Welcome back to our feature on new laws from the 2019 Utah Legislative Session.
In 2019 the legislature amended section 30-3-34. That code section provides that a noncustodial parent will be awarded according to the statutory minimum schedule unless a parent can establish by a preponderance of the evidence that more or less parent-time should be awarded. In the 2019 legislative session the legislature added some new criteria for determining whether parent time should be greater or less than the statutory minimum.
One of the new criteria is whether “parent-time would endanger the child’s mental health.” Until 2019 the criteria was simply whether parent time would endanger the child’s physical health or significantly impair the child’s emotional development. The amended code section neither defines what mental health is nor what constitutes endangerment of a child’s mental health. I’m sure the appellate courts will love that.
And there’s more. Additional new criteria include “evidence of domestic violence, neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse, involving the child, a parent, or a household member of the parent” and “a credible allegation of child abuse has been made.” While I think we can all agree on a sensible definition of domestic violence, neglect, physical abuse, and sexual abuse, the legislature did not define what “emotional abuse” is or means. I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict that emotional abuse will now be one of the most popular stated bases for arguing over child custody and parent time. Why?
Because emotional abuse is all but impossible to identify or quantify objectively. Human beings are suckers for sad stories, and judges and court commissioners are human beings. So go ahead, accuse your spouse of emotional abuse. At this point, it can mean whatever you want. Adding “emotional abuse” as a criteria for determining child custody and parent time is an invitation to abuse the very term. Again, I’m sure the appellate courts are both impressed with this feat of statutory draftsmanship and thrilled at the prospects for appellate review in the years to come. Here’s the link to Section 30-3-34.
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