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Tag: child custody

Blanket prohibitions on child testimony in custody and parent-time disputes are irrational and irresponsible

Thomas Sowell said (in a discussion of politics and governance), “There are no solutions. There are only tradeoffs, and whatever you do to deal with one of man’s flaws it creates another problem, but you try to get the best solution you can get.”

So often in human experience the response to a problem comes down to compromise. We must be careful not to overstate the principle, of course. We need to be moral. We need to be honest and fair. Compromise comes up not in compromising our values for the sake of expediency, but when reasonable minds can differ. When people are too rigid in their positions, quite often everyone loses. Nothing gets done. One of the things that annoys me about the lack of understanding this principle in family law is when attorneys, courts, or advocates with certain agendas take rigid positions that depends upon ignoring the reasonable arguments of the other side for their rigid positions to have supposed unassailable merit.

Take my efforts to allow child testimony in child custody and parent time dispute cases.

There are those who believe that involving the children in the litigation process by asking them questions and seeking their input through testimony about what they’ve experienced, how they feel about it, and what they may desire by way of custody and parent time schedules can do nothing but harm the children. Those against child testimony in any form offer several arguments:

  • Testifying causes children to feel as though their loyalties are hopelessly split between the two parents they love. Children may feel as though they must break the heart of one parent in pleasing the other parent.
  • It causes children to fear reprisals and retaliation by parents who may be angered or upset by children’s testimony.
  • It exposes children to matters they are unprepared and unqualified to deal with, to issues better left to adults to resolve.
  • Children are generally incompetent and/or incredible witnesses.

There are some fair points there. But when people focus on these points to the exclusion of all other fair and reasonable points to the contrary, they don’t do their cause any favors. Ignoring rational counterarguments or rejecting them out of hand rouses skepticism as to just how strong and how broadly applicable the argument really is. An argument that denies any defects is usually proof that defects exist. Acknowledging the flaws and weaknesses in one’s position helps to reveal the extent of its strengths and applicability.

Granted:

  • Some (not all) children cannot testify without it doing them serious psychological and or emotional damage.
  • Compelling some (not all) children to testify might expose them to heinous reprisals from a wicked parent (although muzzling a child to “protect” him/her from a retaliatory parent only rewards—and thus encourages—bad behavior on the part of parents). Otherwise stated, sometimes the harm the child might suffer for his/her testimony outweigh the benefits of the child’s testimony to the court.
  • Not all children are competent and/or credible witnesses due to their age leaving them too young to understand the difference between right and wrong, truth and falsity. They could be mentally disabled or mentally ill to the point that they cannot perceive reality accurately. Or they could simply be too immature to know what’s good for them.

But we must also acknowledge that:

  • some children have no cause to fear retaliation from either parent, and so they don’t fear either parent.

–  some children are not only willing to share their experiences, observations, feelings, opinions, and desires—if called upon to do so, but want to do so. They wish to have a voice in the child custody and parent time analysis and decisions. Children who are sufficiently intelligent and mature to make intelligent and mature contributions to the evidence should be heard. The court needs to consider that evidence in making the child custody and parent-time awards.

  • competent, credible child witnesses are often the best, sometimes the only, witnesses to certain facts that bear crucially upon the child custody and parent-time award decisions.
  • children are, after all, the greatest stakeholders in such decisions. They have the most to gain or lose by the quality of the decision.

Thus, to ignore (or even refuse) such evidence from a willing, competent, credible child witness is, in my opinion, malfeasance on the part of a judge deciding child custody and parent-time matters.

It is easy to “prevent” what harm child testimony may cause some children by prohibiting all child testimony, but at what cost? Such extreme measures deprive some children (and the courts deciding their custody and parent-time fates) of the benefits their testimony could yield. Blanket prohibitions on child testimony in all cases are no better than mandating children testify in all cases. The matter of whether a child testifies ought to be decided on a case by case basis, and competent, credible child witnesses should testify if called to testify, unless there is clear and convincing evidence that the testimony’s probative value is substantially outweighed by a clearly and particularly articulable danger (not a mere, generalized claim of risk—every venture necessarily includes some risk) of irreparable harm to the child, were the child to testify.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

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My spouse is threatening to take the children away, but I’ve done nothing wrong. What can I do to protect them and me?

What do you do when your spouse threatens to walk out and take the children even though you have been an equal and contributing partner in the marriage?

It is good that you are thinking about this now, because it is far easier to prevent a spouse from absconding with your children than it is to get them back after a spouse absconded with the children.

