Category: Child Custody Modification

What do I do when my ex uses doctor’s appointments in our child support issue on court when we have 50/50 decision making, but I have the final say to any decision made? Will it be used against me?

If I understand your question correctly, you’re wondering if the court will fault for your ex-spouse’s claims that you are failing to act responsibly when it comes to making and keeping doctor appointments for the child, and perhaps also criticizing your judgment when it comes to matters of the child’s health care.

Many judges are suckers generally for claims of child abuse and neglect. What do I mean? None of them want to be blamed for failing to notice and failing to protect. And so when faced with allegations of child abuse or neglect or parental misconduct toward a child, many of them are on the side of caution, claiming that they are simply looking out for the best interest of the child, when in far too many cases they’re simply looking out for their own best interests (that’s usually what erring on the side of caution does and means in family law—abusing a parent’s reputation and parental rights, so that a court doesn’t have to risk making “the wrong choice” when deciding on allegations of child abuse and neglect).

If instead, your ex is accusing you of misconduct by scheduling doctor appointments for your children without conferring and agreeing with the co-parent before the doctor appointments are scheduled and attended, then if your question is whether your ex will prevail, then if the law and/or court order requires you and your ex/co-parent to confer with each other before you can exercise your “final say” authority to schedule the appointments over your ex’s/co-parent’s objection, then you are likely in the wrong and likely to be found to be in the wrong.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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I have a family court hearing coming up on the 25th. How do I create a proposed visitation plan to the judges? How will our work schedules play into this? I’m the non-custodial parent.

Your question is too vague to understand and answer. You need to consult with an attorney in your jurisdiction to get the correct answers to your questions (both the questions you have asked and the questions you should be asking).

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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Can the Mom End up Paying Child Support to the Father if He Was Abusive?

There are so many things wrong with this question. But thank you for asking it because it can be the start of a beneficial conversation and lead to a better understanding of divorce and family law, child custody, and support.

First, the question implies that only women receive child support from men, and thus only men pay child support to women. Wrong. Child support is paid to a parent (man or woman) who can demonstrate that he/she needs payment from the other parent to help the child maintain the lifestyle that his/her parents’ respective lifestyles can and ought to support. Many times, the child support payee (recipient) is the mother. This could be because the mother has the child in her care and custody for a greater portion of the year than does the father. It could also be because the mother earns less money than the father.

But if the father were awarded physical custody of a child for more time during the year than the mother and/or made less money than the mother, then the father could be awarded child support. Many fathers (not as many fathers as mothers, but some fathers) find themselves in this exact situation, which is why many fathers receive child support from mothers.

Just being a mother will not guarantee that a woman will receive child support. Whether a parent committed abuse rarely has anything to do with whether that parent will pay child support (see above), although it may have an indirect effect on child support if, due to a parent’s abuse, the other parent is awarded more custodial time with the child.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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What Must the Juvenile Court Consider on a Petition to Terminate a Parent’s Parental Rights?

Before terminating a parent’s rights, the court must find that termination is “strictly necessary to promote the child’s best interest.” This analysis must be undertaken from the child’s point of view. Utah law provides that termination is strictly necessary only when, after exploring possible placements for the child, the juvenile court concludes that no other feasible options exist that could address the specific problems or issues facing the family, short of imposing the ultimate remedy of terminating the parent’s rights. If the child can be equally protected and benefited by an option other than termination (such as permanent custody and guardianship awarded to someone other than the parent or parents), termination is thus not strictly necessary. The strictly necessary analysis is designed to ensure that the court pause long enough to thoughtfully consider the range of available options that could promote the child’s welfare and best interest. If a court has complied with its statutory obligations, its resultant best interest determination is entitled to deference by an appellate court. Long-term guardianship arrangements are typically only in a child’s best interest where the guardians and the parent have a working, relatively healthy relationship in which they are both willing to work together to preserve the parent-child relationship and where the child has a healthy relationship with both the guardian and the parent. Thus, when a parent and potential guardian have little to no relationship, the particular circumstances of the case may indicate that permanent custody and guardianship will not meet the children’s needs as well as termination of parental rights. This post is a summary of the law as stated in the recent Utah Court of Appeals opinion in the case of  In re K.R. – 2023 UT App 75 (filed July 13, 2023).

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I Am 14 and I Want to Live With My Dad. My Parents Have Shared Custody, but My Mom Wants to Keep Me Her Alone (And She’s Not a Good Person). How Do I Stay With My Father Full Time?

I will answer this question in the context of Utah law because I am licensed as an attorney and practice divorce and family law in the state of Utah.

For the typical child in your situation, i.e., one who wants to obtain a modified order from the court changes the award of child custody from one parent to another, there is precious little that the child can do to affect this kind of change.

In fairness, there are some good policy reasons for why this situation arises. For example:

  • Young children often have poor judgment and may not know whether residing primarily with the parent the children wants to reside is in the child’s best interest.

–   A 9-year-old child may say he/she wants to live with a particular parent not because that parent is a fit parent but just the opposite, i.e., doesn’t ensure the child completes homework, chores, doesn’t ensure the child practices good hygiene, feeds the child junk for meals, imposes no discipline, etc.

–   A tween-age or teen-age child may say he/she wants to live with a particular parent not because that parent is a fit parent but because that parent lets the child run wild, skip school, drink, smoke, take drugs, be sexually active, etc.

  • Many young children can be too easily manipulated and/or intimidated into saying that they want what they don’t really want by way of the custody and parent-time schedule.
  • Some feel that seeking the input of children on the subject of the child custody and parent-time awards “traumatizes” (this word is grossly overused in family law) children by placing them in a position where they must favor or choose one parent over another.

These are clearly factors worth carefully considering if and when a child objects to residing with a particular parent or objects to a particular custody or parent-time schedule. But too often courts invoke these factors as a reason to utterly silence and to completely ignore anything a child has to say on. Why?

Is it because all minor children are clearly unable to be taken seriously because of their status as minor children? Obviously not. While some children may be too young or too immature to have sound bases for, or to make sound arguments for, their custodial preferences, plenty of children are more than sufficiently intelligent and mature and responsible to be credible witnesses on their own behalf. And we’ll never know whether a child is a credible or an incredible witness if we don’t inquire with the child first. Courts reject the testimony of lying and incompetent witnesses all the time (as well they should), yet many courts reject a child’s testimony without giving the child a chance to speak on the grounds that they might lie, that they might be coached, and/or that they might be too stupid or naïve to be taken seriously. That’s no different than convicting a defendant without a fair trial because he “might be” guilty.

Is it because asking a child to express his/her opinions is inherently and irreparably harmful to all children, or even to most children? Obviously not. If a child tells his/her parents and the court, “Don’t ask me to talk about this,” then it may be that honoring that child’s wishes is best. By the same token, however, if a child tells his/her parents and the court something to the effect of:

  • “I have a greater stake in the child custody and parent-time awards than anyone else involved in this case.”
  • “I have experiences, observations, opinions, and desires that deserve to be considered before the court makes these decisions that will affect my life for years to come as a youth and throughout my life as an adult.”

So why do some (most, though not all) courts refuse to hear from children about their custodial preferences and the reasons for those preferences? Why do some courts muzzle the children from the outset? Why do they refuse to weigh the credibility and evidentiary value of what the children who want to be heard have to say? In my opinion, it’s laziness disguised as “prudence” and “compassion”.

