Tag: child custody award

What Should or Can I Do When the Father Has Primary Custody but Has Left Our Child With Me for 60 Days and Counting?

The father has primary custody but left our child with me and left the child with me 60 days ago with no indication of when or whether he will return, and he has had no contact with our children but an 11-minute video call. Florida law applies.

I am not licensed to practice law in the state of Florida, but I will answer your question based upon the law of the state of Utah, which is the jurisdiction in which I a licensed to practice law. To get the answer to this legal question as it applies in Florida, you’ll need to consult with a knowledgeable Florida family law attorney.

The answer to that question is more complicated than it may seem at first blush.

Your question appears to imply a question that is different than the one you asked. I think your question is asking what action can or should you take legally now that the father (who happens to be the custodial parent as well) appears to have abandoned the child to you. If this is not what has happened, then I wouldn’t try to lie to the court and claim that it has. If the father has told you that he has to leave the state for a brief period because of work obligations or some other legitimate reason and has every intention of returning and exercising primary or sole custody of the child afterward, then clearly the father has not abandoned the child and is simply asking you to help him and held the child while he is unable to exercise custody for a brief period.

So, assuming that the father left the child with you with no indication of when he would return, you could rush to the courthouse with a petition to modify the child custody award, citing the fact that the father and custodial parent left the child in your care and custody before moving out of state, then having no contact with the child for 60 days except for one short video chat with the child. And I would bet that he is also not giving you any money to help you support the child financially in his absence. If you were to claim these events, and only these events, as warranting modification of the child custody award, it could be enough, but if the father were to oppose your petition, it is likely that he would win. The reason he would likely win is because the court would find that the father had essentially not “abandoned the child enough” to justify stripping him of the child custody award.

If the father has abandoned the child, you would likely need more time to pass before you petition to modify the child custody award, so that you could establish this fact beyond any reasonable doubt. Six months or more ought to do it. Of course, if you wait, you run the risk of the father returning after, say, 2 1/2 months or three months or four months. And if he reappears in that period of time and then re-establishes the exercise of custody, a petition to modify the child custody award would, in my opinion, likely fail.


  • the father has left the child with you for approximately six months or longer, has little to no contact with the child in that period, and provides little to no financial support for the child
  • modification is what’s best for the child as opposed to what’s in your self-interest (if you were to seek a modification of the child custody award for the benefit of the child and not primarily for your benefit),

then your odds of prevailing on a petition to modify the child custody award are good.


Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

(15) Eric Johnson’s answer to What should or can I do when the father has primary custody but has dropped the child off with me left state and not returned for 60 days to get the child and had no contact but 1 1 minute video call since I got the child? Florida law – Quora


Tags: ,

I am looking for advice. I want to fight for full child custody. What do I need to know before moving forward?

All you need to know regarding what your first steps should be is this:

  • determine whether you have a winning case for being awarded full or sole custody of the child;
  • to determine whether you have a winning case for being awarded full or sole custody of the child, the only practicable way to do that is to consult with a good (a good, not just any) child custody attorney who understands both the written and unwritten rules that govern child custody awards in your jurisdiction.

If you are asking to know the way to win child custody (when the other parent is fighting you tooth and nail) without having to pay a very heavy price in time, effort, pain, and money, there is no such way. There are no shortcuts. No, really. There are no shortcuts. No matter how much you want to believe otherwise, there are no shortcuts. There is no free lunch. Accept it.

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

Tags: , ,

Can a child who wants to, testify of his/her desires regarding the child custody award?

Am I, as an 11-year-old, allowed to go to court in a situation where my parents are divorced to see if I can get my dad to have full custody of me even though my mom doesn’t abuse me? 

What actually happens when a child wants to be heard on the subject of his/her desires regarding the child custody award? 

Great questions. I can’t speak for all jurisdictions, but I can tell you 1) what the law is for the state of Utah; and 2) what (in my experience) actually happens when a child wants to be heard on the subject of his/her desires regarding the child custody award. 

The law for the state of Utah. A child can testify as to the child’s preferences regarding the child custody award, if the court allows the child to testify: 

30-3-10(5). Custody of a child — Custody factors. 


(a) A child may not be required by either party to testify unless the trier of fact determines that extenuating circumstances exist that would necessitate the testimony of the child be heard and there is no other reasonable method to present the child’s testimony. 


(i) The court may inquire of the child’s and take into consideration the child’s desires regarding future custody or parent-time schedules, but the expressed desires are not controlling and the court may determine the child’s custody or parent-time otherwise. 

(ii) The desires of a child 14 years of age or older shall be given added weight, but is not the single controlling factor. 


(i) If an interview with a child is conducted by the court pursuant to Subsection (5)(b), the interview shall be conducted by the judge in camera. 

