Child Custody in Utah: Everything You Need to Know

Navigating the complex landscape of child custody can be a daunting task, especially when dealing with the specific laws and regulations in Utah. This blog aims to shed light on the intricacies surrounding child custody in Utah, providing you with comprehensive insights and guidance. We acknowledge the emotional weight these cases carry, and our goal is to simplify the process, offering you the essential information you need to understand your rights, responsibilities, and how the law works in Utah.

What are the different types of child custody in Utah?

In Utah, child custody is generally categorized into two main types: physical custody and legal custody. Further, these types can be either joint or sole.

Physical custody

Physical custody in Utah refers to the parent with whom the child will live.

  • Sole physical custody: In this arrangement, the child lives primarily with one parent, known as the custodial parent. The noncustodial parent may retain the right to spend time with the child (“visitation rights”). For example, a child might live with their mother during the week and visit their father every other weekend.
  • Joint physical custody: Here, the child spends significant time living with both parents. An example would be a schedule where the child spends alternate weeks with each parent.

Legal custody

A Utah parent with legal custody has decision-making rights and responsibilities concerning the child's upbringing. This includes their education, healthcare, and religious instruction.

  • Sole legal custody: In this case, one parent has the exclusive right to make important decisions for the child. For instance, if a significant medical care decision must be made for the child, the parent with sole legal custody has the authority to make it.
  • Joint legal custody: Here, parents share the decision-making responsibilities. This means that for significant decisions like choosing the child's school, both parents would need to agree.

How is child custody decided in Utah?

In Utah, as in most states, the primary concern when determining child custody is the best interest of the child. Utah courts consider a host of factors to determine which arrangement would best suit the child's needs and welfare. These include the child's physical and emotional health, the parents' ability to meet the child's needs, the strength of the child-parent relationship, and the child's integration into their community and school.

The child's preference may also be taken into account, but it is not the sole determinant. The court will consider the child's wishes based on the child’s age and capacity to reason. 

Contested vs. uncontested 

Child custody cases can be contested or uncontested. In an uncontested case, both parents agree on the custody arrangement, and the court usually approves their agreement, provided it is in the child's best interest.

In contested cases, parents cannot agree, and the court must make the custody decisions. This process can be lengthy and stressful, involving multiple court appearances, evaluations, and possibly a trial. It's usually advisable to reach an agreement outside of court whenever possible.

Child custody mediation

Mediation is an option for parents who wish to resolve their disputes amicably. In child custody mediation, a neutral third party helps parents negotiate and reach mutually agreeable child custody arrangements. This method is generally less adversarial and can be less stressful for the child.

Arbitration, another form of alternative dispute resolution, is less common in child custody cases. Unlike mediation, an arbitrator makes a binding decision based on the evidence presented.

Utah law does not give preference to either parent based solely on gender. The court awards custody based on the child's best interest. However, the parent who has been the primary caregiver often has an advantage, as courts consider the continuity of care crucial for the child's stability and well-being.

Helpful resource: Child Custody Mediation Checklist

Fees associated with child custody cases in Utah

The most straightforward cost is the filing fee. This is the cost of officially starting your case by submitting your paperwork to the court. In Utah, this fee is $360.

“Service” is the process of officially delivering court papers to the other party involved in your case. The cost of this varies depending on the method of service you use and the complexity of the case.

There may also be additional document fees, which can include costs for obtaining copies of court records, transcripts, or other necessary legal documents. The amount of these fees can vary and would be best determined by consulting with a legal professional.

If your case involves a child custody mediator, there are mediation fees to consider. If it involves litigation, there will likely be attorney fees.

Joint custody schedules 

Utah law encourages parents to create their own parenting plans and schedules to suit their family's needs and circumstances. This flexible approach enables parents to design a joint custody schedule that accommodates their work commitments, children's schooling, and other factors.

However, if parents are unable to agree on a schedule, the court may step in and implement a structured visitation schedule. While there is no mandatory schedule set by Utah law, a common arrangement often used as a fallback is the alternating-week schedule. In this setup, the child spends one week with one parent and the subsequent week with the other.

What to know about child visitation in Utah

For a noncustodial parent in Utah, the visitation arrangement may vary based on the specifics of the child custody agreement. That said, it commonly includes spending time with the child on certain weekdays, weekends, and alternating holidays. 

A typical arrangement might include weekend visitation every other weekend, often from Friday evening through Sunday evening. The noncustodial parent may also have the child for a period during summer vacation and on alternating major holidays. 

Visitation schedules can be flexible and are often designed with the best interest of the child in mind.

How to change a custody or visitation order in Utah

In Utah, to change a custody or visitation order, you must file a petition to modify with the court that issued the original order. It's crucial to note that the court typically requires a significant change in circumstances since the initial custody determination. This might include a significant change in the child's needs, the relocation of a parent, or a substantial alteration in a parent's ability to provide proper care and stability.

Divorce Content Specialist & Lawyer
Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Legal Insights

Bryan is a non-practicing lawyer, HR consultant, and legal content writer. With nearly 20 years of experience in the legal field, he has a deep understanding of family and employment laws. His goal is to provide readers with clear and accessible information about the law, and to help people succeed by providing them with the knowledge and tools they need to navigate the legal landscape. Bryan lives in Orlando, Florida.