otherwise specified in an order that awards joint legal custody;
  • It is not determined by an award of equal or nearly equal periods of physical custody as the best interest of the child often requires that a primary physical residence for the child be designated; and
  • It does not prohibit the court from specifying one parent as the primary caretaker and one home as the primary residence of the child.

See Utah Code 33-3-10.1(1).

Parenting Plan

Anytime a party is seeking joint legal custody, the party must provide a proposed parenting-plan to the court which is a plan for allocation of parenting functions, that is, decision making relating to the parties’ child, specifically with regards to the daily needs, relationships, education, and financial support of the child.

A parenting plan has eight main objectives:

  • make sure the parents provide for thechild’s physical care;
  • maintain the child’s emotional stability;
  • provide for the child’s changing needs as he grows in a way that avoids having to modify the divorce decree;
  • establishing the authority and responsibilities of each parent;
  • protect the child from exposure to harmful parental conflict;
  • encourage the parents to find resolutions to parental disputes instead of seeking judicial intervention;
  • protect the best interests of the child.

Presumption for Joint Legal Custody

In Utah, there is a presumption for joint legal custody, which means that in nearly every case a parent plan needs to be filed.  Joint legal custody can be overcome in serious cases that involve physical, sexual, and/or substance abuse.

To find out more about legal custody, give our Utah divorce law firm a call at 801.618.1331.

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