Child Custody

Utah Child Custody is typically the most hotly contested issue in a Utah divorce with children, or custody dispute. The reasons are obvious, typically both parents have a strong bond with the children, and typically both parents approach the divorce or custody dispute with a “I’ll do whatever it takes to get my child” attitude. Sometimes custody solves itself, based on both parents work schedules, etc. But more often than not both parents want sole physical custody, which mathematically doesn’t work, or at least one parent wants 50/50 parenting time, or close to it.


Utah Child Custody Dispute Process

Obviously you don’t have to be married to have children, so while Utah child custody is often a major issue in divorce cases, it is almost always the primary issue in a Petition for Custody. The custody dispute process is identical to the Utah divorce process, there is the initial petition, mediation, temporary orders, discovery, and trial. Custody orders can be modified and enforced in the same manner a divorce decree is modified and enforced. Click on the link to learn more about the Utah divorce/custody dispute process.


Types of Custody in Utah

There are two “types” of custody in Utah, legal custody and physical custody. Physical custody refers to the physical presence of the child, and legal custody refers to decision making for the child. The two types of custody do not have to mirror each other. In other words, the parties can have sole physical custody but joint legal custody, or vice-versa. Courts are always going to do what it believes is in the “best interest of the child”, so that is the criteria that either party needs to meet when seeking physical or legal custody. Below is a further explanation of the two types of custody. You can also call Pearson Law Firm for a free consultation with an experienced Utah divorce attorney/custody attorney.


Physical Custody in Utah

CUSTODIAL PARENT: Even in a 50/50 joint physical custody arrangement, one parent is going to have the child one more overnight than the other in any given year. Typically this parent is called the “custodial parent.” This designation is important because the address of the custodial parent is the address used to determine where the child will got school, church, etc.

UTAH SOLE PHYSICAL CUSTODY: The term “sole physical custody” is misleading, if a parent has “sole” physical custody they typically do not have the child all the time. He or she has the child most of the time, but the other parent is usually entitled to standard visitation, which is essentially every other weekend, one night a week, two solid weeks during the summer, and rotate major holidays. It’s close to a 77/33 breakdown, the parent with sole physical custody has the child 77% of the time, the non-custodial parent has the child 33% of the time. You can find more on visitation/parent-time by clicking on the link.

UTAH JOINT PHYSICAL CUSTODY: If the non-custodial parent has the child for more overnights than what is provided by standard visitation, then physical custody is considered joint. That means that whether one parent has the child 34% of the time or 50% of the time, it is considered joint physical custody. Joint physical custody does not have to mean 50/50 physical custody.

UTAH SPLIT PHYSICAL CUSTODY: Split physical custody is the arrangement where there are multiple children and the parents split them up, i.e. one parent has two of the kids and the other parent has the other two kids. This is the least common custody arrangement because courts, and usually parents, do not want to split up children. Though there are situations where it works, and it is an option.

Historically, Utah courts have granted sole physical custody to one parent (typically the mother), with the other receiving standard visitation. However, over the past few years court’s have been more willing to grant 50/50 joint physical custody. The problem parties often run into when seeking joint physical custody, especially when that parent was the “bread earner”, is this: courts tend to stick with the “status-quo” if it’s working. This often means that whatever the arrangement was during the marriage or relationship, is the arrangement that the court will go with for purposes of the Utah divorce decree or Utah custody order. This is because the court knows it works, any other arrangement is unknown and therefore not worth the risk. So if mom stayed home to raise the kids, and dad worked every day to support the family, then naturally mom was with the kids more than dad, and mom would have a better shot at getting sole physical custody then dad would in the divorce or custody proceedings. But as mentioned above, the pendulum has swung and joint custody is becoming more and more prevalent.

Although courts are quicker to award 50/50 joint physical custody, the court is always going to require proof that this type of arrangement is in the best interest of the child. How can you prove that it is better for the child to be with you half the time when it hasn’t happened before? The best way to do this is have a third-party professional testify that such an arrangement is in fact in the best interest of the child. This is usually done by petitioning the court for, and hiring a Utah custody evaluator. A custody evaluator is typically a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist that spends time with the parents and the child, observes their relationship and behavior, and ultimately makes recommendations to the court as to physical custody. Over the past few years most Utah custody evaluators are finding that 50/50 joint physical custody is often, if not usually, in the best interest of the child. As such, courts are taking the custody evaluator’s recommendations and ordering 50/50 physical custody more often. Without a Utah custody evaluator, it can be very difficult for the “working parent” to get equal time with the child, unless of course the parties agree on it themselves. Your attorney at Pearson Law Firm can help you determine whether you need a custody evaluator, call for a free consultation with an experienced Utah Divorce Attorney/Child Custody Attorney, 801-888-0991.


Legal Custody in Utah

n Utah legal custody refers to major decision making on the child’s behalf. Day to day decisions are generally going to be made by the parent that the child is with that day. But decisions such as medical, religion, and school are considered major decisions that need to be made by someone.

If joint legal custody is awarded, which is most common, then major decisions need to be discussed by the parties, and decided together. If the parties are unable to come to an agreement, then often times one party is given “final say”, but even that can be redressed in mediation or court by the disagreeing party.

If sole legal custody is awarded to a parent, then that parent has full say as to the major decisions for the child, and he or she does not have any obligation to discuss it with the other parent. This is rarely awarded in a case where the parents are disputing child custody.



As mentioned above, and for good reason, child custody in Utah is usually the most hotly contested issue in a divorce proceeding with kids, or a custody dispute. Pearson Law Firm will provide you with an experienced Utah child custody attorney that can help you navigate the these complex issues. Contact Pearson Law Firm now to set up a free consultation with an experienced Utah Divorce Attorney/Child Custody Attorney, 801-888-0991.

Call for a free consultation today: 801-888-0991


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Address: Pearson Law Firm, PLLC 9192 South 300 West, Suite 35 Sandy, Utah 84070