In answering your question, I will assume that:

  • these sorts of threats have been made by your spouse more than once up to this point, and that you take the threats seriously.
  • you have tried to discuss the problems in your marriage with your spouse, either just between the two of you or with the assistance of a marriage counselor of some kind (whether that be a mental health professional comma a minister or pastor comma or even a mutual friend you and your spouse both trust), and that those efforts have not helped you and your spouse resolve the problems you face.
  • You have met with people you trust to speak frankly with you, you have asked them if you are the problem, and you have honestly determined that while you are not perfect, you are not the reason for the troubles in the marriage.

If you have done these three things, then you have reason to be concerned, and you should take action to protect yourself and the children. Those actions include generally:

  • Find out if (and if so, how) you can legally attach a tracking device to your vehicles and to your children’s phones in case your spouse runs off or tries to run off with the children, so that you can more easily locate them. CONSULT WITH A LAWYER AND WITH A PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR TO FIND OUT WHAT YOU CAN LEGALLY DO. Every jurisdiction’s laws may be slightly different than in others, so you will need to speak with an attorney and a private investigator in the jurisdiction where you and your spouse and children are located.
    • This may make you feel apprehensive or devious, and if it does, good. That means that you have a conscience. You are not contemplating this because you are trying to do something evil or to take advantage of your spouse, you are trying to protect yourself and your children.
    • As soon as you understand whether you can legally track your vehicles, spouse, and your children legally, act. Get those legal tracking devices and/or the software installed immediately. This is one of those situations where hesitating could deprive you of seizing opportunity to track the children, so act sooner than later.
  • If you trust your own parents and siblings, confide in them and inform them that you are concerned that your spouse may try to abscond with your children promise so that if they notice anything unusual or suspicious, they can notify you immediately.
  • Teach your children how to use a phone and platforms for video conferencing (like FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, Google Meet, etc.). Teach your children who to call if they cannot reach you.
  • Monitor your spouse’s behavior for suspicious activity—AGAIN, BEFORE YOU DO THIS, MAKE SURE YOU CONSULT WITH AN ATTORNEY AND WITH A PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR to ensure that your surveillance activities are not illegal. There is a right way and a wrong way to do this. If you think you cannot go to jail or prison for doing this the wrong way, you are mistaken.
    • If your spouse is fool enough to keep making oral threats to “take the children so that you never see them again,” record your spouse making the threats. Do not “entrap” your spouse into saying something you are trying to get him/her to say, but if the subject comes up naturally, get it recorded.
    • Is your spouse taking steps to frame you as an abusive parent and/or spouse? If so, document it. And keep the documents in a secure place or places, so that your spouse can destroy or alter them.
    • Is your spouse spending more time than normal on his/her phone or computer in secret? Is he/she now unusually and extremely protective of his/her privacy?
    • Has your spouse recently quit his/her job, or has he/she obtained a job without needing a job?
    • Is your spouse cutting ties with the local neighborhood and community?
    • Monitor bank and credit union and other financial account activity. That may help you notice whether your spouse is building up a war chest to use in absconding with the children and later filing for divorce and seeking sole custody of the children.
    • Keep an eye out for whether your spouse is purchasing items one would use if one were planning to move or go on an extended vacation. Is your spouse purchasing luggage? Getting the luggage he or she already owns and that the children own out of storage? Talking to and otherwise communicating more often than normal to relatives who live out of town or out of state or even out of the country?
    • Is your spouse talking about renewing the children’s passports or getting new passports for them? Make sure you have the children’s passports secured.
    • Is your spouse starting to express a lot more interest in airline points? Either knowing where they are, how many there are, or earning them or getting a credit card that awards them?
    • Know where your spouse’s parents, siblings, and close friends live. Know not only their residential addresses, but their work addresses and where they might have any vacation homes. Know their phone numbers and their e-mail addresses.
    • Make sure you have accurate and up-to-date identifying information about your spouse and the children, and keep it up to date every month or so.
      • Current photographs for each person.
      • Description of spouse and children by height, weight, age, eye color, and any unique distinguishing features for your spouse and children, such as scars, moles, tattoos, etc.
      • Photographs from all sides of the vehicles, including a clear photograph of the license plates and any unique distinguishing vehicle features.
      • Get a DNA sample of each of the children by suddenly expressing an interest in learning your family history, if you think you can sell that to everyone.
      • Get the children’s fingerprints if you can find a way to do so without attracting suspicion
  • Is your spouse suddenly engaging in “dry runs” by going on trips without you to visit relatives or claiming to be going on a “trip with my sisters” or a “trip with my friends for the weekend”?
  • Is your spouse planning to take the children with him or her on a “vacation” to visit your spouse’s parents (or a sibling of your spouse’s) and does not want you to come with him/her?
  • Prepare for divorce, and for a fight over child custody.
  • For most decent folks, secretly preparing for divorce—when they suspect that their spouses started plotting divorce already—makes them feel like villains. That is to be expected. Unfortunately, even when you are not in the wrong, there is no way to overcome that feeling completely. But overcome that feeling you must, or you may find yourself at an insurmountable disadvantage when your spouse files for divorce.
  • Find a good divorce lawyer and meet with him or her immediately. Not every lawyer who has a law license is a good lawyer. Not every lawyer with a license is an experienced and skilled divorce lawyer. So, make sure you shop around to find the best lawyer you can possibly afford. Now is not the time to pinch pennies or to jump over dollars to pick up dimes.
  • Document the fact that you are in every way a loving and fit parent who has a strong bond with your children. And make sure that your documents are safely secured, so that your spouse cannot find them and destroy them or alter them.
  • Gather the documents your attorney will need:
    • The documents that prove you are the children’s parent:
      • Birth certificates
      • Social Security numbers
      • Passports
      • Driver licenses (if applicable)
    • The documents that prove what you and your spouse have acquired during the marriage, what your respective incomes are, your assets (Financial and otherwise), debts and other obligations and liabilities, and what your personal expenses are on a monthly and yearly basis. To find out what information your attorney needs, hire an attorney. Your attorney will provide you with a checklist.
  • If you are concerned that your child is at risk of being abducted internationally, acquaint yourself with the International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act (ICAPRA)