(ii) The prior consent of the parties may be obtained but is not necessary if the court finds that an interview with a child is the only method to ascertain the child’s desires regarding custody. 

So what do the words of § 30-3-10 mean? How does § 30-3-10 work (or how should it work)? Get ready to be upset. 

§ 30-3-10 provides that a child can testify, but only under circumstances that most Utah courts construe so restrictively as to make it all but impossible for a child to testify. How?  

Most Utah courts will say (I know because I am one of the few attorneys who thinks children who are smart enough and emotionally tough enough to testify intelligibly should be heard on the subject of the child custody award) that 1) the “extenuating circumstances that would necessitate the testimony of the child be heard” do not exist (and will, if the court has anything to say about it, essentially never exist under any circumstances); and 2) there is always another “reasonable method” to present the child’s testimony without actually presenting the child’s testimony directly from the child’s mouth to the judge’s ear. Generally, courts in Utah will bend over backward to avoid hearing from the child directly. And the “other reasonable method” means ensuring the questions posed to the child on the subject of child custody are not recorded, that the child’s purported answers are not recorded, that the child’s testimony is filtered through a third party, such as a guardian ad litem and/or a custody evaluator.  

If a court in Utah has ever found “that an interview with a child is the only method to ascertain the child’s desires regarding custody,” I am not aware of such a case. What is so frustrating to me is why would such a law exist? Why isn’t the law just the opposite, i.e., “Unless the evidence shows that the judge interviewing the child will not ascertain or at least help the court to ascertain the child’s desires regarding custody, the court shall interview the child to ascertain the child’s desires regarding custody.” 

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

Tags: , , , , , ,

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. 

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

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Can I gain full custody if I’m bipolar?

I don’t want anything to do with my child’s father. Can I gain full custody if I’m bipolar? 

First, thank you for being so candid and blunt. This is a question that everyone on both sides of this issue have but that few have the guts to ask or have the guts to accept an equally blunt response. That stated, I will try to give you an answer in the same vein as your question: 

(Note: I cannot tell you whether there are any jurisdictions that treat bipolar disorder or other emotional or mental health conditions as absolute bars to consideration for legal or physical custody of children, but I can tell you what I know based upon the law of Utah, which is the jurisdiction where I’ve been practicing for the past 26 years) 

Now let’s talk about suffering from bipolar disorder. I’m amazed at the number of people who will say things to me like, “My child is autistic,” when the child has never been diagnosed by a competent mental health professional with autism. There are a lot of people will claim as fact that which they believe. This is often the case with personality disorders. I can’t tell you how many times people come to my office and say, “My wife has borderline personality disorder (BPD)” and “My husband is a narcissist and/or suffers from narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)” and “My spouse has bipolar disorder” without there ever being a diagnosis by a competent mental health professional. 

So, the first question we need to answer is whether you truly are bipolar or whether you and/or your spouse just believe you are.  

Next, if you are in fact bi-polar you need to determine whether your condition renders you dangerous to yourself and/or to others. By the way, this would be true of any serious mental health or serious personality disorder. If you are bipolar and or suffer other serious mental health problems, that doesn’t necessarily mean you are a danger to yourself or others. Many mental health and emotional disorders can be successfully treated with medication and/or counseling or therapy, so that someone with such a condition is no less fit as a parent than someone with a serious physical condition that is being successfully treated. 

Bottom line: merely suffering from bipolar disorder is not an absolute bar to being awarded sole or joint custody of a child. Without a showing that the bipolar disorder causes you to be a danger to yourself or to others (including your children, of course), evidence that you suffer from bipolar disorder (or other mental health or emotional disorders) is not enough to knock you out of the box. 

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

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

I signed a CPS safety plan but the court orders protective supervision.

What happens if I signed a CPS safety plan but the court orders protective supervision? 

The court’s order supersedes the agreement. 

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


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

How will it affect children to switch schools every other school year?

How will it affect children to switch back and forth to schools every other school year due to child custody agreement between parents who live in different states? 

Probably not well. Think about your own experience as a child. Did you move frequently? Have to attend different schools every year or so? I have friends and acquaintances who did that as children. They didn’t like it. Not one of them liked it at all. It was hard to fit in at school. Hard to make close friends. It was a persistent feeling of being a fish out of water. Their lives felt unstable because they were unstable. Candidly, this is one of those “first world problems” kinds of things. They weren’t scarred for life as a result of it, but they didn’t like it. They still resent it to this day. And it’s harder on some kids than it is on others. It’s hard enough navigating childhood and adolescence in familiar surroundings. 

If you and your ex-spouse have made or are contemplating making an agreement to subject your children to alternating living with one parent every other year and alternating schools every school year, I see nothing good coming of it. If, for some reason, you and your ex have no choice but to share custody this way, then you’ll need to work hard to make the best of it for the sake of your children. Odds are extremely high that the children are going to hate it and eventually come to hate each of you for it. Odds are also that when the children reach their mid-teenage years, they will rebel against it. If this is not an arrangement you must implement, however, do something else. You owe your children that much.  

