The Dos And Don’ts Of Child Custody And Divorce In Utah

The following are general principles, which may vary depending on the case, and not legal advice to any specific reader.

Security Measures

When dealing with child custody and divorce matters in Utah, it is important to secure information, including online accounts, email accounts, and legal documents. It would also be wise to take note of all of your sensitive accounts and social media accounts that the other side could have access to, and create new passwords.

Use Of An Attorney

In Utah, there is an online do-it-yourself program called the Online Court Assistance Program (OCAP). This system is better than nothing, but can be overly complicated and doesn’t address all of the issues. Ideally, it is best to retain the services of an attorney who has at least 10 years of experience doing family law in Utah as at least 50 percent of their practice.

Experience Matters

Many young or inexperienced attorneys will gear a case towards mediation, but will do so without having any plan in place in the event that mediation fails. In some cases, they will push their clients towards a bad settlement because they lack the experience to know what to do if mediation doesn’t settle the case; in other words, they lack the experience necessary for taking a case to trial.

Protective Orders Or Child Protective Orders

If a child has been the victim of domestic, physical, or sexual violence or any threats thereof, you should consider obtaining a protective order or a child protective order at the outset of your case (see other articles on this website regarding protective orders and child protective orders).The primary purposes of these is protection. However, obtaining a protective order legitimately can also provide a short-term, yet significant advantage in preparing for a divorce or custody case.

Child Interactions.

In terms of communicating with the children involved, you should not interrogate them, burden them with adult information, disparage the other party to or in front of them, discuss the litigation with them, or force them to state their preference on where they want to live.

If child support isn’t being paid by the other parent, do not punish the other parent by preventing parenting time; likewise, the other party should not withhold child support if they are not getting parenting time.

If custody and parenting time orders are not in place, determining whether or not to allow parenting time with the other party after separation should be decided on a case-by-case basis with the assistance of an attorney. Once court orders regarding custody and parenting time are in place, those orders should be strictly followed.

Video Inventory

In a divorce case, it is often wise to videotape everything in the house (i.e., garage, grounds, hot buildings, storage units, closets, drawers) in order to obtain video documentation of what assets need to be divided. In the event that one party leaves the home and takes property with them, having this video footage can be crucial in determining and helping you remember what property should be dealt with in court.

Joint Accounts

Consider carefully whether to take your name off a joint account or remove the other party’s name so that the other party cannot withdraw or charge those accounts during the pendency of the case. However, if the other party is the income-producing party, then you may choose not to remove their name from the account. Either way, you should obtain as many bank statements for those accounts as possible. In joint bank accounts, you should carefully consider how much to withdraw for closing the account or taking your name off of it. Depending on the circumstances, one of three options will be appropriate: withdrawing the entire amount, leaving 50 percent, or taking nothing. It is best to have an attorney advise you on the best course of action in this regard.

If you are worried that the other side is going to increase the debt on joint credit cards, you should consider closing, freezing, or having your name removed from the account in order to avoid further charges being attributed to you. However, there are times when financial need will prevent this kind of action and the continued use of those cards will be necessary; this is a fact-sensitive inquiry on which an attorney should advise you.

Joint Residence

If you and another person were not married but were living together, you should consider carefully whether to leave the residence, stay in the residence, or attempt to have the other party leave. Much depends on whose name the residence is in, as well as other options you might have available to you. You should talk to an attorney about whether you should change the locks, put the other party’s personal property in a storage unit and give them the key to the storage unit, or attempt to have the other party move out, etc.

Papers And Documents

During the divorce process, you will want to collect and make copies of important documents, such as your tax returns, pay stubs, W-2s, social security cards, birth certificates, retirement statements, etc., and passports; this will be especially important if the other party was the one who handled the finances and your name was not on the accounts. In some circumstances, copying a computer hard drive may be appropriate.

Witnesses

Make a list of anyone who might be helpful as a potential witness, including their name, address, email, and phone number. For each potential witness, summarize everything their testimony would cover, and do not leave out witnesses who may be adversarial to your case. If there is a witness who is going to support the other party but nevertheless has information that would be helpful to you, a good attorney will know how to elicit the right information from them in order to bolster your case.

Chronology

A chronology for what happened and when. The more detailed and complete this chronology is, the better it will be for your case and the less work your attorney will have to do in gathering the facts, which will end up saving you money. Always make sure to gather documentation that supports your claims, such as text messages, emails, social media posts, legal documents, and police reports. Quote the important bits in the chronology. When documenting events, it is important to list the specific dates when the events occurred. For example, rather than say something occurred “frequently” or “rarely”, quantify it by saying that it occurred “once a week” or “three times per month, on average” or “about twice a year.”

Social Media

One may need to take down anything on social media that could be harmful, and print or download social media posts from the other side that could be helpful to you.

Financial Declaration

On the court’s website, you can obtain a document called the financial declaration, which will be required by the court in both divorce and custody cases. You should leave no blank sections on this declaration; if a section is not applicable, write “N/A” rather than leave it blank. If alimony is an issue, pay special attention to your expenses, including non-monthly expenses such as property taxes, oil changes, and other yearly or quarterly expenses. Everyone remembers their monthly bills, but their non-monthly bills come up periodically and they often forget. They’ll want to total up your bank statements and checkbook registries and divide by 12 to reach a monthly average; this is particularly important in cases where alimony or spousal support is an issue. Have your attorney review this for completion and accuracy and to ensure that all necessary attachments had been concluded.

Income, Assets And Liability Table

For divorce cases, you will want to create a table or list of all income, assets, and liabilities, such as personal property, vehicles, real estate, and financial assets. For each item, the state will indicate whether the item was premarital or acquired during the marriage. If an item has significant value, a market analysis can be done; if it’s an item of personal property, you can go to KSL.com in order to find the price of similar items.

You should obtain proof of the values of each asset in order to demonstrate how much you will be able to sell it for. The personal property will be valued at the amount that you could sell it for on E-Bay, KSL, or at a garage sale. Vehicle-related information should include mileage and condition, and financial assets such as stocks or retirement accounts should be documented with copies of the most recent statements.

Debt

For all debt, you should get a copy of the statement that lists the amount of debt present at the time of separation (or close to the time of separation), and also the most recent statement or bill. This will help us determine, how much the bill has been paid down since the parties separated, and how much remains to be paid.

Financial Assets

For all bank accounts, retirement accounts, pensions, and other financial assets, you should obtain a statement for the date closest to the date of separation, the most current statement, and the last statement prior to the beginning of the marriage.

Divorce Education Classes

If you are dealing with an original divorce case, you will need to take divorce education classes as soon as possible, as the court will not allow any motion of yours to be heard until you have done so.

For more information on Dos & Don’ts Of Custody & Divorce In Utah, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (801) 616-3301 today.

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*Child Welfare Law Specialist Nat’l Assoc. of Counsel for Children