What Are The Different Types Of Child Custody In Utah?

There are 3 basic types depending on the number of children. There is legal custody, which essentially means the ability and the rights and the responsibilities to make decisions regarding medical care, educational, religious decisions, and those kinds of things for a child. So if a parent has sole legal custody, they do not have to consult with the other parent prior to making those kinds of significant decisions for a child. If parents have joint legal custody, then they have to consult with one another prior to making significant decisions regarding the child.

There is also physical custody, which is the number of overnights the child spends with the parent per year. In Utah, if a child spends more than 111 overnights per year with one parent, that parent will be considered to have sole physical custody. If each parent has at least 111 overnights per year with the child, then that would be considered joint physical custody. There is also split custody, which means that one parent has sole physical custody of one child and the other parent has sole physical custody of another child.

At What Age Can A Child Decide For His Or Herself Who He Or She Will Live With?

The short version is age 18. The child never gets to make that decision of their own accord in the state of Utah. However, there is a statute that indicates that when a child turns 14 years of age, their preference will be given added weight. There are about 14 different factors that the court looks at in determining custody. The court is never going to disregard the 13 other factors and focus solely on the child’s preference. However, when a child turns 14, the court is mandated to give that child’s preference additional weight. The older or more mature the child is, the more the court will consider the child’s preference, particularly as we get into age 17. In part, that is because the court realizes they will “vote with their feet.”

Can A Pre-Teen Child’s Preference Ever Be Considered In A Custody Matter?

The court does have to consider the preference of a child who is younger than age 14, but it is not given as much weight as an older child. The younger the child, the less weight the court will give to the child’s preferences because the child doesn’t have the emotional scaffolding and the maturity to really determine what’s in their own best interests. In determining the child’s preference, the children aren’t going to testify. Determining a child’s preference can become challenging at times. If there is a custody evaluation, then the custody evaluator can interview the children and state the children’s preference. If there is a court appointed guardian ad litem or some other professional that is treating the child in some way or representing the child, then that person may be able to state to the court what the child’s preference is.

However, a child’s stated preference may not be their actual preference. For example, if you have a 5 old child, they might state that “I want to live with my mommy” or “I want to live with my daddy” just because they recently went into Chucky Cheese and had a great time. Particularly for younger children, the way you determine their preference is not so much from their statements as it is from their behavior over time. Which parent does the child go to when in distress? If the child has nightmares, if they fall and skin their knee, who do they go to? Which parent has the strongest psychological bond with the child? That is most likely the primary caretaker.

So, even though a child may state a preference (particularly if they are a young child), their actual preference might be different based on their behavior over time.

For more information on Types Of Child Custody 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