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

Tags: , , , , , , ,

What to do when child won’t comply with the custody award?

What will happen if the court ruled in favor of a mother to have the custody of her child but the child refuses to go with her and she prefers to stay with the father?

This situation (and this question) comes up a lot. I will answer the question as it applies in my experience to the jurisdiction where I practice divorce and family law (Utah).

SHORT ANSWER: The general rule of thumb is that if the child is a teenager and has the guts and the will to defy the court’s custody orders, then that child is going to live with the parent with whom he or she wants to live because the court is essentially powerless to force the child to comply with the child custody order, i.e., the court finds it more trouble than it is worth to enforce a child custody order against a defiant teen.


Technically, the child has no choice in the matter, once the court has issued its child custody ruling and resulting orders. In other words, just because somebody doesn’t want to follow court orders doesn’t mean that he or she is free to disregard them or to act as a law unto himself or herself. This proves to be true of court orders pertaining to adults. Child custody orders, and the children affected by them, however, are in reality a different matter.

In the law we have two terms that help to describe the situation: de jure and de factoDe jure means that which is which applies as a matter of law. For example, as a matter of law, your child is ordered to spend most of his/her time in the custody of mother, with the father spending time the child on alternating weekends and a few odd holidays. De facto means that which is or that which applies as a matter of fact (in reality, and not as the court may artificially require). So while as a matter of law your child is required to live with mother, if in reality (as a matter of “fact”—this is where the “facto” in “de facto” comes from) the child refuses to live with mother and stays at the father’s house, that is the de facto child custody situation.

When A) the de jure and de facto situations conflict in a child custody situation, and B) the child is old enough, strong enough, and willful enough to continue to the court’s custody orders, the court often (not always, but usually) feels that they are practicably powerless to force children to live with a parent with whom they do not wish to live.

Normally, when an adult will not comply with the court’s order, One of the tools a court can use to enforce compliance is its contempt powers. Those powers include finding and jailing the noncompliant person. But with children, that power is, for all intents and purposes, nonexistent. Children usually have no money with which to pay a fine, and Utah does not allow courts to jail minors for mere contempt of court.

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.

Courts don’t want to dedicate their own resources and law enforcement resources to 1) literally dragging a child out of one parent’s home and literally stuffing the child into some other home; and 2) doing so repeatedly when the child refuses to stay put. It’s a waste of law enforcement resources and the fear is the child will eventually run away (and act out in other self-destructive and dangerous ways), if not allowed to live with the parent of his/her choosing.

And courts don’t want to punish a parent for the misconduct of a child. Some courts have tried to punish noncustodial parent by holding them responsible for their children’s noncompliance with the court orders, but that doesn’t work when the noncustodial parent truly isn’t at fault. Courts realize that a noncustodial parent cannot simply, for example, 1) push the child out the door, lock it behind the child, and wish the child well in subzero degree weather; or 2) manhandle the child into the custodial parent’s car, then be charged with child abuse. And punishing the noncustodial parent often only serves to lead the child to be more determined to defy court orders.

As you can imagine, a child’s “power” to choose where he/she lives usually does not arise until the child is old enough and strong enough and willful enough to exercise some degree of autonomy over which parent with whom he/she lives. That doesn’t usually happen until children reach approximately the age of 12 or 14, although some children may start younger. Children under that age are typically unable or too afraid to exert their own preferences and wills.

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

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

T.W. v. S.A. – 2021 UT App 132 – child custody

2021 UT App 132 




No. 20200397-CA 

Filed November 26, 2021 

Third District Court, West Jordan Department 

The Honorable Dianna Gibson 

No. 134401457 

David Pedrazas, Attorney for Appellant
Laja K. M. Thompson, Attorney for Appellee 

JUDGE DIANA HAGEN authored this Opinion, in which

HAGEN, Judge: 

¶1 T. W. (Father) appeals the district court’s custody order awarding S. A. (Mother) primary physical custody of their son (Child). In so doing, the court rejected the custody evaluator’s recommendation that Father be awarded primary physical custody. The court also scheduled parent-time in accordance with the minimum parent-time schedule in Utah Code section 30-3-35, as opposed to the optional increased parent-time schedule in section 30-3-35.1. Father argues each of these rulings was made in error. Because the court sufficiently supported the parent-time schedule it ordered as well as its rejection of the custody evaluator’s recommendation, we affirm. 


¶2 Father and Mother ended their relationship before Child’s birth. The following year, Father petitioned for custody. Father later moved to Grantsville, Utah to live with his now-wife and her children, along with Father’s other child from a prior relationship. Grantsville is approximately fifty miles from Sandy, Utah where Mother resides. 

