Sole Custody vs. Joint Custody: Decisions in Utah Family Court

Jeremy AtwoodFamily Law

divorce attorney utah

When a marriage dissolves, emotions run high, and children often find themselves caught in the crossfire. As a parent, it’s up to you to protect them from emotional turmoil and ensure they retain a sense of balance and normalcy. One way to do this is to draft a custody arrangement with your family law attorney in Utah. 

Child custody refers to the legal control and care of a minor child whose parents are in the middle of a divorce. If the parents cannot agree on who should be responsible for their children, a family court judge will decide on their behalf.

The Beehive State, like many others, recognizes two primary types of custody: sole and joint. In this post, we’ll dive into the nuances of these arrangements and shed light on the factors that weigh on the court’s decision. 

First, let’s clear the air about what sole and joint custody really means.

Defining Sole Custody

Sole custody in Utah grants one parent the exclusive rights and responsibilities to make major choices for their child, including those related to education, healthcare, and religion. This arrangement is often considered when one parent is deemed unfit due to issues like substance abuse, domestic violence, or neglect. 

Since it’s generally not considered healthy for the child to be entirely cut off from one parent, the non-custodial parent may have some visitation rights in sole custody arrangements.  

Supervised Visits: These take place at a designated location and time. They are generally supervised by a counselor, mental health professional, family, or friends.

Unsupervised Visits: The non-custodial parent gets time with the child (as per a set schedule) but won’t be supervised during their visit. 

Virtual Visits: If the parents live in different areas, they could schedule virtual meetings or phone calls to keep in touch with their children. 

In rare cases, the non-custodial parent will not have any visitation rights. This is common for situations of abuse, neglect, or if the parent cannot care for the child. Even without visitation, the non-custodial parent may be obligated to pay child support. A family law attorney in Utah could tell you more in this regard. 

A few factors influencing sole custody decisions are as follows.

Stability and Consistency

Courts love stability. If one parent can showcase a stable home environment, a consistent routine, and a track record of meeting the child’s needs without causing emotional earthquakes, they might sway the court in their favor.

Communication Skills

Utah values co-parenting because it contributes to the child’s well-being and emotional development. Hence, the ability of a parent to communicate effectively with the other, especially when it comes to co-parenting decisions, can be a make-or-break factor.

Primary Caregiver Role

Who’s the one who wipes tears and packs lunches? The primary caregiver often has a leg up in sole custody battles. Utah child custody laws analyze who has been shouldering the child’s day-to-day responsibilities to decide who should take care of them in the long run. 

The Child’s Preferences

The court might consider the child’s opinion, depending on their age and maturity. Now, they don’t get the final say, but their preferences can carry weight in the court’s decision-making process.

Defining Joint Custody

In joint custody cases, both parents are responsible for making major decisions about the child’s life. It’s a collaborative effort where the parents need to be on the same page when it comes to crucial choices for the child’s future. 

In Utah, there are two types of joint custody: joint legal custody and joint physical custody.  

Parents with joint legal custody make mutual decisions for the child’s life. Joint physical custody, on the other hand, results in the child spending significant time with both parents. This doesn’t necessarily mean a strict 50/50, but rather a schedule that lets both parents play an active role in the child’s routine. 

Let’s dive into factors influencing joint custody decisions. 

Co-Parenting Abilities

Joint custody thrives on effective communication and cooperation between parents. If the parents can work together to facilitate the child’s relationship with both caregivers, the courts might consider joint custody as a viable option. 

Proximity of Residences

Courts consider the geographical distance between the parents’ residences to ensure it’s feasible for the child to maintain a relationship with both. The practicality of joint custody might take a hit in case one parent lives in a different state.

Parental Fitness

Are you fit enough to safeguard and nurture your child? The courts will examine each parent’s mental and physical state to ensure they can handle the demands of co-parenting.

Work Schedules

Jobs- the necessary evil. The court looks at the parents’ work schedules to determine whether they can juggle their professional lives with their parental responsibilities. A parent who travels extensively or works night shifts might find joint custody an uphill battle.

Do Utah Courts Prefer Joint Custody Arrangements?

Many parents wonder whether joint custody is good for their children. For the most part, it is. In fact, the Utah custody court process prefers shared custody arrangements because they allow both parents to be part of the child’s life and upbringing. 

However, this isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Under certain circumstances, joint custody won’t serve the child’s best interest, such as when: 

  • The parents live hundreds of miles apart 
  • The parents cannot get along 
  • Either parent has a history of domestic violence 

In difficult child custody cases- such as those when one parent claims the other is “unfit”- the judges might order a child custody evaluation. Parents can request an evaluation even when the judge doesn’t. A child custody evaluator can provide information and recommendations that help the judge decide what’s in the child’s best interests.

The Bottom Line 

Sole custody vs joint custody is a high-stakes game that can shape the trajectory of a child’s upbringing and influence their future. Whether it’s a solo voyage with sole custody or a collaborative co-parenting journey with joint custody, the goal is to provide the child with a stable, loving, and nurturing environment. 

You don’t have to go through the challenging waters of child custody issues alone. Jeremy Atwood Law’s team of dedicated family law attorneys in Utah can guide you through the complexities of custody battles hassle-free. Your children’s well-being is our top priority. Contact us today for a confidential consultation.