How Child Custody Works in Utah
In this article, we cover all legal and practical things parents need to know about child custody and divorce in Utah.
We answer questions such as:
What does child custody consist of in Utah?
How does Utah make custody decisions?
What does “best interest of the child” mean?
What goes into a parenting plan?
Is a parenting course required?
What are the possible custody outcomes?
At the end of this guide, we provide an FAQ with helpful tips, ranging from information on visitation rights to changes in parenting plans and custody orders.
What does child custody consist of in Utah?
The term “custody” can be broken out into two categories in Utah law: legal custody and physical custody (UT §188.8.131.52). Legal custody is defined as the “rights, privileges, duties, and powers of a parent,” which usually in practice means decision-making responsibility, including school choices, medical decisions, etc. Physical custody is defined as the logistics of child-rearing, such as where the child stays and who pays for the child’s expenses. Legal custody and physical custody are decided separately, so it is possible for both parents to share legal custody of a child and be involved in making decisions about the child’s life, but only one parent has physical custody of the child, so the child lives only with them.
The parameters of custody are described in a “parenting plan,” which parents are required to submit at the same time as their divorce petition or petition response (UT §184.108.40.206). If one parent files a parenting plan and the other does not, the parent who filed the plan can petition the court to adopt their plan by default.
How does the process of determining child custody begin?
In divorce cases, once the divorce petition is officially filed and served, the judge will automatically enter a Domestic Relations Injunction (Utah Courts: Domestic Relations Injunction). The injunction will lay down rules both parents must follow while the divorce case proceeds, including rules relating to childcare while permanent child custody is being determined. These rules include:
Not taking children on “non-routine” travel without the written consent of the other parent, or without providing the other parent with a travel itinerary and contact information.
Not talking badly about the other parent in the child’s presence.
Not attempting to influence the child’s preferences for custody.
Not saying or doing “anything that would negatively affect the love and affection” of the child for the other parent.
Not involving the child in the divorce process at all.
Not using the child to make childcare arrangements, i.e. refusing to speak to the other parent and requiring the child to be the one to communicate.
Not allowing any of the above to be perpetrated by another person, such as a grandparent.
The Domestic Relations Injunction goes into effect for the parent who filed the divorce petition upon the petition’s filing, and upon receipt of the petition for the other parent. The injunction will remain in place until the divorce is finalized, the divorce petition is withdrawn or dismissed, the parents agree to divorce/child custody terms in writing, or a court order removes the injunction.
How does Utah make custody decisions?
The prevailing motivation for Utah courts when making custody decisions is to determine whatever arrangement is in the best interest of the child (UT §30.3.10). The court considers the following factors when deciding what is in a child’s best interest (this list is non-exhaustive and could include additional factors at the court’s discretion):
Any evidence of domestic violence, neglect, or abuse (including physical, sexual, or emotional abuse) involving the child, one of the parents, or someone who lives in one of the parents’ households. More information on what constitutes domestic violence in the “What if there is a history of domestic violence?” section below.
Each parent’s demonstrated understanding of their child’s needs, and each parent’s ability to meet those needs, including physical needs, emotional needs, educational needs, medical needs, and any special needs the child may have.
Each parent’s capacity and willingness to fulfill essential aspects of parenting, including:
Their parenting skills.
Their ability to provide hands-on care as opposed to surrogate care.
Their co-parenting skills, which include their ability to communicate appropriately with the other parent, and their willingness to encourage the child to share love and affection with the other parent as well as contact with the other parent (except for in cases of domestic violence, neglect, or abuse).
Each parent’s “past conduct and demonstrated moral character.”
Note: Utah law specifically bars one parent’s use of medical cannabis or employment as a producer/seller of medical cannabis from being considered as part of their demonstrated moral character.
Each parent’s emotional stability.
Any behavior that may contribute to each parent’s inability to function, such as a pattern of drug use or excessive drinking.
If either parent has intentionally exposed the child to pornography or other material deemed “harmful to minors,” which UT §76.10.1201 defines as any description or representation of “nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sadomasochistic abuse” that is generally considered to be offensive and have no artistic value.