¶3 Shortly after his move, Father requested a custody evaluation. The court-appointed custody evaluator initially recommended Mother be awarded primary physical custody, but at a trial on that issue, the parties stipulated to joint legal and physical custody, with each parent enjoying alternating weeks of equal parent-time. The stipulated terms were then set forth by the court in its parentage decree. At the time, the logistics of complying with an alternating week schedule were relatively easy because Child was not yet attending school. 

¶4 Around the time Child was to begin kindergarten, a dispute arose over whether Child would attend school near Mother’s home in Sandy or near Father’s home in Grantsville. Father moved for a temporary restraining order that would specify where Child would attend school. After a telephonic hearing, the court commissioner recommended that, for the time being, Child would attend school in Sandy pending an evidentiary hearing. 

¶5 Child had been attending school for several months when the evidentiary hearing was held in December. After conferring with counsel off the record, the court expressed “some concerns about the workability of [Child] residing in Grantsville and going to school in Sandy or residing in Sandy and going to . . . school in Grantsville.” The court reasoned that the alternating week schedule was unworkable, and the parties agreed that now that Child was in school “continuing the commute [was] not in [his] best interest.” The court ultimately found that “the commute from Sandy to Grantsville is approximately 50 miles and can take approximately 50 minutes, and sometimes more, in the morning” and, “[f]or various reasons, including road/weather conditions, [Child had] been late to or missed school.” Because the long commute was unworkable, the court recognized that the issue before it was “a much larger issue than just determining where [Child] goes to school”—it would require “a change in the parent-time arrangement” as well. To resolve both the parent-time arrangement and where Child would attend school in the future, the court set the matter for trial. 

¶6 Before trial, the custody evaluator submitted an updated report. The evaluator recommended that Father and Mother be awarded joint legal custody but that Child’s primary physical residence be with Father. The evaluator made this recommendation based on two considerations. First, he opined that Father was “in a more stable physical situation” than Mother because he owned his house and was “not likely to move,” whereas Mother “rent[ed] an apartment and ha[d] a history that raise[d] concern about her ability to maintain a consistent residence.” Second, he noted that Child had developed “positive and reciprocal relationship[s] with his [half-sibling and step-]siblings,” who resided with Father, and Child would “attend school with them as well as receive guidance and support from them academically, socially and emotionally.” 

¶7 During trial, Father introduced a letter from Child’s therapist explaining that Child had been diagnosed with an adjustment disorder caused by “a stressor in [his] life.” That letter further stated that Child was experiencing “significant impairment in social, occupational or other areas of functioning.” 

¶8 Mother testified about Child’s emotional and social challenges as well. She explained that Child’s school counselor had been helping him to make and keep friends and to learn “what’s acceptable social behavior” and “how to control [his] emotions in school.” Mother testified that although Child was “struggling with focus and attention in school” as well as “emotional outbursts,” he had “improved.” She recounted that Child “struggled with making friends in the beginning,” but was “finally making more” and by that time had friends at the school. Because Child “knows the school now” and “knows the people,” Mother did not “feel that [it would be] right” to “rip [him] away from [the progress he had made] and have him start all over in a new school.” Given that Child was “in therapy for adjustment disorder,” she believed that “[h]aving him switch schools would just exacerbate that [condition]. He again would have to adjust to a huge change in his life.” 

¶9 Mother also testified about her work schedule. She described how she had started her own business so her schedule would be “flexible” for Child, that she “make[s her] own schedule,” and that the reason she did this was “to be available to [Child] and his school needs and his extracurricular needs . . . so that [she could] revolve [her] work around [her] son.” Mother testified that she and Child have a regular daily routine with a set schedule for school, homework, extracurricular activities, playtime, and sleep when Child is residing at her home in Sandy. Mother asserted that requiring Child to commute to school from Grantsville “probably has at least something to do with [Child’s] activity in school,” that “he hates [the commute],” and that he is sometimes late to school because of “the weather” or “accidents on the freeways.” 

¶10 After considering the original evaluation, the updated evaluation, and the other evidence presented at trial, the court issued its custody order. It found that because of Child’s “current emotional and behavioral issues which [had] been diagnosed as an Adjustment Disorder with disturbance of conduct,” his “psychological and emotional” needs were the deciding factor and those needs would benefit from residing primarily with one parent. In support, the court found that Child “struggles in social settings” and has “behavioral issues,” “emotional outbursts,” and “difficulty making friends.” Moreover, “the commute is hard on [Child]” as he was “tired in school,” had “been late on several occasions,” and had even “missed school” because of the long commute. 