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

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What are the child custody factors that judges consider?

What are the child custody factors that judges consider when determining what’s in a child’s best interest in custody disputes according to Utah’s family law statutes?

The main factors are found in Utah Code § 30-3-10 (and the main factors of § 30-3-10 itself are highlighted below in red text, but you should read the entire applicable code section for all factors):

30-3-10.  Custody of a child — Custody factors.

(2) In determining any form of custody and parent-time under Subsection (1), the court shall consider the best interest of the child and may consider among other factors the court finds relevant, the following for each parent:

      (a) evidence of domestic violence, neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse, involving the child, the parent, or a household member of the parent;

      (b) the parent’s demonstrated understanding of, responsiveness to, and ability to meet the developmental needs of the child, including the child’s:

             (i) physical needs;

             (ii) emotional needs;

             (iii) educational needs;

             (iv) medical needs; and

             (v) any special needs;

      (c) the parent’s capacity and willingness to function as a parent, including:

             (i) parenting skills;

             (ii) co-parenting skills, including:

     (A) ability to appropriately communicate with the other parent;

     (B) ability to encourage the sharing of love and affection; and

     (C) willingness to allow frequent and continuous contact between the child and the other parent, except that, if the court determines that the parent is acting to protect the child from domestic violence, neglect, or abuse, the parent’s protective actions may be taken into consideration; and

            (iii) ability to provide personal care rather than surrogate care;

     (d) in accordance with Subsection (10), the past conduct and demonstrated moral character of the parent;

     (e) the emotional stability of the parent;

     (f) the parent’s inability to function as a parent because of drug abuse, excessive drinking, or other causes;

     (g) whether the parent has intentionally exposed the child to pornography or material harmful to minors, as “material” and “harmful to minors” are defined in Section 76-10-1201;

     (h) the parent’s reasons for having relinquished custody or parent-time in the past;

     (i) duration and depth of desire for custody or parent-time;

     (j) the parent’s religious compatibility with the child;

     (k) the parent’s financial responsibility;

     (l) the child’s interaction and relationship with step-parents, extended family members of other individuals who may significantly affect the child’s best interests;

     (m) who has been the primary caretaker of the child;

     (n) previous parenting arrangements in which the child has been happy and well-adjusted in the home, school, and community;

     (o) the relative benefit of keeping siblings together;

     (p) the stated wishes and concerns of the child, taking into consideration the child’s cognitive ability and emotional maturity;

     (q) the relative strength of the child’s bond with the parent, meaning the depth, quality, and nature of the relationship between the parent and the child; and

     (r) any other factor the court finds relevant.