So, what does a child who wants and deserves a change of custody do? This may sound radical, but it’s really not: get your own attorney to help you. That’s the legal way to do it. And it’s easier said than done. You’ll be excoriated and mocked for trying. You may even be threatened. Be prepared for all this. There are all kinds of extralegal “self-help” methods that are easier and cheap or free by comparison, but that has never been an excuse to break the rules (unless the rules are inherently unfair or administered unfairly). I encourage children in your situation to work through the system even when it’s organized and administered to work against you.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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What does it mean when he tries to avoid a legal fight in court for child custody?

It could mean many things when a parent avoids a legal fight in court for child custody. To identify a few things, it could mean:

  • that the parent does not want custody of the child or doesn’t care to litigate the matter.
  • that the parent believes there is no hope that he/she can prevail in the case because of various factors, such as
    • being unable to afford a competent lawyer
    • the judge’s, guardian ad litem’s, custody evaluator’s, DCFS’s, and/or law enforcement’s, etc. insurmountable bias against and animus for that party
    • the opposing party taking a scorched-earth approach to the litigation that includes doing and saying anything to win without regard for truth, decency, and/or the child’s best interest.
  • that the parent agrees with the other parent’s position on what the child custody award should be.
  • that the parent is not aware that there is pending child custody litigation involving that parent.

There could be other reason, but these are the most common, in my experience.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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If One Parent Gets Primary Custody, Does This Mean That He/She Can Make All Decisions Regarding the Kids Without Any Input From the Other Parent?

There are two kinds of child custody, not just one. Those two different kinds are legal custody and physical custody.

Legal custody is the power of a parent to make decisions for a minor child regarding the child’s health and health care, education, moral and religious upbringing, and other matters pertaining to the child’s general welfare.

Physical custody of a child Is defined as that parent’s right to have the child reside physically with that parent.

You hear about the terms “sole custody” and “joint custody”. Parents can be awarded sole legal or joint legal custody of their children. They can be awarded sole physical or joint physical custody of their children. There is also what is known as a “split custody” award.

Another term that is often used for sole custody is primary custody. That is something of a misnomer.

Sole custody in the context of legal custody would mean that one parent and one parent alone has the power to make decisions for the child. Joint legal custody would mean that both parents share the right to make choices pertaining to the child. That stated, however, courts can and often do award parents the ostensible joint legal custody of their children, and yet give one parent the sole and exclusive right to decide in the event the parents cannot reach agreement. If you ask me, that can’t, in intellectual honesty, be joint legal custody, but I digress.

Sometimes Utah courts will divide legal custody between the parents such that one parent may have the right to make all decisions in a particular area. For example, the court could award the mother the right to make all healthcare decisions and award the father the right to make all education decisions for the children. That sort of arrangement would be known as a “split” legal custody award because neither parent has the sole and exclusive power to make all decisions regarding the child, the parents are not awarded joint legal custody such that they must make decisions jointly, but each parent has some soul and exclusive power to make some decisions, though not all decisions, pertaining to the child’s upbringing.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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2023 UT App 60 – Martinez v. Sanchez-Garcia – Material and Substantial Change

2023 UT App 60 – Martinez v. Sanchez-Garcia








No. 20210829-CA

Filed June 2, 2023

First District Court, Logan Department

The Honorable Brian G. Cannell

No. 154100308

Ashley E. Bown, Attorney for Appellant

Wayne K. Caldwell, Attorney for Appellee

JUDGE RYAN M. HARRIS authored this Opinion, in which


HARRIS, Judge:

¶1        When Daisy Martinez and Fernando Sanchez-Garcia divorced, they both lived in Cache County and, under the terms of their stipulated divorce decree, Martinez was the primary physical custodian of and caregiver for their children. Some two years later, Martinez moved with the children to Layton, about sixty miles away. At that point, Sanchez-Garcia asked for a modification of the custody arrangement, one that would give him primary physical custody of the children in Cache County. After a trial, the court ruled in favor of Sanchez-Garcia, modifying the custody order to make him the primary physical custodian, unless Martinez were to move back to Cache County. Martinez now appeals the court’s modification order, asserting that the court failed to make a finding that circumstances had materially and substantially changed, and that the court failed to take into account her status, up to that point, as primary caregiver. We find merit in Martinez’s arguments, and therefore vacate the court’s modification order and remand for further proceedings.


¶2        After five years of marriage, Martinez and Sanchez-Garcia divorced in 2017. Their stipulated divorce decree provided that the parties would share “joint legal custody and joint physical custody” of their two children, and that Martinez would have primary physical custody, with Sanchez-Garcia awarded parent-time that was something less than 50/50. The decree required the parties to “inform each other of any change of address . . . at least thirty (30) days prior to the change, if practicable,” and stated that, if “either party relocate[s] to a residence more than 150 miles away,” then “the relocating party shall provide notice pursuant to” Utah’s relocation statute. See Utah Code § 30-3-37.

¶3        Some two years later, Martinez notified Sanchez-Garcia that she planned to move to Colorado with the children that summer so that she could attend nursing school. She later incorporated her relocation request into a petition to modify the divorce decree, asking the court to give her sole physical custody of the children as necessary to facilitate her move. Sanchez-Garcia responded by filing a counter-petition to modify, asking the court to change the custody provisions of the decree to give him sole physical custody of the children in the event Martinez were to relocate to Colorado.

¶4        After a hearing, a court commissioner determined that relocation to Colorado was not in the best interest of the children, and therefore recommended that Martinez’s request for relocation with the children be denied, and that, if Martinez were to relocate to Colorado, primary physical custody should shift to Sanchez-Garcia. Martinez objected to the commissioner’s recommendation, and asked the district court to appoint a custody evaluator, which the court eventually did.

¶5        After completing his assessment, the custody evaluator announced his recommendation: if Martinez relocated to Colorado, Sanchez-Garcia should be granted sole physical custody of the children, with Martinez receiving parent-time pursuant to Utah’s relocation statute, see Utah Code § 30-3-37, but if Martinez remained in Cache County, the custody arrangement should be “50/50 parent time.”

¶6 Soon after receiving the custody evaluator’s recommendation, Martinez decided not to move to Colorado, and effectively withdrew her petition to modify regarding that potential move (although she did continue to press for an income-related modification of child support obligations). She did not, however, remain in Cache County; instead, she relocated with the children to Layton, Utah, a city located some sixty miles from her previous residence, and she did so without providing any advance notice to Sanchez-Garcia. He objected to Martinez’s move to Layton, and eventually amended his counter-petition to reflect this new development, asking the court to modify the custody order anyway, even though Martinez was not moving to Colorado, because she had relocated to Layton.

¶7        The court held a one-day bench trial to consider Sanchez-Garcia’s counter-petition regarding Martinez’s relocation to Layton, as well as Martinez’s petition regarding amendment of the parties’ child support obligations. The court heard testimony from both parties, as well as from the custody evaluator. In his testimony, Sanchez-Garcia described how his parent-time initially consisted of daily visits but no overnights, but gradually changed to a fairly consistent schedule of one weekday and alternate weekends. He noted that he has “to kind of share [his] parent time” with his extended family, who are very involved in the children’s lives. He expressed frustration that his parent-time was sometimes “covered up with sports and stuff like that.” And he explained that Martinez’s extended family was also very involved in the children’s lives, noting that “70 percent of the time” he was instructed to drop the children off, after parent-time, not at Martinez’s house but at the residence of one of her extended family members. When asked what his preferred parent-time would be, he answered “50/50” like “what [the custody evaluator] said.” But he acknowledged, on cross-examination, that he had never exercised his allotted four weeks of summer parent-time. And when asked if Martinez had offered to keep the children on their Cache County soccer teams, even after her move to Layton, Sanchez-Garcia confirmed that she had but said he declined the offer because his “work schedule was getting kind of crazy” and he would not be able to get the children to practice.