Each parent’s religious compatibility with the child.
Each parent’s financial responsibility.
The child’s relationships with extended family members.
If one parent has been the primary caretaker of the child.
Maintaining the child’s connections to their siblings, home, school, and community.
The “depth, quality, and nature” of each parent’s relationship with the child.
The child’s wishes, taking into account their emotional maturity and cognitive ability. A child’s wishes will be given “added weight” if they are 14 years of age or older.
Parental involvement in determining custody
If the parents agree on all parenting-related issues, they can submit a joint parenting plan to the divorce judge at any time. The joint plan needs to contain a statement signed by both parents attesting to their agreement to the plan’s parameters. If the parents do not submit a joint plan, and the plans each parent submits are inconsistent with each other, the parenting plan will be determined by the court. In this instance, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the child (more information on guardians ad litem in the “Other FAQs” section, under “What is a guardian ad litem?”). The guardian ad litem may submit a third parenting plan to be considered separately from either parent’s submitted plan.
It is possible, though rare, for neither parent to be granted custody of a child and for custody to instead be granted to another relative, typically a grandparent (Utah Courts: Child Custody and Parent-Time).
What does “best interest of the child” mean?
Although Utah operates under the assumption that joint custody (both legal and physical) is typically in the best interest of the child, they consider additional factors for each type of custody.
For joint legal custody, Utah courts will proceed with making custody decisions under the assumption that joint legal custody is in the best interest of the child unless there is evidence of domestic violence, neglect, or abuse, or if the child or parent has any special mental or physical needs that make joint custody unreasonable (Utah Courts: Child Custody and Parent-Time). The latter provision does NOT entitle courts to discriminate against a parent due to a disability, unless the disability inhibits the parent’s ability to provide for the child’s needs. If there is a significant distance between the parents’ residences, that situation may also lead the court to conclude that joint custody is not ideal.
For joint physical custody, Utah courts will consider (UT §220.127.116.11):
How joint physical custody would impact the physical, psychological, and emotional needs of the child.
If the parents are capable of putting the child’s welfare first, particularly when reaching shared decisions.
The parents’ co-parenting skills, including demonstrated “past and present” ability to cooperate.
If both parents participated in raising the child before the divorce.
How close the parents’ homes are to each other.
The parents’ maturity.
The parents’ ability/willingness to keep the child unaware of any conflict between the two parents.
Either parent or the court itself may request a custody evaluation, the purpose of which will be to “provide the court with information it can use to make decisions regarding custody and parenting time arrangements that are in the child’s best interest” (UCJA Rule 4-903). If both parents agree on the need for a custody evaluation, they can file a joint request with a formal Stipulation stating who the desired evaluator will be, the dates the evaluation will begin and end, the factors the evaluation will address, and how much the evaluation will cost and who will pay (Utah Courts: Custody Evaluation).
A custody evaluator needs to be specifically trained in child development and be either a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, a psychologist, a physician, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, or a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor. If the custody evaluation involves issues such as domestic violence, sexual abuse, substance use, or mental illness, and the assigned evaluator does not have experience or training in those areas, they will be required to bring in outside consultants with more specialized knowledge. Custody evaluations may require psychological tests for both the child and the parents.
After the evaluation concludes, the evaluator will prepare a Custody Evaluation Settlement Conference Report and notify the parents, judge, and guardian ad litem, if applicable (more information on guardians ad litem in the “Other FAQs” below, under “What is a guardian ad litem?” section), to schedule a meeting to go over the evaluation.
What goes into a parenting plan?
Parenting plans are legally required in all divorce situations where children are involved, except those in which one parent is granted sole physical and sole legal custody, which is exceptionally rare (Utah Courts: Parenting Plans). The official document each parent will need to submit to the court can be found here: Parenting Plan. If either parent is serving in the military, they will need to attach an additional document, the Military Parenting Plan (more information on military-related specifications for parenting plans at the end of this section).