¶11 Having decided that it was in Child’s best interest to reside primarily with one parent, the court ruled that it was in Child’s best interest for Mother to be the primary custodial parent because Mother’s testimony was “credible and persuasive” regarding the negative impact a change in school would have on Child. The court found changing schools would require Child to “start all over—start at a new school, make new friends and re-adjust,” negatively affecting the progress he had made establishing friends. Moreover, Mother had the ability to provide the “maximum amount of parent-time with the maximum amount of flexibility,” and Mother had “established routines in the morning, evening, and with regard to homework and playtime.” 

¶12 In keeping with its custody determination, the court also ruled that, “solely” because of “the 100-mile round-trip commute,” the parent-time schedule of “every other week for five days in a row, was not in [Child’s] best interest,” and that the parent-time schedule would be altered in accordance with Utah Code section 30-3-35—Utah’s minimum parent-time schedule. The court ruled that “on alternating weekends, [Father] shall have parent-time from the time [Child’s] school is regularly dismissed on Friday until Sunday at 7 p.m.” Additionally, Father was awarded a mid-week overnight during which Father “pick[s] up [Child] after school, and [Mother] pick[s] up [Child] the next morning.” The court explained, “The new parent-time schedule is in the best interest of [Child]” because “it allows [him] to maximize his time with [Father] while eliminating the constant, back-to-back days of commuting.” 

¶13 After the court filed its custody order, Father filed a motion for new trial as well as a motion to amend the court’s findings. The court denied both motions. Father now appeals. 


¶14 Father challenges the district court’s custody order on two grounds. First, he alleges the court failed to articulate sufficient reasons for rejecting the custody evaluator’s recommendation to award him primary physical custody and that the court based its custody determination on an erroneous fact. Second, he alleges the court failed to make sufficient findings about why it did not award increased parent-time pursuant to Utah Code section 303-35.1. 

¶15 On appeal, we review the district court’s custody and parent-time determination for abuse of discretion. LeFevre v. Mackelprang, 2019 UT App 42, ¶ 17, 440 P.3d 874. This discretion is broad; indeed, as long as the court exercises it “within the confines of the legal standards we have set, and the facts and reasons for the decision are set forth fully in appropriate findings and conclusions, we will not disturb the resulting award.” Davis v. Davis, 749 P.2d 647, 648 (Utah 1988) (cleaned up). We review the court’s “underlying factual findings for clear error.” LeFevre, 2019 UT App 42, ¶ 17. “A finding is clearly erroneous only if the finding is without adequate evidentiary support or induced by an erroneous view of the law.” Id. (cleaned up). 


  1. The Rejection of the Evaluator’s Recommendation

¶16 Father first challenges the district court’s decision to award primary physical custody to Mother. When determining custody, the court considers many statutorily defined factors, including “the parent’s demonstrated understanding of, responsiveness to, and ability to meet the developmental needs of the child, including the child’s . . . physical needs; . . . emotional needs; . . . [and] any other factor the court finds relevant.” Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-10(2) (LexisNexis 2019).24 But the factors the court considers are “not on equal footing.” See Hudema v. Carpenter, 1999 UT App 290, ¶ 26, 989 P.2d 491. “Generally, it is within the trial court’s 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.” Id. 

¶17 Although the district court has broad discretion to make custody determinations, it “must set forth written findings of fact and conclusions of law which specify the reasons for its custody decision.” Tucker v. Tucker, 910 P.2d 1209, 1215 (Utah 1996). The findings “must be sufficiently detailed and include enough subsidiary facts to disclose the steps by which the ultimate conclusion on each factual issue was reached.” K.P.S. v. E.J.P., 2018 UT App 5, ¶ 27, 414 P.3d 933 (cleaned up). The district court’s conclusions must demonstrate how the decree “follows logically from, and is supported by, the evidence,” Andrus v. Andrus, 2007 UT App 291, ¶ 17, 169 P.3d 754 (cleaned up), “link[ing] the evidence presented at trial to the child’s best interest and the ability of each parent to meet the child’s needs” whenever “custody is contested,” K.P.S., 2018 UT App 5, ¶ 27. 

¶18 Father contends that the court failed to “articulate sufficient reasons as to why it rejected [the custody evaluator’s] recommendation[]” that Child should primarily reside with Father. “[A] district court is not bound to accept a custody evaluator’s recommendation,” but if it rejects such a “recommendation, the court is expected to articulate some reason for” doing so. R.B. v. L.B., 2014 UT App 270, ¶ 18, 339 P.3d 137. 

¶19 Here, the court sufficiently supported its rejection of the custody evaluator’s recommendation. The custody evaluator recommended that the court award primary physical custody of Child to Father for two reasons: (1) Father was in “a more stable physical situation” and “not likely to move,” and (2) Child had a “positive and reciprocal relationship with his siblings and [would] be able to attend school with them as well as receive guidance and support from them academically, socially and emotionally.” The court found the evaluation “very helpful” but did “not agree with the ultimate recommendation.” 