¶8        In her testimony, Martinez stated that the children were happy and doing well in Layton, and that her move to Layton had not changed the amount of parent-time Sanchez-Garcia received. To cut down on travel, Martinez had offered Sanchez-Garcia parent-time every Friday instead of his midweek day,[1] and although he mentioned that he wanted a different midweek day, he never specified which one. When asked why she had wanted to move to Colorado, Martinez explained that she had applied to nursing school there because she had found it was easier to gain admission there than to the nursing programs in Cache County. She stated that, after deciding not to move to Colorado, she moved to Layton instead because there were “more school options” there, and because she had remarried and her new husband “works closer to that area” and would not have to commute “through the canyon in the wintertime.” Martinez also explained that her remarriage had placed her in a better financial situation than when the custody evaluation occurred.

¶9        The custody evaluator testified that “the children are very well established with both parents” and recommended “50/50 parent time” if the parents lived near each other. His recommendation was largely influenced by the children’s “very well established support network” in Cache County, but he admitted that his recommendations about the children not moving were specific to a move to Colorado—more than five hundred miles away—and not to Layton—some sixty miles away. While acknowledging that he would be “speculating,” the custody evaluator “hypothesize[d]” that, if he were asked to assess the propriety of Martinez’s move to Layton (rather than Colorado), he “would entertain and evaluate the same concerns of removing the children from a very strong and well supported network.” But he conceded, on cross-examination, that he had not been asked to assess the propriety of a move to Layton, and that he did not “have a basis to form an opinion” about that specific move, especially since he had “not evaluated the children or interact[ed] with them for more than a year”; he testified that, in order to form an opinion about that particular relocation, he “would want to observe the home arrangements,” “understand the arrangements for care [and] how frequently surrogate care is arranged and by whom,” as well as “understand peer relationships, [and] the continuity of contact with extended family and cousins” in Cache County.

¶10      At the conclusion of the trial, the court issued a ruling from the bench granting Sanchez-Garcia’s petition to modify, “consistent with [the custody evaluator’s] recommendations,” and awarded Sanchez-Garcia primary physical custody of the children so long as Martinez remained in Layton. However, the court ruled that, in the event Martinez moved back to Cache County, custody should be shared equally. Nowhere in its oral ruling did the court discuss whether there had been a substantial and material change of circumstances that would justify reexamining the custody provisions of the decree.

¶11 About a month later, the court issued a written order memorializing its ruling. As in the oral ruling, the court did not discuss whether there had been a substantial and material change in circumstances, and made no findings or conclusions in that regard. It stated that it had “considered the evidence in light of the factors set forth in Utah Code [sections] 30-3-10 and 30-3-10.2,” but it discussed only three of those numerous factors in its ruling. It found that “both parents are well and able parents to provide for the children,” but that their “co-parenting skills [had] been compromised by the inability to communicate appropriately.” It noted that the custody evaluator’s recommendation—that the children not move to Colorado—“was based in large part on the fact that there is a family community here in Cache County” on both sides, and that the children’s “interactions” with extended family members “have been an important part of and support for the children’s lives” and that those interactions “significantly affect[] the children’s best interests.” The court also found that Martinez had “failed with communication,” specifically finding “problematic” her decision not to notify Sanchez-Garcia prior to her relocation to Layton. The court noted, nonspecifically, that it had “relie[d] on the expertise of the custody evaluator in making its orders,” but did not discuss the fact that the evaluator’s recommendations had been made with regard to a potential move to Colorado, and that the evaluator had expressly made no recommendation regarding a move to Layton. And the court did not discuss the fact that Martinez had, up until the court’s ruling, been the children’s primary caregiver for their entire lives.

¶12      Based on these findings, the court concluded that it was in the children’s best interest to be “brought back to reside in Cache County.” The court specified that, in the event that Martinez came back to Cache County with them, “the parties will have parent-time on a one week on, one week off alternating schedule,” but if Martinez remained in Layton, she would enjoy only statutory minimum parent-time.[2]


¶13 Martinez now appeals from the district court’s ruling on Sanchez-Garcia’s counter-petition to modify the parties’ divorce decree, and she raises two issues that require our consideration. First, she contends that the court failed to make any findings regarding whether a substantial and material change in circumstances had occurred. This is a matter we review without deference, because a district “court must make findings on all material issues” when ruling on a modification petition, and a court’s “failure to delineate what circumstances have changed and why these changes support the modification . . . constitutes reversible error unless the facts in the record are clear, uncontroverted and only support the judgment.” Diener v. Diener, 2004 UT App 314, ¶ 7, 98 P.3d 1178 (quotation simplified), cert. denied, 106 P.3d 743 (Utah 2005).

¶14 Second, Martinez challenges the court’s custody determination, asserting that the court failed to consider many of the relevant factors, including the fact that she had been the children’s primary caregiver. “We review the district court’s custody and parent-time determination for abuse of discretion.” Twitchell v. Twitchell, 2022 UT App 49, ¶ 17, 509 P.3d 806 (quotation simplified).


¶15 “Under Utah law, petitions to modify custody orders are governed by a two-part test: ‘A court order modifying . . . an existing joint legal custody or joint physical custody order shall contain written findings that: (i) a material and substantial change of circumstance has occurred; and (ii) a modification . . . would be an improvement for and in the best interest of the child.’” Peeples v. Peeples, 2019 UT App 207, ¶ 13, 456 P.3d 1159 (emphasis added) (quoting Utah Code § 30-3-10.4(2)(b)). Martinez raises a challenge with regard to each part of this two-part test.

¶16      First, she asserts that the district court did not make any findings—written or oral—regarding whether “changes in the circumstances upon which the previous award was based” have occurred that “are sufficiently substantial and material to justify reopening the question of custody.” Id. ¶ 15 (quotation simplified). Martinez’s assertion is correct: we have examined the court’s oral and written rulings, and we are unable to find any discussion of whether a change in circumstances had occurred.[3] This was error; a finding of changed circumstances is a “threshold requirement for modifying a divorce decree,” Larson v. Larson, 888 P.2d 719, 722 n.1 (Utah Ct. App. 1994), and “only if a substantial change of circumstances is found should the district court consider whether a change of custody is appropriate,” Peeples, 2019 UT App 207, ¶ 13 (quotation simplified); see also Doyle v. Doyle, 2011 UT 42, ¶ 38, 258 P.3d 553 (“Even an overwhelming case for the best interest of the child could not compensate for a lack of proof of a change in circumstances.”).