Parenting plans are an allocation of “parenting functions,” which include (UT §18.104.22.168):
“Maintaining a loving, stable, consistent, and nurturing relationship with the child.”
Addressing the child’s daily needs, such as food, clothing, grooming, physical care, health care, supervision/daycare, and other age-appropriate activities “that are within the social and economic circumstances” of the family.
Providing the child with education, including remedial education if necessary.
Assisting the child in forming and maintaining healthy relationships.
Financially supporting the child.
Parenting plans are intended to set out a structure for:
Providing the child with physical care. Ideally, the plan should explain how the child’s care needs will continue to be provided for as the child grows so that the parenting plan does not constantly need to be updated.
Maintaining the child’s emotional stability.
Delineating each parent’s authority and responsibility.
Minimizing the child’s exposure to any conflict between their parents.
Procedures for the parents to resolve any future differences that may arise, without judicial intervention. These procedures may include counseling, mediation, or arbitration.
If parents do need to enter the agreed-upon dispute resolution process at any point after the parenting plan is finalized, each parent needs to be provided with a written record of any agreement formed during the resolution.
If a court later finds that one parent initiated the dispute resolution process “without good reason,” the court may require the offending parent to financially compensate the other parent.
Steps necessary for either parent to relocate (more information on parental relocation below in the “What if one of the parents relocates?” section).
A residential schedule for the child, including where the child will stay and when, with provisions for “holidays, birthdays of family members, vacations, and other special occasions.” More on this scheduling system in the “What are the possible custody outcomes?” section below.
Protecting the best interest of the child.
Nothing in the parenting plan will preclude either parent from making day-to-day decisions about their child while the child is staying with them, or from making emergency, in-the-moment decisions related to their child’s health and safety (Utah Courts: Parenting Plans).
Parenting plans also need to address the child’s education, including which of the parent’s residences will be considered the “home residence” and used in designating which school district the child attends (UT §22.214.171.124). Additional education considerations include determining if both parents will have access to the child while the child is at school and if both parents will have the authority to check the child out of school.
If one or both parents are serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, the parenting plan needs to explain how custody will work in the event of a deployment or other “contingency,” including the death or incapacitation of one of the parents while serving. Military parenting plans also need to specify how the child will contact the deployed parent.
Will I need to complete a parenting course?
Yes. Utah law requires completion of a mandatory orientation course and a mandatory education course for all spouses entering into a divorce if the spouses share minor children (UT §126.96.36.199 and UT §188.8.131.52). More information on both courses, including purpose, attendance requirements, content, length, costs, and waivers is available on our Divorce in Utah page.
What is a parent coordinator?
A parent coordinator is a professional mediator with expertise in child development that the court may appoint to assist in disputes between parents regarding custody and/or parent-time (UCJA Rule 4-509). Parent coordinators are recommended in cases where there may be conflict between the parents, but the parents are still capable of respectfully exchanging ideas.
A parent coordinator is required to be either a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, a psychologist, or a physician. If a prospective parent coordinator has treated any of the parents or children involved in the case in the past in another professional capacity (as a therapist, doctor, etc.), they can’t serve as the parent coordinator in the related divorce case. And, if someone serves as a parent coordinator during a divorce case, they can’t see the parents or children as patients in other professional capacities either during the case or after its conclusion.
If the parents are using a mediator to come to an agreement on other issues related to their divorce, it is generally not recommended that they use the mediator as their parent coordinator.
Parent coordinators will assist parents in drafting their parenting plans. They will prioritize the best interests of the child while focusing on solutions and compromises between the parents. Generally, the goals of parent coordination include prioritizing the developmental needs of children, preserving relationships between family members, and protecting children from the disruption and conflict associated with divorce. Parent coordination may address:
Parental communication methods, responsibilities, and expectations, including expectations around discipline.
Conflict resolution methods that will minimize children’s exposure to conflict.
How each parent can support the child’s relationship with the other parent.
Selection of childcare services, including babysitters.
Diet, clothing, bedtime, and recreational requirements for the child.
Involvement of friends and relatives (including stepparents) in the child’s life.