¶20 The court based its rejection of the custody evaluator’s recommendation on several factors. First, the court disagreed that Mother’s rental apartment was less stable than Father’s living situation because both Mother and Father had relocated multiple times in the last few years and both testified that they intended to stay in their current homes. Second, although the court agreed that keeping the siblings together “would be beneficial” to Child, the court did not “give this factor quite the weight” that the custody evaluator did, because Child had never “lived exclusively with his siblings” and their relationship was not the same as a relationship “between siblings who have been reared together prior to the separation between the parents.” 

¶21 The court also detailed how physical custody with Mother would better serve Child’s “psychological and emotional needs.” It found that Mother had “established routines” with Child “in the morning, evening, and with regard to homework and playtime.” She “lived a one[-]child-centered life” and indeed had “built her life around her son”; whereas, Father’s attention was divided among several children. Mother also enjoyed “flexible” self-employment that allowed her to personally provide care for Child, whereas Father’s work schedule was “less flexible” and would require surrogate care. 

¶22 The court further determined that it was not in Child’s best interest to change schools, which would be required if Father were awarded primary physical custody. The court emphasized the need for “consistency” and “routine” for Child, as he was exhibiting signs of being “under stress,” “struggle[d] in social settings,” and had “behavioral issues,” “emotional outbursts,” and “difficulty making friends.” In light of these factors, the court determined that “making too many changes all at once” would not be in Child’s best interest. Most notably, the court found Mother’s “testimony credible and persuasive regarding the impact a change of school would have on [Child], given his current condition and the Adjustment Disorder diagnosis.” Because Child had made significant progress “adjusting” to his current school and establishing friendships, the court found that requiring Child to “start all over—start at a new school, make new friends and re-adjust”—would “impact the progress” he had made and would not be in his best interest. Consequently, granting Father primary physical custody, which in turn would require Child to transfer to a school in Grantsville, was not in Child’s best interest. 

¶23 Father contends that the court erred because it rejected the custody evaluator’s “recommendation solely based on [an] ‘Adjustment Disorder with disturbance of conduct’ diagnosis” even though “at no[] time was there any testimony as to how [the diagnosis] affected the Child, and/or how it related to the Child’s relationship with each parent.” But the court did not rest its decision solely on the fact that Child had been diagnosed with adjustment disorder. Instead, it considered evidence that the disorder was caused by stress, that it manifested as behavioral and social impairments, and that introducing a change such as transferring schools would exacerbate these problems. Specifically, Father introduced a letter from Child’s therapist explaining that Child had been diagnosed with adjustment disorder caused by “a stressor in [his] life” and that he experienced “significant impairment in social, occupational or other areas of functioning.” Mother also gave extensive testimony regarding Child’s struggles with “focus,” “emotional outbursts,” and “making friends,” and she detailed the improvements he had made in those areas. She further testified that, in light of Child’s adjustment disorder diagnosis, “having him switch schools would just exacerbate that” condition and undo the progress he had made because it would require him to “start all over.” 

¶24 In sum, the evidence presented at trial sufficiently supports the court’s ruling that Child’s best interests, i.e., his “psychological, physical, and emotional” needs, were best met by Mother being awarded primary physical custody, “outweigh[ing] the factors favoring” a custody award in favor of Father. And the court’s careful evaluation of that evidence certainly “articulate[s] some reason” for rejecting the custody evaluator’s recommendation. See R.B. v. L.B., 2014 UT App 270, ¶ 18, 339 P.3d 137. Thus, the court acted within its discretion in rejecting the custody evaluator’s recommendation and awarding Mother primary physical custody. 

  1. The Parent-Time Schedule under Utah Code Section 30-3-35

¶25 Father also contends that the district court erred because it did not adopt the optional increased parent time schedule set forth under Utah Code section 30-3-35.1 without making sufficient findings. We disagree. 

¶26 “[D]istrict courts are generally afforded broad discretion to establish parent-time.” Lay v. Lay, 2018 UT App 137, ¶ 16, 427 P.3d 1221 (cleaned up). When parents do not agree to a parent-time schedule, Utah Code section 30-3-35 prescribes a “default minimum amount” of “parent-time for the noncustodial parent,” unless “‘the court determines that Section 30-3-35.1 should apply’ or a parent can establish ‘that more or less parent-time should be awarded.’” Id. ¶¶ 5–6 (quoting Utah Code Ann. § 303-34(2) (LexisNexis Supp. 2017)); see also Utah Code Ann. § 30-335(2) (LexisNexis Supp. 2021)). Under that default minimum parent-time schedule, the noncustodial parent is entitled to time with the child on “one weekday evening and on alternating weekends, which include Friday and Saturday overnights.” Lay, 2018 UT App 137, ¶ 6. Thus, the noncustodial parent, at minimum, enjoys “two overnights in a typical two-week period.” LeFevre v. Mackelprang, 2019 UT App 42, ¶ 20, 440 P.3d 874. 