¶17 Sanchez-Garcia acknowledges the lack of findings regarding changed circumstances, but nevertheless defends the court’s ruling on two bases, neither of which we find persuasive. First, he asserts that it is “clear and uncontroverted” in the record that a substantial and material change of circumstances occurred, and he points to Martinez’s “sudden relocation to Layton,” which necessitated a change in schools for the children as well as a distancing from their “extensive support network” in Cache County. We recognize that Martinez’s move to Layton changed the landscape, but it is not at all obvious to us that this move resulted in the sort of substantial and material change that would justify a second look at the custody arrangement. Martinez’s move was well inside the 150-mile threshold that triggers the relocation statute. See Utah Code § 30-3-37(1). Moves within that threshold, even if they involve the crossing of a county line, do not, by themselves, necessarily indicate that a substantial and material change has taken place. Martinez presented evidence— that the court did not discuss—that the children were doing well in Layton and that her move to Layton did not result in any loss of parent-time for Sanchez-Garcia; that is, Sanchez-Garcia was enjoying just as much parent-time after Martinez’s move to Layton as he had been before. Cf. Erickson v. Erickson, 2018 UT App 184, ¶ 18, 437 P.3d 370 (holding, on the facts of that case, that a “change in the pick-up times without a change in the number of overnights” does not amount to a material and substantial change in circumstances “that warrants a change in custody”). And the fact that the children changed schools is not necessarily something that constitutes a substantial change in circumstances; a hypothetical five-mile move across town within Cache County may also have necessitated a change in schools, yet it is unlikely that such a move would, in this context, have been considered a substantial and material change in circumstances. And evidence was presented indicating that the children, even after the move to Layton, continued to enjoy significant contact with extended family on both sides. We do not foreclose the possibility that a court, under circumstances similar to these, could make a supported finding that things had changed enough to justify a second look at the custody order. But such a conclusion is far from obvious, and we expect a district court to engage with this issue and explain why it believes that to be the case. On this record, we cannot excuse the lack of findings on the basis that a substantial and material change is clear from the facts.

¶18 Next, Sanchez-Garcia claims that Martinez invited any error in this regard, because she filed her own petition to modify and therein asserted that there had been a substantial and material change in circumstances. But her petition was filed with regard to a potential move to Colorado, and was in that regard effectively withdrawn prior to trial.[4] A move to Colorado—far more than 150 miles from Cache County—would unquestionably be a substantial and material change in circumstances. But it does not follow, from her unremarkable assertion that a move to Colorado would be a substantial and material change, that she was also admitting that a move to Layton would likewise qualify as such. Indeed, in her answer to Sanchez-Garcia’s amended counter-petition to modify, Martinez expressly denied Sanchez-Garcia’s allegation that her move to Layton constituted a substantial and material change in circumstances. Martinez therefore did not invite the court’s error in failing to engage with the first part of the modification test.

¶19 Thus, we find merit in Martinez’s first challenge, and conclude that, on this issue alone, we must vacate the district court’s modified decree and remand for further proceedings so that the court can have an opportunity to engage with this issue and explain why Martinez’s move to Layton constituted the sort of substantial and material change that necessitates a reopening of the custody provisions of the decree.[5]

¶20      We recognize that should the court on remand determine that a substantial change of circumstances has not occurred, no further analysis will be required. However, should the district court conclude that a substantial change in circumstances has occurred, the court’s analysis regarding custody will also require more thorough treatment; indeed, were the court’s analysis regarding custody the only matter at issue, we would vacate and remand that determination as well. Therefore, we offer the following guidance should the issue arise following remand. See State v. Garcia-Lorenzo, 2022 UT App 101, ¶ 58, 517 P.3d 424 (electing to consider additional raised and briefed issues, even though not necessary to the outcome of the appeal, “in an effort to offer guidance that might be useful on remand, where these issues are likely to arise again” (quotation simplified)), cert. granted, 525 P.3d 1263 (Utah 2022).

¶21 After a court has determined that a substantial and material change in circumstances has occurred, it must then proceed to analyze whether “a modification . . . would be an improvement for and in the best interest of the child.” See Utah Code § 30-3-10.4(2)(b). In so doing, the court “shall, in addition to other factors the court considers relevant, consider the factors outlined in Section 30-3-10 and Subsection 30-3-10.2(2).” Id. § 30­3-10.4(2)(a) (emphasis added). Section 30-3-10 lists seventeen factors for consideration, before authorizing courts to consider “any other factor the court finds relevant.” Id. § 30-3-10(2). And section 30-3-10.2(2)—applicable when the court is considering joint custody—sets forth another eight specific factors for consideration, before also authorizing consideration of “any other factor the court finds relevant.” Id. § 30-3-10.2(2). Thus, courts in this situation are statutorily required to “consider,” at least in some form, twenty-five enumerated factors, as well as “any other” relevant factor.

¶22      Of course, not all of these factors “are on equal footing,” and a district court “generally has discretion to determine, based on the facts before it and within the confines set by the appellate courts, where a particular factor falls within the spectrum of relative importance and to accord each factor its appropriate weight.” Twitchell v. Twitchell, 2022 UT App 49, ¶ 20, 509 P.3d 806 (quotation simplified). Some factors might not be relevant at all to the family’s situation, and others might be only tangentially relevant or will weigh equally in favor of both parents.[6]

¶23      Other factors, however, are of particular importance when considering a change in custody. For instance, “[a]t the critically important end of the spectrum, when the child is thriving, happy, and well-adjusted, lies continuity of placement.” Hudema v. Carpenter, 1999 UT App 290, ¶ 26, 989 P.2d 491; see also Larson v. Larson, 888 P.2d 719, 722–23 (Utah Ct. App. 1994) (citing eight earlier Utah cases, and stating that “a factor of considerable importance in determining the best interest of children is the maintenance of continuity in their lives, and removing children from their existing custodial placement undercuts that policy”). Stated another way, when a court is “considering competing claims to custody between fit parents under the ‘best interests of the child’ standard, considerable weight should be given to which parent has been the child’s primary caregiver,” Davis v. Davis, 749 P.2d 647, 648 (Utah 1988), and “[e]xisting arrangements in which the child has thrived should be disturbed only if the court finds compelling circumstances,” Hudema, 1999 UT App 290, ¶ 26. The importance of this factor is further highlighted by the fact that applicable statutes mention it twice: not only does section 30-3-10 list it as one of the seventeen general custody factors, see Utah Code § 30-3-10(2)(m) (listing as a factor “who has been the primary caretaker of the child”), but the modification statute specifies that, in considering whether to modify a custody order, the court “shall give substantial weight to the existing . . . joint physical custody order when the child is thriving, happy, and well-adjusted,” id. § 30-3-10.4(2)(c).

¶24      In its custody analysis, the district court discussed only three of the twenty-five applicable statutory factors. The court began by finding that “both parents are well and able parents to provide for the children,” an apparent allusion to one of the general custody factors. See id. § 30-3-10(2)(c) (listing as a factor each “parent’s capacity and willingness to function as a parent”). It then discussed, at some length, the important relationships the children had with extended family members on both sides in Cache County. See id. § 30-3-10(2)(l) (listing as a factor a child’s “interaction and relationship with . . . extended family members”). The court also discussed Martinez’s failure to notify Sanchez-Garcia of her move to Layton, and viewed that as a failure of communication. See id. § 30-3-10.2(2)(c)(i) (listing as a factor each parent’s “co-parenting skills, including” the parent’s “ability to appropriately communicate with the other parent”). But that was the sum total of the court’s analysis; significantly, the court did not undertake any discussion of “who has been the primary caretaker of the child,” see id. § 30-3-10(2)(m), a factor that is “[a]t the critically important end of the spectrum,” Hudema, 1999 UT App 290, ¶ 26, and therefore entitled to “considerable weight,” Davis, 749 P.2d at 648; see also Utah Code § 30-3-10.4(2)(c) (requiring courts considering modification to give “substantial weight” to existing joint custody arrangements in which “the child is thriving, happy, and well-adjusted”).