Parents are not required to follow the recommendations outlined by the parent coordinator, but, in most cases, not following the parent coordinator’s recommendations will lead to the legal dispute process in court, which is more costly and time-intensive (Utah Courts: Parent Coordinator).
The court will designate which parent will be responsible for paying the parent coordinator’s fees, or if and how the parents will split the fee.
Parents can continue to use parent coordinators if issues arise after the custody and parent-time orders have been finalized.
What are the possible custody outcomes?
There are three potential outcomes in a child custody case in Utah: sole custody, joint custody, and split custody.
Because Utah law operates under the presumption that it is usually in a child’s best interest to be raised by both parents, it is not preferred for one parent to have sole custody of a child, but sole physical custody, where the child lives with only one parent, is possible, though rare. Sole physical and sole legal custody, where the child lives with only one parent and only that parent is granted the ability to make decisions about the child’s life, is also possible, but much rarer. It is more likely that a court will assign sole physical and joint legal custody, in which the child lives with only one parent but both parents need to work together to make decisions about their child’s life (Utah Courts: Child Custody and Parent-Time).
When one parent is granted sole physical custody, they are referred to as the custodial parent, and the other parent is considered the noncustodial parent. The noncustodial parent has visitation rights, which Utah refers to as parent-time. Utah law issues the following advisory guidelines around delineating parent-time (UT §30.3.33):
It should first be left up to the parents to determine a parent-time schedule. If the parents can’t agree on a schedule, then the court will become involved.
The goal of all parent-time schedules should be to “maximize the continuity and stability of the child’s life.”
Each parent needs to prioritize making the child available to attend family functions such as weddings, family reunions, and religious holidays, even if those functions conflict with the regular parent-time schedule. If both parents celebrate the same religious holidays, the holidays will be equally divided between parents. If parents celebrate different religious holidays, the parent who celebrates the holiday will have parent-time with the child on that holiday.
Parent-time should not interrupt school hours.
Parent-time should accommodate each parent’s work schedule and the distance between each parent. If the parents work at different times, they will each be expected to provide care for the child during the time the other parent is at work – meaning that if the noncustodial parent is available for childcare during the custodial parent’s work hours, they will be the first preference for providing childcare. If the parents’ work schedules overlap, appropriate childcare should be arranged. Utah courts prefer to continue any childcare arrangements that existed during the marriage.
When determining a parent-time schedule, Utah courts may consider the following factors (UT §30.3.34):
Potential negative impacts of parent-time on a child’s physical, mental, or emotional health.
Any evidence of domestic violence, neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse.
The distance between where the child lives and where the noncustodial parent lives.
Any demonstrated lack of parenting skills. If lack of parenting skills is an issue, the noncustodial parent may still be granted parent-time, but with “safeguards,” such as supervision by another family member. If no family member is available, the noncustodial parent may be required to seek the services of a professional.
If the court moves forward with an order for supervised parent-time, they need to also explain the steps the noncustodial parent can take that will lead the court to reconsider the supervision order ((UT §184.108.40.206).
If the noncustodial parent is financially unable to provide food and shelter for the child during parent-time.
If the noncustodial parent is incarcerated.
Any shared interests between the child and the noncustodial parent.
The child’s preference.
“The minimal duration of and lack of significant bonding in the parents’ relationship before the conception of the child.”
The parent-time schedule of any siblings.
Whether the child is still nursing.
Utah courts have developed a set of parent-time schedules for a child between the ages of five and eighteen that they will impose if parents can’t agree on their own schedule. The minimum schedule will include one weekday evening each week and alternating weekends during the school year and four weeks during the summer for the noncustodial parent.
The court’s minimum parent-time schedules are different for children under five years old:
For a child under five months old, the noncustodial parent will have access to three weekly two-hour visits and a two-hour visit on every holiday.
For a child between five and nine months old, the noncustodial parent will have access to three weekly three-hour visits and a two-hour visit on every holiday.
For a child between nine and twelve months old, the noncustodial parent will have access to one weekly eight-hour visit, one weekly three-hour visit, and an eight-hour visit on every holiday.