¶27 The court “may consider” an “optional parent-time schedule” set forth in Utah Code section 30-3-35.1(1)–(2), (6), which increases parent-time from two overnights to five overnights in every two-week period “by extending weekend overnights by one night, and affording one weeknight overnight each week.” See Id. ¶ 21; see also Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-35.1(6) (LexisNexis 2019). The court may adopt the optional parent-time schedule when either (a) “the parties agree” or (b) “the noncustodial parent can demonstrate the presence of at least four factual circumstances.” LeFevre, 2019 UT App 42, ¶ 22 (cleaned up); see also Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-35.1(2). 

¶28 But even if either of these two prerequisites is satisfied, the district court is not obligated to adopt the increased parent-time schedule.25 Under Utah Code section 30-3-35.1, the court “is authorized, but not required, to consider the optional increased parent-time schedule as described in the statute.” Lay, 2018 UT App 137, ¶ 13. The statute “provides legislatively established standards for the district court to apply in evaluating whether increased parent-time is warranted, and it eliminates the need for a district court to independently fashion an increased parent-time schedule by providing a detailed schedule for the court to modify or adopt.” Id. ¶ 16. But by providing “the district court with some guidance and tools for adopting increased parent-time schedules,” the legislature did not eliminate “the court’s discretion to apply those tools in the best interest of the child.” Id. To the contrary, the statutory language plainly indicates that the adoption of the increased schedule is permissive rather than mandatory. See id. 

29 Nonetheless, Father argues that once the court “considered” section 30-3-35.1, it was obligated to make findings articulating why it rejected the increased parent-time schedule suggested by the statute. In setting the parent-time schedule, the court largely adopted the minimum schedule set forth in section 30-3-35, except that it increased the weekday evening parent-time to a mid-week overnight. As a result, the only difference between the increased parent-time schedule under section 30-3-35.1 and the schedule actually ordered is an additional weekly Sunday overnight. Father contends that “the trial court should have addressed how it was in the best interest for [Child] to be returned home on Sunday as opposed to Monday morning for school.” 

¶30 But Father misunderstands the statutory scheme. When parents cannot agree to a parent-time schedule, section 30-3-35 provides a presumptive minimum, but the district court still retains discretion to award more time than the statute provides. See Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-34(1)–(2) (“[T]he court may . . . establish a parent-time schedule” but “the parent-time schedule as provided in Section[] 30-3-35 . . . shall be considered the minimum parent-time to which the noncustodial parent and the child shall be entitled.”). If the court orders more parent-time than the presumptive minimum, it may “independently fashion an increased parent-time schedule” under section 30-3-35, or it may adopt the “detailed schedule” set forth in section 30-3-35.1. See Lay, 2018 UT App 137, ¶ 16. In any event, in awarding parent-time, the court is simply required to “enter the reasons underlying [its] order.” See Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-34(3). The statute does not require the court to articulate specific reasons for rejecting all other alternatives, such as an additional Sunday overnight that would necessitate another long commute to school every other Monday. 

¶31 In keeping with the statutory requirements, the court entered sufficient findings to support its parent-time award under section 30-3-35. The court ordered that “[Father] shall have parent-time pursuant to the guidelines established in Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-35” and articulated its reasons for customizing that schedule to allow Father an additional mid-week overnight. The court explained that it was 

interested in maximizing [Father’s] time (along with his family) with [Child]. Section 30-3-35 permits a mid-week visit. It is in [Child’s] best interest to have a mid-week visit at [Father’s] home. [Child] will benefit from doing homework with [Father], [his stepmother,] and his siblings. And, because it is only one day a week, the impact of the commute will be minimized. The parties can determine which day works best for them and [Child]. 

The court concluded that “[t]he new parent-time schedule is in the best interest of [Child]—it allows [him] to maximize his time with [Father] while eliminating the constant, back-to-back days of commuting.” These findings adequately support the ordered parent-time schedule. 


¶32 Custody and parent-time determinations “may frequently and of necessity require a choice between good and better.” Hogge v. Hogge, 649 P.2d 51, 55 (Utah 1982). The broad discretion we accord the district court “stems from the reality that in some cases the court must choose one custodian from two excellent parents.” Tucker v. Tucker, 910 P.2d 1209, 1214 (Utah 1996). That is precisely the situation the district court faced here. And “where analysis reveals that the best interests of the child would be served equally well with either parent,” we cannot say the “court has abused its discretion in awarding custody to one parent over another.” See id. at 1216. Because the district court sufficiently supported its rejection of the custody evaluator’s recommendation for primary custody and articulated the reasons for the parent-time schedule it adopted, we defer to the court’s sound judgment. Affirmed. 

Click to access T.W.%20v.%20S.A.20211126_20200397_132.pdf

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Why is it OK for a parent to be given custody without their kids’ consent?