¶25 At trial in this case, Martinez emphasized the “primary caregiver” factor, and put on evidence and made argument about that factor, asserting that she had always been the primary caregiver and that the children were doing well in her care, the move to Layton notwithstanding. Indeed, the custody evaluator testified that, in his view, “the children are very well established with both parents.” We acknowledge that “[d]etermining which

factors the court must address in a given case, and to what degree, presents a tricky task,” and that “courts are not required to render a global accounting of all evidence presented or to discuss all aspects of a case that might support a contrary ruling.” See Twitchell, 2022 UT App 49, ¶ 21 (quotation simplified). But “where significant evidence concerning a particular factor is presented to the district court,” especially where that factor is a critically important one, “findings that omit all discussion of that evidence” and of that factor “must be deemed inadequate.” Id.

¶26      Again, we do not foreclose the possibility that a change of custody could be warranted here after a more fulsome analysis of the relevant custody factors, and our opinion should not be read as placing a thumb on the scale in either direction. But a more complete analysis is required here, in which the court should—as required by statute, see Utah Code § 30-3-10.4(2)(a)—“consider” the relevant factors, at least in some form, especially the ones the parties emphasize. In particular, given the court’s heavy reliance on the importance of the children’s relationships with extended family in Cache County, the court should engage with our previous case law holding that, “[w]hile the close proximity of . . . extended family is an appropriate factor for the court to consider, this, by itself, is insufficient to disturb a previously determined custody arrangement in which the children are happy and well-adjusted.” Larson, 888 P.2d at 726.


¶27      We find merit in Martinez’s two arguments, and therefore vacate the court’s modification order and remand for further proceedings in which the court should analyze at least the first of these issues, and possibly the second, anew. In so doing, the court should expressly consider whether a substantial and material change of circumstances has occurred and, if it concludes that such a change has in fact occurred, the court should then consider, at least in some form, all the statutory factors relevant to custody modification, including the “primary caregiver” factor.

¶28      We also note that the court’s renewed analysis, on remand, should be conducted “in present-tense fashion, as of the date of the hearing or trial, and should not only take into account the items discussed in this opinion but, in addition, should take into account, in some form, any material developments with regard to [the children] that have occurred since the last trial,” see In re J.J.W., 2022 UT App 116, ¶ 38, 520 P.3d 38, including (if applicable) whether Martinez has since moved back to Cache County.


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[1] At the time, the children’s school was asynchronous on Fridays, due to continuing COVID-19 restrictions.

[2] In connection with Martinez’s request to amend child support, the court also made findings regarding the parties’ respective incomes, and on that basis (as well as the modified custody orders) modified the parties’ child support obligations. The court’s findings regarding the parties’ respective incomes are not at issue in this appeal.

[3] It may not be sufficient for a court to make an oral—but not a written—ruling in this regard, because the governing statute requires courts to make “written findings” on both parts of the modification test. See Utah Code § 30-3-10.4(2)(b); see also Hutchison v. Hutchison, 649 P.2d 38, 42 (Utah 1982) (stating that a requirement of written findings allows an appellate court “to be in a position to review the propriety of the trial court’s order,” and this “requirement of written findings applies with even greater force to orders awarding or modifying the custody of a child” (quotation simplified)). But in this case, we need not consider whether an oral finding, standing alone, would be sufficient, because the court made neither an oral nor a written finding regarding changed circumstances.

[4] Her only affirmative issue remaining for trial was an assertion that the parties’ incomes had changed significantly enough to justify amendment to the amount of child support ordered.

[5] In connection with this inquiry, the court may need to concern itself with the question of whether the decree subject to modification was the product of litigation or stipulation or some combination of the two. In some cases, “a lesser showing of changed circumstances may support modifying a stipulated award than would be required to modify an adjudicated award.” See Peeples v. Peeples, 2019 UT App 207, ¶ 15, 456 P.3d 1159 (quotation simplified). But the “adjudicated/stipulated dichotomy” is not “entirely binary,” and “in assessing how much ‘lesser’ a showing might be required to satisfy the change-in-circumstances requirement, . . . courts should examine the origin of the order in question and analyze the extent to which the order—even if stipulated—reflects the result of robustly contested litigation aimed at ascertaining the best interest of the child.” See id. ¶ 17 (quotation simplified).

[6] Even with factors not relevant to the situation or factors that do not move the needle one way or the other, a court is well-served to at least mention those factors in its ruling and briefly indicate that it deems them irrelevant or of equal weight for each party. By mentioning them, even if only to say that they are irrelevant, a court ensures that the parties—and, significantly, a reviewing court—will be able to tell that the court at least “consider[ed]” them. See Utah Code § 30-3-10.4(2)(a).

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Do Abusive Parents Get Custody of Their Children? Can Relatives Get Custody Instead?

Do abusive parents get sole custody of their children, even when their children don’t want them to have it? If the children want to stay with a relative who can take care of them instead, can the court award the relative custody of the children and only allow the abusive parents visitation rights?

Do abusive parents get sole custody even when their children don’t want that? Yes, that can happen. Just because it can happen does not mean it will always happen, but there are many times when abusive parents still get custody of their children. The reasons can vary, but usually they are (in no particular order):

  • the parents deny being abusive, and if there isn’t enough evidence to refute their denials, the court gets fooled into believing the parents.
  • the parents may be abusive, but not considered abusive enough to justify stripping them of their parental rights to child custody; in those situations, even though the court may not deprive the parents of child custody, the court can and often will condition the keeping of their custodial rights upon the parents refraining from future abuse and completing courses on good and proper parenting.

If children want to stay with a relative who can take care of them, can the court award the relative custody of the children and only allow the abusive parents visitation? Yes, that can happen too, but only if the court finds sufficiently compelling reasons to infringe upon the parents rights of custody in favor of someone else exercising custody of the children. a child merely expressing a preference for someone other than his or her parents is never enough to justify a change of custody from the parents to someone else. Interfering with the parents’ rights to custody of their own children is very difficult because those parental rights are considered some of the most basic of human and fundamental rights.

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How Long Does a Child Custody Court Hearing Take?

rprise that it usually takes much less time and effort to prepare for a proffer hearing than preparing for a full evidentiary hearing. In a proffer hearing the client won’t do much, if anything, during the actual hearing, with the exception of perhaps providing the occasional clarifying answer if the court asks them. No witnesses are called to testify in hearing conducted by proffer; instead, their testimony is provided by affidavit or verified declaration.

If you are unsure if your upcoming hearing will be a proffer or evidentiary hearing, ask your attorney. It could be catastrophic for your case if you show up at court believing the hearing is a proffer hearing when it’s a full-blown evidentiary hearing.

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From Pro Publica: Barricaded Siblings Turn to TikTok While Defying Court Order to Return to Father They Say Abused Them

There is far more to this story than the headline reveals.

From Pro Publica: Barricaded Siblings Turn to TikTok While Defying Court Order to Return to Father They Say Abused Them,had%20sexually%20abused%20the%20children

Is there any question whether the court would benefit from hearing testimony from these kids? Even if, arguendo, the court were to discover these kids are liars?