For a child between twelve and eighteen months old, the noncustodial parent will have access to one weekly three-hour visit, a weekend overnight visit, an eight-hour weekend visit on alternating weekends, and an eight-hour visit on every holiday.
For a child between eighteen months and three years old, the noncustodial parent will have access to one weekday evening a week, alternating weekends, full holidays, and two weeks of extended parent-time per year.
For a child between three and five years old, the noncustodial parent will have access to one weekday evening a week, alternating weekends, full holidays, and four weeks of extended parent-time per year.
For all children under nine months old, parent-time with the noncustodial parent should take place in the custodial parent’s home, an established child=care setting, or “other environment familiar to the child,” unless the parents agree on another location. For children between eighteen months and three years old, Utah’s Pointers for Parents and Parenting Plans recommends that a child not be regularly separated from either parent for more than three consecutive days.
The court may consider granting the noncustodial parent up to 145 overnights/year with their child (a roughly 40/60 custody split) if the parent can demonstrate they can effectively communicate with the other parent, the increased parent-time is in the child’s best interest, and they have been actively involved in their child’s life. “Active involvement” is defined as providing child care, participating in the child’s school and extracurricular activities, helping the child with their homework, and bonding with the child. In deliberating a 40/60 custody split, the court will also consider the distance between the parents’ homes, the distance between each parent’s home and the child’s school, the noncustodial parent’s employment schedule and ability to assist with childcare, and the parents’ and child’s health.
Parent-time schedules can’t be changed unless both parents agree to the changes or the schedule is changed via court order.
Joint legal and physical custody is the most common result in Utah divorce cases. In joint custody situations, both parents share decision-making responsibility and the child lives with both parents for some of the time.
The formal joint custody order issued by the judge will likely include the following:
If the parents live in different Utah counties, designating the child’s official county of residence or which parent gets to choose the child’s county of residence.
Language compelling the parents to share information on the child’s health, education, and welfare with each other, and to include each other in making decisions about the child when possible.
A list of the rights and duties of each parent regarding the child’s care, support, and education.
How the custody arrangement will minimize disruptions to the child’s school attendance, daily routine, and friendships.
The terms of the parenting plan, including an equal division of parent-time, in which the child will stay with one parent for 182 nights of the year and the other parent for 183 nights.
Unless the parents propose their own schedule to the court, the court’s default joint custody schedule will designate that the child spends Monday morning – Wednesday morning with one parent, Wednesday morning – Friday morning with the other parent, and alternating Friday morning – Monday morning between the parents.
If the parents share more than one child, the court can grant sole physical custody of one child to one parent and the other child to the other parent. Both parents will continue to have joint legal custody of all children (Utah Courts: Child Custody and Parent-Time). Split custody is exceptionally rare, as Utah courts recognize the importance of sibling bonds (Utah Legal Clinic: What kinds of child custody are there and how will custody be decided?).
What is the informal trial process?
In divorce cases, the judge may conduct an “informal” trial to discuss issues of child support, child custody, and parent-time (Utah Courts: Informal Trial of Support, Custody, and Parent-Time). An informal trial looks more like a conversation than it does a court case. Each parent will make their case and the judge is the only person who can ask questions, as opposed to the questions/cross-examinations/objections process used in a typical legal proceeding. After each parent makes their case, each parent will have the opportunity to respond to the other parent’s arguments. The judge may grant the child and the child’s guardian ad litem (more information on guardians ad litem in the “Other FAQs” section below, under “What is a guardian ad litem?) an opportunity to speak, and expert opinions, such as those from child psychologists or professional custody evaluators, may also be heard.
The Checklist for Stipulated Motion for Informal Trial contains all the steps a parent must complete to request an informal trial. The Stipulated Motion for Informal Trial is required to formally request the trial, and the Consent to Informal Trial and Waiver of Rules of Evidence is required to agree to the terms of the trial.
Can the custody order be changed?