(3) There is a rebuttable presumption that joint legal custody, as defined in Section 30-3-10.1, is in the best interest of the child, except in cases when there is:

     (a) evidence of domestic violence, neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse involving the child, a parent, or a household member of the parent;

     (b) special physical or mental needs of a parent or child, making joint legal custody unreasonable;

     (c) physical distance between the residences of the parents, making joint decision making impractical in certain circumstances; or

     (d) any other factor the court considers relevant including those listed in this section and Section 30-3-10.2.

*****

(6)

     (a) Except as provided in Subsection (6)(b), a court may not discriminate against a parent due to a disability, as defined in Section 57-21-2, in awarding custody or determining whether a substantial change has occurred for the purpose of modifying an award of custody.

     (b) The court may not consider the disability of a parent as a factor in awarding custody or modifying an award of custody based on a determination of a substantial change in circumstances, unless the court makes specific findings that:

         (i) the disability significantly or substantially inhibits the parent’s ability to provide for the physical and emotional needs of the child at issue; and

         (ii) the parent with a disability lacks sufficient human, monetary, or other resources available to supplement the parent’s ability to provide for the physical and emotional needs of the child at issue.

*****

(7) This section does not establish a preference for either parent solely because of the gender of the parent.

(8) This section establishes neither a preference nor a presumption for or against joint physical custody or sole physical custody, but allows the court and the family the widest discretion to choose a parenting plan that is in the best interest of the child.

*****

(10) In considering the past conduct and demonstrated moral standards of each party under Subsection (2)(d) or any other factor a court finds relevant, the court may not:

     (a) consider or treat a parent’s lawful possession or use of cannabis in a medicinal dosage form, a cannabis product in a medicinal dosage form, or a medical cannabis device, in accordance with Title 4, Chapter 41a, Cannabis Production Establishments and PharmaciesTitle 26B, Chapter 4, Part 2, Cannabinoid Research and Medical Cannabis, or Subsection 58-37-3.7(2) or (3) any differently than the court would consider or treat the lawful possession or use of any prescribed controlled substance; or

     (b) discriminate against a parent because of the parent’s status as a:

         (i) cannabis production establishment agent, as that term is defined in Section 4-41a-102;

         (ii) medical cannabis pharmacy agent, as that term is defined in Section 26B-4-201;

         (iii) medical cannabis courier agent, as that term is defined in Section 26B-4-201; or

         (iv) medical cannabis cardholder in accordance with Title 26B, Chapter 4, Part 2, Cannabinoid Research and Medical Cannabis.

Just how does a court consider the child custody factors? The recent case of Lamb v. Lamb (2024 UT App 16) provides a concise explanation:

¶26 Section 30-3-10 states that in “determining any form of custody and parent-time . . . , the court shall consider the best interest of the child and may consider . . . other factors the court finds relevant,” including factors for each parent articulated in the code. Utah Code § 30-3-10(2) (emphasis added). These factors a court may consider are “not on equal footing.” Hudema v. Carpenter, 1999 UT App 290, ¶ 26, 989 P.2d 491. Instead, “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. (emphasis added). “And where significant evidence concerning a particular factor is presented to the district court, findings that omit all discussion of that evidence must be deemed inadequate.” Twitchell v. Twitchell, 2022 UT App 49, ¶ 21, 509 P.3d 806. Thus, to “ensure that the trial court’s custody determination, discretionary as it is, is rationally based, it is essential that the court set forth in its findings of fact not only that it finds one parent to be the better person to care for the child, but also the basic facts which show why that ultimate conclusion is justified.” Id. ¶ 24 (cleaned up).

But note that § 30-3-10 does not constitute the only list of factors the court can consider in making its child custody and parent-time award decisions.

Equal physical custody factors

30-3-35.2.  Equal parent-time schedule.

(1) (a) A court may order the equal parent-time schedule described in this section if the court determines that:

         (i) the equal parent-time schedule is in the child’s best interest;

         (ii) each parent has been actively involved in the child’s life; and

         (iii) each parent can effectively facilitate the equal parent-time schedule.

     (b) To determine whether each parent has been actively involved in the child’s life, the court shall consider:

         (i) each parent’s demonstrated responsibility in caring for the child;

         (ii) each parent’s involvement in child care;

         (iii) each parent’s presence or volunteer efforts in the child’s school and at extracurricular activities;

         (iv) each parent’s assistance with the child’s homework;

         (v) each parent’s involvement in preparation of meals, bath time, and bedtime for the child;

         (vi) each parent’s bond with the child; and

         (vii) any other factor the court considers relevant.