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Can You Win a Custody Battle Without an Attorney?

Can you? Meaning: is it possible? Of course it’s possible.

Likely? That depends.

I had written over 500 words in my first draft of the answer to this question when I realized I could state the answer clearly with fewer words.

Here is one way of analyzing the question. There is generally an embarrassingly obvious and high level of sexual discrimination against fathers in child custody cases. In my experience, this is what I’ve noticed, if the child custody award is an all-or-nothing proposition*:

All things being equal, the mother’s odds of success are higher than those of the father.

If the father is represented by an attorney but the mother is not, the mother’s odds of success are still higher than those of the father.

If the mother has a history of substance abuse but the father does not, the mother’s odds of success are still higher than those of the father IF the mother gets in to treatment and gets favorable progress reports from the treatment provider before trial.

If the mother has a history of child neglect, child abuse, and/or other violence, but the father does not, the mother’s odds of success are still higher than those of the father IF the mother gets in to treatment and gets favorable progress reports from the treatment provider before trial.

If the mother is homeless, but the father is not, the mother’s odds of success are still higher than those of the father IF the mother gets the court to believe she now has decent housing for her and for the child.


*When a child has two fit and loving parents who live in close enough proximity to make equal physical custody not merely possible or feasible but easily and pragmatically implemented, then the “best parent” is both parents. How could it be otherwise? Children of two fit, loving parents deserve to spend as much time in the care and under the tutelage of both parents, and that means the child custody award must be an equal legal and physical custody award.


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(8) Eric Johnson’s answer to Can you win a custody battle without an attorney? – Quora



How Often Does One Parent Get Sole Custody of Their Children in a Custody Case?

Good question. 

A generation or two ago, it was all but unheard of for parents to be awarded joint physical custody of their children. It was literally unthinkable in the minds of most legislatures, judges, and lawyers. Back then, married couples consisted exclusively of a man and a woman, and most children of married couples had a stay at home parent (almost always their mother). It was believed back then that the children needed to reside with the parent who does not work outside the home. 

As a result, when a mother and father divorced, custody of the children was awarded to one parent, and that parent was the mother. Fathers were awarded what was known as “visitation” and what is still known as visitation in some jurisdictions and in others it is now known as “parent-time”. Visitation and parent-time were typically restricted to every other weekend with Dad (usually Friday evening to Sunday evening) and dividing holidays with Mom, so they each spent every other Christmas, Thanksgiving, Labor Day, etc. with their kids. 

Around the 1980s, however, a “radical” new idea was starting to attract attention and gain some momentum: joint physical custody, also known as “shared parenting”. This movement was started by loving fathers who were just as capable as parents as their children’s mothers who were fed up with being relegated to the status of a “visitor” of their own children. These fathers were tired of being treated as second-class parents and concerned by the adverse effects the minimal time they were “allowed” with their own children were having on the father-child relationship. More divorces and more women in the workplace helped facilitate the movement as well. 

It’s taken 40 years, but now the idea of joint custody and shared parenting is not only not considered weird or radical, it’s becoming the norm. I say “becoming” because there is still a surprisingly large number of lawyers and judges in the legal profession who oppose joint custody and shared parenting. Those who do are living in the past and cling to outmoded and debunked theories of what’s best for children. When children, even infant children, are reared as much as possible by both of their loving, capable parents, the evidence is clear that they do better than in a sole custody situation. 

Joint custody and shared parenting is not feasible in every child custody situation, no one can credibly argue anymore that the presumptively best thing for children of two fit and loving parents is sole custody. Still, many parents (again, mostly the fathers, but some mothers too) who can and want to exercise joint custody often find themselves having to fight for joint custody and shared parenting not because the facts don’t support them but because of the judge’s personal biases against joint custody and because of their beliefs that mothers are better, more necessary parents than fathers. The fight, unfortunately for many (too many), still goes on when it shouldn’t. 

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What does temporary custody without prejudice mean?

It means that the child custody order is a temporary, as opposed to a permanent and final, order of the court. 

Why would a court enter a temporary child custody order? For obvious reasons and necessity. If to parents are fighting over custody of a child and what the ultimate child custody and parent time order will be, it will likely take a year or two before that case goes to trial. The child needs to be taken care of during that period (known as the pendente lite period in the litigation; pendent lite literally means “while the litigation is pending”), and so the court will issue temporary orders as to how much time the child spends with each parent until the final child custody order is made.  

These temporary orders are not to be intended have a “prejudicial” effect on the outcome of the final child custody award (but that is rarely the case).  

“Prejudicial” in a legal sense means a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience, harm or injury that results or may result from some action or judgment. As you can imagine, if the existence or purported success of a temporary order was cited by the court as evidence that the temporary order must become the permanent order of the court, then the so-called “temporary” order is anything but. To assert that a temporary custody order has proven itself to be better than any other possible custody order on the grounds that it has been in place to the exclusion of any other possible custody arrangement would be an example of giving the temporary order prejudicial impact and effect.  

And now to address the elephant in the room:  

Courts routinely claim that temporary child custody orders cannot and will not have a prejudicial effect on the final child custody order. That is simply not true.  

Now clearly, if a court found the temporary orders to be disastrous for the child, and the court will need to impose a different permanent custody order for the sake of the child’s welfare and the sake of the court’s legitimacy.  

But what about a temporary order that isn’t best for the child but isn’t manifestly catastrophic? How can anyone believe a judge who says that he or she isn’t looking to the track record of that sub-optimal, so-called temporary order when determining what the permanent child custody order should be?  

It takes an extremely intellectually disciplined judge to disregard that temporary orders track record as evidence in favor of that temporary custody arrangement.  

Instead, however, most judges will take the path of least resistance and adopt as the permanent order a temporary order that hasn’t been a patent failure, and then cite in support of that decision the fact that the parent opposing that schedule has “failed to produce sufficient evidence” to rebut the proposition that the so-called temporary order is in the best interest of the child. Judges will deny that they do this, but it’s obvious that they do. Do you see the problem with this approach?  

When the court: 

  • imposes one and only one custody schedule during the pendente lite phase of the case, 
  • claims that this one and only one schedule will not have a prejudicial effect on the ultimate permanent child custody order,  
  • refuses to implement any other proposed schedule to test and evaluate it against the other schedule,  
  • bars the other parent from implementing his/her proposed custody schedule in any kind of real life/real-time setting during the pendente lite phase,  
  • then cites to the other parent having failed to produce sufficient fact(s) that his/her proposed custody schedule better serves the best interest of the child,  
  • and cites to the track record of the so-called non-prejudicial temporary order as fact(s) in support of the argument for imposing it as a permanent order,  

the so-called non-prejudicial temporary order is anything but. 

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Can being a noncustodial parent improve the child-parent relationship?

Can being a noncustodial parent improve the child’s relationship with the noncustodial parent?

Recently, a reader on Quora, where I comment regularly, commented on a post of mine with this: 

Anecdotally: When my parents separated I felt I saw my father more because when they lived together simply being in the house was considered fathering. This is something I’ve heard from many fellow adult children of divorce. Suddenly Dad was actually doing something with us and having full conversations. 