In order to change a custody order after it has been issued, the parents will need to petition the court and attend a hearing (UT §220.127.116.11). The parents will need to prove all of the following reasons for changing the order:
The circumstances of the child and/or one or both parents have “materially and substantially changed,” such as one of the parents remarrying or the child needing to change schools.
Changing the custody order would be in the best interest of the child and an improvement over the child’s current circumstances.
The parents have attempted to come to a resolution regarding changing the terms of child custody and have participated in a good faith dispute resolution process before proceeding to court.
Even if the parents can prove the above reasons, the court will likely still consider alternative options before they change the custody order. Changing the order itself will almost always be a last resort. If the court finds that the child is “thriving, happy, and well-adjusted” under the terms of the current custody arrangement, they will likely rule against changing the custody order.
If the proposed change in the custody order will change an order of sole custody to one of joint custody (legal or physical), the parent requesting the change will be required to submit a new parenting plan.
If in the process of reviewing the requested order change, the court finds that one parent filed the request “frivolously and in a manner designed to harass” the other parent, the court will order the offending parent to pay the other parent’s court fees.
More information on the process of changing a custody order is available in the “FAQs for noncustodial parents” section below, under “Can I move to change the custody order?”
Can the parenting plan be changed?
Yes. Utah actually recommends that changes to the parenting plan be considered as a child ages (Pointers for Parents and Parenting Plans).
What about traveling with the child?
UT §30.3.36 states that whenever a child travels with a parent, that parent needs to provide the other parent with an itinerary, destinations, and contact info for the child, the parent, and a third person with knowledge of the child’s location. Utah recommends that when parents travel with their children, they schedule the travel in such a way that it minimizes disruption of time with the other parent and the child’s regular schedule (Pointers for Parents and Parenting Plans).
What if one of the parents relocates?
Utah courts define “relocation” as one parent moving more than 150 miles away from the other parent’s residence (UT §30.3.37). The relocating parent needs to provide 60 days advance notice of their intended relocation to the other parent.
If the relocating parent has custody, the court will review the relocation to see if it is in the child’s best interest. If the relocation is found to not be in the child’s best interest, and the custodial parent proceeds with the relocation anyway, the court may change custody and grant it to the other parent. If the relocation is found to be in the child’s best interest, the court will determine a new parent-time schedule and how to allocate transportation costs, taking into account the reason behind the relocation, the costs and difficulty associated with a new parent-time arrangement, and the “economic resources of both parents.”
If the custodial parent is granted the ability to relocate without giving up custody, the court will determine a new parent-time schedule for the noncustodial parent. For children between the ages of five and eighteen, this schedule must include half of the summer break period, either Thanksgiving and Spring Break or Winter Break and Fall Break, and one weekend per month at the noncustodial parent’s expense (if they opt in). For children under the age of five, the court will consider:
The child’s age and developmental needs – for example, it would be impractical to expect a breastfeeding child to spend extended time over 150 miles away from their mother.
The distance between the two parents.
Travel arrangements, including cost.
The level of attachment between the noncustodial parent and the child.
The relocating parent will be responsible for all travel expenses, except the one weekend per month specified to be at the noncustodial parent’s expense. If the noncustodial parent spends money on the child’s travel expenses, the custodial parent needs to reimburse them within a month. If the noncustodial parent is responsible for paying child support, and they are found to be delinquent on their payments, they will become responsible for all the child’s travel expenses.
If the parents live within driving distance, each parent should drive the child in one direction to see the other, or the parents should meet halfway in between their residences to exchange the child. If the parents live far enough apart to warrant flying, Utah courts advise that children under eight years old should not be allowed to fly alone (Pointers for Parents and Parenting Plans).
If one parent relocates because of an act of domestic violence committed by the other parent, the court is free to determine any orders regarding parent-time and travel expenses without needing to adhere to any of the requirements outlined above (UT §30.3.32). More information on what constitutes domestic violence in the “What if there is a history of domestic violence?” section below.
What if there is a history of domestic violence?
Utah law defines “domestic violence” as a person committing or attempting to commit one of the following offenses against someone they live with (UT §77.36.1):
Assault, defined by UT §76.5.102 as any attempt to inflict bodily injury or create a risk of bodily injury.
