Utah Is (at Least Trying) to Make Child Custody Litigation Less Expensive and Time-Consuming

Utah is (at least trying) to make child custody litigation less expensive and time-consuming with a relatively new rule (as of February 2014, when this blog posting was originally published): Utah Code of Judicial Administration, Rule 4-904.  In a nutshell, here are the highlights of this rule:

The intent of the rule is to allow the parties and judge to agree to a trial of issues limited to child custody, support, and parent-time (also known as “visitation” by many people) in a less informal manner (without all the features of a regular trial), and in a manner that allows those issues to be determined without having them rolled into a trial of all the other issues that could be the subject of a divorce trial.

To qualify for an informal trial, all parties to the case must waive their right to a regular trial and move the court for permission to hold an informal trial.

What are you waiving when agreeing to an informal trial of child custody, support, and parent-time?  Not much, frankly.

If the court grants the motion for an informal trial, it proceeds as follows:

  • For every issue for which you have the burden of proof, you speak directly to the judge under oath about your desires about child support, child custody and parent-time.
  • You are not questioned by counsel or the other party but may be questioned by the court.
  • You may also present any document or other evidence.
  • You may identify any other areas of inquiry, and the court may (or may not) inquire on those subjects with you as well

The process is then repeated for each of the other parties.

  • If there is an expert witness, the expert’s report is entered into evidence as the court’s exhibit.
  • The expert may be questioned by counsel, parties or the court upon request.

Each party is offered:

  • the opportunity to respond to the statements, documents or other evidence of the other parties; and
  • the opportunity to make legal arguments.  Legal arguments are arguments based upon statutes and case law, not just yammering back and forth at each other.  If you’ve never seen the presentation of “legal argument,” it’s a lot like making of legal arguments is a lot like a high school or college debate competition.

After the parties have finished with their legal arguments, the judge will enter an order which has the same force and effect as if entered after a traditional trial.

So what does Rule 4-904 mean for you?  It can be:

  • easier to prepare for than a full-blown formal trial;
  • easier for parties who are not represented by a lawyer to conduct by themselves;
  • less expensive to prepare for than a full-blown formal trial;
  • less time-consuming to present than a full-blown formal trial;
  • easier to present evidence and to get your point across to the judge (because you get to talk directly to the judge) than if you go through the formal, technical, somewhat stiff process of formal “direct examination” and “cross examination” of witnesses. Your Blog Post Title Here…

Many lawyers do not know about this rule, so if you are represented by a lawyer in your divorce or child custody action and think a Rule 4-904 informal trial might be worth pursuing, ask your lawyer to explore this possibility, or hire a lawyer familiar with Rule 4-904 to trial this part of your case for you.

For those of you who want to read the full text of Rule 4-904, you can click here.


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