I responded with this:  

Thank you for reading and for commenting. I don’t know you, your father, or your collective circumstances, but assuming generally that a father was neither abusive or neglectful (most fathers who become “noncustodial” parents in divorce are in this category), but the children were nevertheless deprived of being in the equal care and custody of their father and mother and Dad was deprived of equal custody of the children, how often do you think that a divorce awarding “sole” or “primary” custody of the children to one parent results in the children’s relationship with the other parent improving? To what degree did any aspect of the children’s lives improve? Right. Not often, not much. Indeed, just the opposite is the case.  

While there are some abusive, neglectful, and/or indifferent fathers out there, they are few and far between compared the vast majority of fathers. When fit, loving fathers (not perfect fathers, mind you) are cut off from their children by court order for even a few days, it is heartbreaking to father and children alike.   

Few parents had children without wanting to be there for them as much as possible and for them to be with that parent as much as possible. Although parental rights are not earned from the state or conditioned upon the state’s approval, that’s essentially how custody policy and law have come to function.  

Marginalizing a fit parent in a child’s eyes by reducing that parent to visitor, second-class, “backup” status necessarily marginalizes the child. “You don’t get the equal (i.e., the maximum) love and care of both parents, boy.” By depriving him/her of equal custody of his/her children with the other parent is to deprive the children of each parent exercising equal responsibility for the children, and to deprive the children of what is in their best interest. 

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Are you going through a child custody dispute in court, or contemplating one?  

Are you going through a child custody dispute in court, or contemplating one?  

If so, have you heard about a custody evaluation? if not, you’ll want to pay particularly close attention to this post.  

Like many jurisdictions, Utah has a provision in its court rules for a person known as a custody evaluator to be appointed in a divorce or other kind of child custody case when there is a dispute between the parents over what the child custody and parent-time1 schedules should be.  

Utah’s rule governing custody evaluations is found in the Utah Code of Judicial Administration, Rule 4-903. Now, I’m not going to talk about everything in Rule 4-903 in this post, instead I’m going to talk about recent changes made to the rule that become effective November 1st, 2022.  

First, the good changes to rule 4-903:  

The revised rule 4-903 includes a new provision (subparagraph 2), which reads as follows: (2) Custody evaluations shall be ordered only when a party requests it or when the court makes specific findings that extraordinary circumstances exist that warrant an evaluation.  In either case, before appointing a custody evaluator, the court must find that the parties have a present ability to pay for the evaluation.  

It is high time that this change be made to the custody of valuator rule, rule 4- 903. Custody evaluations are currently often knee jerk reactions by courts that don’t want to wrestle with the custody evaluation question and who prefer to outsource it to a custody evaluator. And oftentimes requests for custody evaluations are made by malicious parents where there is no need for a custody evaluation, but the request was made for the purpose of burdening the other parent with the costs of the evaluation. The new subparagraph 2 won’t totally eradicate these abuses of the custody evaluator, but they should make them harder to perpetrate.  

Now for the bad changes to rule 4-903: 

The revised rule 4-903 subparagraph (6) now contains all kinds of new education and training requirements that sound great, but likely won’t do much to improve the quality of custody evaluations. Specifically, the revised rule 4-903 requires that  

“Child custody evaluators shall gain and maintain specialized knowledge and training in a wide range of topics specifically related to child custody work. Evaluators shall gain broad knowledge of family dynamics. Since research and laws pertaining to the field of divorce or separation and child custody are continually changing and advancing, child custody evaluators shall secure ongoing specialized training and education.”  

Effectively, what this means is that custody evaluators must now spend more time in a bunch of mediocre, boring, check the box style training courses that they have to pay for and that they will pass the costs of along to the parents. this will only make it harder to become a custody evaluator, which will cause fewer mental health professionals to want to go to the trouble of becoming and remaining qualified to be a custody evaluator, and make custody evaluations likely more time consuming and more expensive.  

The new rule 4-903 also now requires that custody evaluators cannot accept appointment as custody evaluators unless they have completed 18 hours of  education and training within the past two years, coinciding with the professional’s licensure reporting deadlines, which must include all the following topics:  

(A) The psychological and developmental needs of children, especially as those needs relate to decisions about child custody and parent-time;  

(B) Family dynamics, including, but not limited to, parent-child relationships, blended families, and extended family relationships; and  

(C) The effects of separation, divorce, domestic violence, child sexual abuse, child physical or emotional abuse or neglect, substance abuse, and interparental conflict on the psychological and developmental needs of children and adults.  

The revised rule 4-903 also provides that “Evaluators having conducted fewer than three (3) evaluations shall consult with another professional who meets the education, experience, and training requirements of this rule,  sufficient to review, instruct, and comment on the entire evaluation process.”  

Remember, this new rule does not go into effect until November 1st 2022, even more importantly, remember that a custody evaluation is not required in every child custody dispute, and is in my opinion rarely, if ever, a good idea. More on that in a future blog post about custody evaluation alternatives. 

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Child refuses to exercise shared custody with the stricter parent

Teenager Child (16) refuses to see me after spending a month with my ex. I have 50% custody. What can I do about it? I’m a stricter parent unlike my ex who lets him play computer games all day and night.

Each jurisdiction may have different laws and rules governing a situation like yours, but I will answer your question as it applies to the state of Utah in my experience as a divorce and family lawyer.

Many people believe that at a certain age a minor child has the “right” in Utah to choose with which parent he/she will reside. Not true. Unless a court orders that a minor child has such a right, no such legal right independently exists.

But then there’s life in the real world, which shows us just how far a court’s power to enforce a child custody award order reaches. As a practical matter, if a child is big and strong and strong-willed enough to refuse to comply with the child custody order, there is little a court can do or will do to compel a child to comply.

Thus, trying to enforce a child custody and parent-time award by enlisting the help of the court is usually fruitless.

It’s maddening when a child is too young and immature to understand that living with the irresponsible, excessively permissive, and/or absentee parent is doing that child more harm than good. Unfortunately, unless the child does something or some things bad enough to land him/her in juvenile detention, a court can’t really force the child to live anywhere.

As I stated in answer to a question similar to yours: some courts try to get creative and impose sanctions on a noncompliant child by essentially ordering them “grounded”, but again, if the child chooses not to comply, there is little the court can do or feels is wise to do to the child. I’ve seen a court try to get a child to comply by ordering her barred from participating in her beloved dance classes and driver education courses (so that she can’t get her driver license unless she lives with the court ordered custodial parent) as long as the child refused to live with the court-ordered custodial parent. In that case, however, the child outlasted the court, i.e., she kept living with the noncustodial parent and stopped attending dance and driver’s ed. classes. Then the court found itself in the awkward position of preventing the child from getting exercise and driving to and from her job and other worthwhile, even necessary activities, so the court relented (both in the best interest of the child and to save face). This is a lesson that most courts learn when they try to use the coercive powers of the court against children to enforce child custody orders.

Besides, even if you could force a child to live with you or spend time with you as court-ordered, a child who is forced to do much of anything is only going to resent it and resent you for making him/her do it.

The only viable option you have is to be the most effective parent you can. That doesn’t mean abandoning good parental practices, but it may mean adjusting your approach from a “good” and “reasonable” one to an approach that entails necessary parental care and supervision that fosters love and affection, an approach that still holds children accountable, without estranging them.

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Can a parent with full custody deny visitation due to unsanitary conditions?

Can a parent with full custody refuse to allow visitation due to unsanitary living conditions?