Aggravated assault, defined by UT §76.5.103 as any attempt or threat of serious bodily injury involving a weapon.
Cruelty to an animal, with the intent of causing emotional harm to the other person, i.e. hurting a pet.
Criminal homicide, including murder, manslaughter, and homicide resulting from assault, child abuse, or neglect (UT §76.5.201).
Harassment, defined by UT §76.5.106 as a written or recorded threat to commit a violent felony.
Electronic harassment, which involves repeated electronic communication intended to intimidate, abuse, threaten, harass, or frighten the other person, including if one person doxes the other (doxing is defined as posting personally identifying information online) (UT §76.9.201).
Mayhem, defined as dismemberment (UT §76.5.105).
Any sexual offenses, including rape, sexual assault, sexual battery, revenge porn, and sexual offenses against minors.
Offenses against property, including arson, graffiti, burglary, trespassing, and robbery.
“Possession of a deadly weapon with criminal intent.”
Witness tampering or retaliation.
If the court finds that a parent has committed domestic violence, or if there is a protective order or a civil stalking injunction in place, the court will consider the impact of domestic violence in determining parent-time. UT §30.3.32 states that “a court shall consider as primary the safety and well-being of the child and the parent who experiences domestic or family violence.”
If one parent has a protective order or a civil stalking injunction in place against the other parent, the court may order the parents to transfer the child using a third person.
FAQs for noncustodial parents
What visitation rights do I have?
Refer to the “What are the possible custody outcomes?” section above for a review of noncustodial parents’ visitation rights, under “Sole custody.”
What rights to information do I have?
Utah’s advisory guidelines around parent-time (UT §30.3.33) explicitly state that a noncustodial parent has the right to know about:
“All significant school, social, sports, and community functions in which the child is participating or being honored.”
All school reports and medical records, including immediate notification in the case of a medical emergency.
The name, address, and telephone number of your child’s childcare provider.
Can I move to change the custody order?
Yes. We have provided more information on acceptable reasons for changing a custody order above, in the “Can the custody order be changed?” section, and we’ll break down the process of requesting a custody order change here.
Most custody orders will include a section outlining the dispute resolution process parents must undertake before asking the courts to become involved. Make sure you have completed whatever this process requires – mediation, meeting with the parent coordinator, etc. – before you file a petition to modify custody.
Regardless of who files the petition for modification, whoever was the petitioner in the original case will remain the petitioner, and the respondent in the original case will remain the respondent. For example, if your spouse filed the original divorce petition, and after the divorce decree is issued you move to change the custody order, you will remain the respondent even though you initiated the new custody case.
If you are filing a petition to modify, you need to follow all of the same processes as filing a divorce petition outlined on our Divorce in Utah page, including paying the filing fee and serving notice to the other parent. You need to file a Petition to Modify Child Custody, Parent-time and Child Support, unless you are seeking only to modify parent-time, in which case you need to file a Petition to Modify Parent-time. Once a petition for modification is filed, the court will issue a Domestic Relations Injunction, as described above in the “How does the process of determining child custody begin?” section.
If the other parent agrees to your proposed modifications to the custody order, you can file a Stipulation, meaning you will not need to hash out the details in court.
Can I make my spouse pay my attorney’s fees after a custody battle?
Utah courts may order one parent to pay the other parent’s attorney fees if it is necessary for the other parent to be able to participate in court (UT § 30.3.3). If one parent violates a custody or parent-time order, they may be held responsible for paying the attorney fees the other parent incurred in the process of taking them to court.
In most cases, unless either of the above-listed reasons applies (which is generally rare), parents will be responsible for their own attorney fees, unless some sort of contract exists between the parents that requires one to pay the other’s fees (Utah Litigation: When Does the Loser Have to Pay the Winner’s Attorney Fees?).
What is a guardian ad litem?
A guardian ad litem is an attorney appointed by a Utah court to represent the best interests of a child involved in a court proceeding related to custody or parent-time (UT § 78A.2.705). A guardian ad litem can represent more than one child in a divorce proceeding, in the case of siblings.
