I wonder which state in the U.S. has the highest rate of awarding joint physical custody of children in divorce. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Utah isn’t it, would not the least bit surprised if it’s not even close.
Joint physical custody is clearly not always the right thing for every child, but ask children of divorce, whether they are still young children or adults, and they’ll tell you how much they miss/missed the non-custodial parent, how much they resented their time with that parent being limited and restricted, and how badly the relationship with that parent suffered (and usually deteriorated) as a result.
Spouses divorce, but divorcing parents don’t want to divorce their children. But our child custody laws and the way they are administered virtually force divorcing spouses to fight over custody of their children. Can you imagine what child custody would look like, how much simpler, less expensive and less distressing it would be for all, if it rarely, if ever, entered the minds of judges and parents that child custody should or could be an issue? If joint physical custody and joint legal custody where the rule, instead of the exception?
Take the profit motive out of child custody awards, and that would also do a lot to make a presumption of joint physical custody more popular, as well as more sensible.
The best interest of the child standard is the current standard that guides custody awards, and it is a bad standard (the standard should be the best interest of the family, both individually and collectively, but I digress); even so, the custody award that truly subserves the best interest of the child is essentially, necessarily, and by definition a custody award that is the best for the child (not merely adequate or workable or expedient).
With parental rights being one of the most fundamental human and constitutional rights, with parents naturally being far more aware of and interested in meeting the needs of children far better than any government can, and with the mountain of proof showing the damage done to fatherless and motherless children, then unless one parent has been shown to be clearly unfit to exercise custody of his or her own child, or if there is so much animus between one parent and another that they cannot live together, I don’t see how anyone can seriously argue that sole custody is best for any child. The “best parent” is both parents.
A family-friendly state cannot be such without respecting and fostering all that makes families and parent-child relationships strong and beneficial for parents and children alike.
Joint custody has to be such that it doesn’t take from the parents and children more than it gives back. When parents live in different cities, or even in different neighborhoods, then joint custody may a parent feel more “connected” to his or her children, but the children can feel isolated because they are, in fact, isolated. Unless Mom’s and Dad’s houses are within walking distance of each other, unless living with Mom and with Dad also means staying in the same neighborhood, where they are able to attend the same church and engage in the same weekly, athletic and extracurricular activities with the same friends, then half the benefits of joint custody are often lost.
Some parents’ circumstances won’t allow them to share joint custody. Some parents (few, but they exist) don’t want joint custody. Some parents aren’t fit to share custody, and some children don’t want joint custody either.
Notwithstanding, the ludicrously overwhelming majority of children want joint custody. And if money weren’t a factor in the child custody award, the ludicrously overwhelming majority of parents want joint custody. The notion that all divorcing parents must fight or want to fight over “child custody” is absurd.
With extraordinarily rare exception (to the point that the exceptions aren’t even worth considering), normal children of two fit parents don’t want their relationships with either of their parents curtailed, infringed, or damaged, period. And in divorce they certainly don’t want their relationships with either of their parents curtailed, infringed, or damaged any more than necessary. So now I ask you (rhetorically, because this simply isn’t debatable): which child custody presumption really serves the best interest of children better: a presumption of sole custody (which is Utah’s statutory presumption), or a presumption of joint custody on an equal time-sharing basis?
Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277