Good question.

I will answer this question in the context of some applicable law for the jurisdiction where I practice divorce and family law (Utah).

There are many ways to approach this question, but briefly one thing you need to be aware of are the custodial interference laws.

Under the custodial interference laws (76-5-303. Custodial interference), A parent can refuse to comply with a child custody and/or parent time order under certain circumstances:

(a) the action is consented to by the person whose custody or visitation of the child was interfered with; or


(i) the action is based on a reasonable belief that the action is necessary to protect a child from abuse, including sexual abuse; and

(ii) before engaging in the action, the person reports the person’s intention to engage in the action, and the basis for the belief described in Subsection (6)(b)(i), to the Division of Child and Family Services or law enforcement.

See also 76-5-305. Defenses:

(a) the actor was acting under a reasonable belief that:

(i) the conduct was necessary to protect any person from imminent bodily injury or death; or

(ii) the detention or restraint was authorized by law; or

(b) the alleged victim is younger than 18 years of age or is mentally incompetent, and the actor was acting under a reasonable belief that the custodian, guardian, legal guardian, custodial parent, or person acting in loco parentis to the victim would, if present, have consented to the actor’s conduct.

There is no hard and fast rule you could apply in this situation, of course, but I think it’s reasonable to say that if the living conditions that the other parent’s house were so unsanitary as to pose a serious risk of harm to the child’s life or health, refusing to comply with parent time on that basis might not result in criminal guilt.

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If each parent is fully capable, will the court still give full custody to mom?

If both parents are wonderful, will the court still lean towards full custody to the mother?

[Note: I am a divorce lawyer of 25 years. I am not bitter about “what happened to me in my divorce” as I am not divorced. I have no axe to grind with women or mothers (I love my mother, sisters, wife, and daughters dearly and without reservation). With these facts in mind, I answer your question as follows below.] 

Not exactly. But close. 

While the courts are finally starting to confront and slowly abolish discrimination against fathers when it comes to making the child custody and parent-time awards, the odds are still ludicrously in the mother’s favor when both parents are fit and loving parents. 

No question about it. The exceptions prove the rule. 

“All things being equal,” the mother is favored (yes, I know that’s illogical, but the courts find ways to justify or to appear to justify illogical thinking, especially in making child custody and parent-time awards). 

It’s grossly unfair to children and to fit, loving fathers alike, but it’s what courts frequently (more often than not) do. 

Now clearly there are times when, even though Dad’s a wonderful parent, circumstances (such as the parents living too far apart or having an unorthodox/inflexible work schedule) may render impractical or impracticable the exercise of joint equal physical custody and/or result in joint equal custody arrangements doing the children more harm than good. But far, far too often fit, loving fathers are denied joint equal custody by virtue of plain old sexual discrimination. 

What does “favoring the mother” (prejudicing the father) look like nowadays? Here are few of the most common situations: 

  • Rather than awarding joint equal physical custody to both parents, awarding “just a little more time” to Mom than to Dad. Case in point: I worked a case where both Mom and Dad had full-time jobs, but the court awarded Mom more time with the children than with Dad anyway (8 out of every 14 days on a 14-day repeating schedule—the trial court even stated that denying the kids and dad that one day every two weeks would enable dad to have more time to get his work done). This was the case where I reached my breaking point (about three years ago). To his credit, my client agreed to appeal (and pay tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege), and he won, with the appellate court ordering the trial court to award equal child custody and parent time. If you believe that happens in every case like his, you would be mistaken. 
  • Finding that, even in situations where the children are preteens or older, the mother was (past tense) the children’s primary caregiver when they were infants and toddlers, and therefore she always has that “advantage” over the father in the here and now. I have this case where mom had been working full-time for the past four years. The youngest of the couple’s children could take care of himself and did not need a full-time caregiver. Worse, mom worked outside the home full-time, while dad’s full-time job permitted him to work from home. At the temporary orders phase of the case, the court awarded mom primary physical custody of the kids because (and the court made no secret of the basis for its decision) she hadbeen (past tense) the per children’s primary caregiver. Dad Wasn’t even seeking sole or primary custody; he was seeking joint equal physical custody, but he lost. Such an outcome is ridiculous and tragic, but not surprising. 
  • Rejecting Dad’s claims that the mother is so lazy and that Dad not only works full-time each day outside the home, but then spends the rest of his time at home taking care the housekeeping and taking care of the kids as well. Why? Because (in my experience) in the minds of most judges it is unthinkable for a stay-at-home mother to be a lazy and inattentive parent (while at the same time it is easy for judges to believe—just believe—that a father doesn’t pull his weight when it comes to fulfilling child caregiving). 
  • Penalizing the father for being the only full-time employed (in many cases the only employed) parent and awarding sole or primary physical custody of the children to the mother because she doesn’t work outside the home. Never mind (apparently) the fact that if the parties share joint equal custody, that would enable both parents to provide as much personal care to the children as possible and also allow them to work full-time jobs for their children’s financial support. Nope. Now clever courts will “acknowledge” and “praise” Dad for being a responsible and devoted breadwinner, but won’t award joint equal custody, justifying the unequal award of child custody with assertions such as: 
    • Spending equal time in both parents’ Respective residences creates an “unstable” residential circumstance for the children. 
    • The fact that unemployed Mom spends more of the waking hours with the children than does Dad (until the children start school, in which case the amount of time mom spends with the kids during waking hours is negligible compared to the time the children are with Dad while he’s at work) means that dad should spend even less of the children’s waking hours with them when he gets home from work. Otherwise stated, because Dad can’t be with the kids during the eight or nine hours that he is at work each day, that means that he should not spend the hours that he does have available to be with the children when the children could be spending that time or “consistently” in the custody and care of their mother. If you don’t understand this reasoning the first time you read through it, you’re not alone. 
  • Courts will still indulge in blatantly discriminating against fathers: 
    • by citing to the “fact” that women/mothers are “born nurturers”; 
    • by citing to the “fact” that children are more closely bonded with, and thus need more time with, their mothers than with their fathers; 
    • by claiming “it’s not the quantity of time but the quality of time” that children spend with their fathers that matters most, failing to concede that the quality of the time is a function of the quantity of time when it comes to parent-child interactions. How did the term “Disneyland Dad” evolve? Not by assuming the responsibilities and “heavy lifting” parental duties of day to day living. No, but by spoiling the child when they have such disproportionately little time on alternating weekends and one weeknight. It creates a warped sense of the father-child relationship and of reality for the kids in general, leading to the kids becoming self-absorbed, worldly, and feeling entitled around their fathers. 

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277  

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Why would a father give a child’s abusive mother full custody?

Why would a father whose attorney had outed his children’s mother as a schizophrenogenic narc monster give her full custody? 


If the father had it within his power to prevent custody of the children from being awarded to a schizophrenic monster of a mother (as you describe her), but did not do so, then clearly the father acted (or failed to act) morally and responsibly. 

It could be that the father was an even bigger monster than the mother (so self absorbed and/or apathetic that the children’s welfare didn’t concern him). 

It is more likely, however, that the father did not “give” the mother custody of the children, but encountered a legal system that was biased and that discriminated against fathers, leading the father to conclude that an award of custody to the mother was a fait accompli. under such circumstances, the father did not so much “give” custody of the children to the mother, but surrendered it to her. 

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277  


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