A guardian ad litem can interview the child and determine their wishes regarding custody and/or visitation. If they find that the child’s wishes are not the same as the child’s best interests, they are still obligated to communicate the child’s wishes to the court (unless the child asks them not to). The court will likely rule in favor of whatever is likely to be considered in the child’s best interest.
The guardian ad litem can also educate the child on the court and administrative proceedings, and keep the child informed of the status of their case, any discussions and proposals related to the case, any court actions, and any psychiatric, medical, or other treatments that will be provided as part of the case. They can interview witnesses and review any family medical, psychological, and school records that they may find helpful in advocating for the child or making their recommendation to the court.
What happens if one parent violates the parenting plan?
If a parenting plan is included in a custody order as part of a divorce decree, it is a legally binding court order. Violations of such an order can have legal and financial consequences. The court may impose the following sanctions for a parenting plan violation (Ascent Law: Contempt of Court in Utah Custody, Parenting and Visitation Cases):
For a first offense: a fine of up to $250 and/or up to 30 days in jail.
For a second offense: a fine of up to $500 and/or up to 60 days in jail.
For a third offense: a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to 90 days in jail.
In all instances, the court can order the offending parent to pay the nonoffending parent’s court fees and attorney costs. The court may also order restitution to the nonoffending parent in the form of makeup parent-time. For example, if one parent illegally keeps the child over Christmas, the judge may award the subsequent two Christmases to the nonoffending parent.
If one parent consistently violates the parenting plan, the court may consider changing the custody order.
Can I access my child’s school records even if I don’t have custody?
Utah’s advisory guidelines around parent-time (UT §30.3.33) explicitly state that a noncustodial parent has the right to know about all school reports and medical records, including immediate notification in the case of a medical emergency.
What about medical records?
The same principles apply as in the case of school records, meaning either parent’s access cannot be restricted.
What if one parent is in jail?
If a parent is convicted of a felony and serving a jail sentence of longer than one year, their parental rights are typically terminated, meaning they will not have access to custody of their child (Termination of Parental Rights in Utah, T.B., Appellant, v. State of Utah, Appellee.).
How can I get 50/50 split custody?
Utah prefers a 50/50 custody arrangement whenever possible if it is in the best interests of the child. Utah encourages parents to come up with a parenting plan that works for them, which may approximate a 50/50 split as opposed to dividing parent time exactly down the middle, with a child spending 3.5 days per week with each parent. However, if parents can’t come up with their own 50/50 split schedule, Utah does have a predetermined schedule they can use – refer to the “What are the possible custody outcomes?” section above, under “Joint custody.”
There are some great resources available for Utah parents with questions about child custody. We’ve compiled a few below.
Utah Courts: Self-Help Resources/Self-Represented Parties provides a variety of forms and links for those who are planning to represent themselves in court during custody cases. You can also be connected to the Self-Help Center to meet with lawyers who can help you understand your custody case better (but who can’t represent you in court). Utah’s Online Court Assistance Program (OCAP) can help with filling out legal forms and documents.
Legal aid societies provide legal help to people who can’t afford lawyers. They also typically publish useful resources that are available to everyone, regardless of income level. Several legal aid societies in Utah provide support specifically related to custody cases:
Alliance to Lead Impact in Global Human Trafficking (ALIGHT): legal help for survivors of human trafficking (sex or labor). The legal aid does not need to relate to their human trafficking experience but can be for any reason, including child custody issues.
American Indian Legal Clinic: handles tribal concerns but also child custody, accessible by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling (801) 581-5418.
Timpanogos Legal Center (TLC) Document Clinic: for helping self-represented people going through child custody cases prepare their court and legal documents, accessible by emailing email@example.com or calling (801) 469-8895.
Timpanogos Legal Center YCC Ogden Clinic: provides legal help related to child custody twice a month, on the first and third Thursdays. Prospective clients need to call (801) 394-9456 on the Wednesday before to schedule an appointment (appointments fill early, so call in the morning).