Why is it okay for a parent to be given custody without their kids consent or at least their input? This is a great question. I can’t speak for all lawyers, and the laws and rules governing what the courts must and can consider when making child custody awards differs slightly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but in the jurisdiction where I practice divorce and child custody law (Utah), there is a general policy that you can’t find written down anywhere but is nevertheless pervasive, and that is: courts will not talk to children in child custody cases if there is any way they can come up with a plausible excuse.

Do not misunderstand me. Courts can interview children on the subject of child custody and solicit the children’s experiences, observations, opinions, and preferences regarding the child custody award, although a child’s desires are “not the single controlling factor” governing the eventual child custody award (See Utah Code Section 30–3–10(5)(ii)). It’s just that most Utah courts, for reasons they’ve never credibly or logically explained to me, just don’t want to do it. Instead, they contract out the interviewing process to what are known as “custody evaluators” and/or “guardians ad litem”. You may ask, “So what’s the harm in that?”

In Utah, interviews between the children and custody evaluators and/or guardians ad litem are not on the record. Thus, we will never know what the children on what subjects the children were interviewed over or even if the children were interviewed at all. neither will we know what questions were asked, the manner in which they were asked, and the content and tone of the children’s responses, if any. Curiously, we don’t treat any other witness this way, but for some reason courts are more than happy to believe or say they believe that a custody evaluator and/or guardian ad litem would lie about a child interview or bungle a child interview.

when a judge interviews the child, not only do you have direct, unfiltered testimony in response to questions that the judge himself or herself deems most important to the child custody and parent time award analysis, that it takes less time, far less time than having a custody evaluator and/or guardian ad litem appointed to do the job. And it’s free of charge to have the judge interview the children, as opposed to costing thousands of dollars to pay for the services of a guardian ad litem, and even costing in excess of $10,000 to pay for the services of a custody evaluator. the value of what guardians ad litem and custody evaluators provide for the money just isn’t there when compared to no cost for a judge to interview the children directly and on the record. For some reason courts are more than happy to believe or say that they believe that it is just as good or better to have a child interview summarize and filtered through a custody evaluator or guardian ad litem then it would be to have the child speak directly to the judge, answering questions most pertinent and relevant in the judge’s opinion, and on the record. If you can explain how that makes any sense, please drop me a line.

Now clearly, some children would be too young to express a credible opinion or desire regarding child custody, are too young to know what they want, so young that they are easily manipulated, coachable, intimidated, or coerced. in those situations, it may make all the sense in the world to have a mental health professional observe the child to provide the court with some guidance as to

what custody and parent time arrangement serve the best interest of the child. but if a child is older than 10 years of age, there’s no harm in having the judge speak to that child to take the measure of the child, the child’s level of maturity and intelligence, and solicit information from that child’s experience to help guide the court in making the child custody and parent time awards. This is simply inarguable. And yet it remains virtually impossible to get a court to interview children directly and on the record. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask the court to interview the children on the record, just don’t be surprised if you get inexplicable resistance to such a sensible idea, both from the court and from opposing counsel.

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

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

“Best interest of the child” and a “material and substantial change of circumstances”

Doyle v. Doyle, 258 P.3d 553 (Utah Ct.App. 2011) 2011 UT 42m ¶ 38, “Even an overwhelming case for the best interest of the child could not compensate for a lack of proof of a change in circumstances. See Becker, 694 P.2d at 611 (rejecting bare best interests argument and stating that “in order to reach the best interests standard and reconsider a custody award, there must be a showing that there has been a change in circumstances that is material to the custody issue”).

It occurs to me that “an overwhelming case for the best interest of the child [justifying a modification of the child custody award]” IS proof of a material and substantial change in circumstances–a change in the circumstances of, if not one or both parents, the circumstances of the child himself/herself.

Harper v. Harper, 480 P.3d 1097, footnote 6 (Utah Ct.App. 2021), 2021 UT App 5:

[6] Unlike an adjudicated custody decree, such as the one in this case, a stipulated custody decree “is not necessarily based on an objective, impartial determination of the best interests of the child, and therefore the res judicata policies underlying the changed-circumstances rule are at a particularly low ebb.” Peeples v. Peeples, 2019 UT App 207, ¶ 15, 456 P.3d 1159 (cleaned up). Thus, “in some cases, a lesser showing of changed circumstances may support modifying a stipulated award than would be required to modify an adjudicated award.” Id. (cleaned up). For the same reasons, in change of custody cases involving a nonlitigated custody decree, the changed-circumstances rule “must not be so inflexible as to categorically foreclose examination of the child’s well-being.” Taylor v. Elison, 2011 UT App 272, ¶ 14, 263 P.3d 448.

Tags: , , , , ,
Click to listen highlighted text!