     (c) To determine whether each parent can effectively facilitate the equal parent-time schedule, the court shall consider:

         (i) the geographic distance between the residence of each parent and the distance between each residence and the child’s school;

         (ii) each parent’s ability to assist with the child’s after school care;

         (iii) the health of the child and each parent, consistent with Subsection 30-3-10(6);

         (iv) the flexibility of each parent’s employment or other schedule;

         (v) each parent’s ability to provide appropriate playtime with the child;

         (vi) each parent’s history and ability to implement a flexible schedule for the child;

         (vii) physical facilities of each parent’s residence; and

         (viii) any other factor the court considers relevant.

(2) (a) If the parties agree to or the court orders the equal parent-time schedule described in this section, a parenting plan in accordance with Sections 30-3-10.7 through 30-3-10.10 shall be filed with an order incorporating the equal parent-time schedule.

     (b) An order under this section shall result in 182 overnights per year for one parent, and 183 overnights per year for the other parent.

     (c) Under the equal parent-time schedule, neither parent is considered to have the child the majority of the time for the purposes of Subsection 30-3-10.3(4) or 30-3-10.9(5)(c)(ii).

     (d) Child support for the equal parent-time schedule shall be consistent with Section 78B-12-208.

     (e) (i) A court shall determine which parent receives 182 overnights and which parent receives 183 overnights for parent-time.

         (ii) For the purpose of calculating child support under Section 78B-12-208, the amount of time to be spent with the parent who has the lower gross monthly income is considered 183 overnights, regardless of whether the parent receives 182 overnights or 183 overnights under Subsection (2)(e)(i).

(3) (a) Unless the parents agree otherwise and subject to a holiday, the equal parent-time schedule is as follows:

         (i) one parent shall exercise parent-time starting Monday morning and ending Wednesday morning;

         (ii) the other parent shall exercise parent-time starting Wednesday morning and ending Friday morning; and

         (iii) each parent shall alternate weeks exercising parent-time starting Friday morning and ending Monday morning.

     (b) The child exchange shall take place:

         (i) at the time the child’s school begins; or

         (ii) if school is not in session, at 9 a.m.

(4) (a) The parents may create a holiday schedule.

     (b) If the parents are unable to create a holiday schedule under Subsection (4)(a), the court shall:

         (i) order the holiday schedule described in Section 30-3-35; and

         (ii) designate which parent shall exercise parent-time for each holiday described in Section 30-3-35.

(5) (a) Each year, a parent may designate two consecutive weeks to exercise uninterrupted parent-time during the summer when school is not in session.

     (b) (i) One parent may make a designation at any time and the other parent may make a designation after May 1.

         (ii) A parent shall make a designation at least 30 days before the day on which the designated two-week period begins.

     (c) The court shall designate which parent may make the earlier designation described in Subsection (5)(b)(i) for an even numbered year with the other parent allowed to make the earlier designation in an odd numbered year.

     (d) The two consecutive weeks described in Subsection (5)(a) take precedence over all holidays except for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

Parent-time factors

30-3-32.  Parent-time — Definitions — Considerations for parent-time — Relocation.

(1) As used in Sections 30-3-32 through 30-3-37:

     (a) “Child” means the child of divorcing, separating, or adjudicated parents.

     (b) “Supervised parent-time” means parent-time that requires the noncustodial parent to be accompanied during parent-time by an individual approved by the court.

     (c) “Surrogate care” means care by any individual other than the parent of the child.

     (d) “Uninterrupted time” means parent-time exercised by one parent without interruption at any time by the presence of the other parent.

     (e) “Virtual parent-time” means parent-time facilitated by tools such as telephone, email, instant messaging, video conferencing, and other wired or wireless technologies over the Internet or other communication media, to supplement in-person visits between a noncustodial parent and a child or between a child and the custodial parent when the child is staying with the noncustodial parent.

(2) (a) A court shall consider as primary the safety and well-being of the child and the parent who experiences domestic or family violence.

     (b) Absent a showing by a preponderance of evidence of real harm or substantiated potential harm to the child:

         (i) it is in the best interests of the child of divorcing, divorced, or adjudicated parents to have frequent, meaningful, and continuing access to each parent following separation or divorce;

         (ii) each divorcing, separating, or adjudicated parent is entitled to and responsible for frequent, meaningful, and continuing access with the parent’s child consistent with the child’s best interests; and

         (iii) it is in the best interests of the child to have both parents actively involved in parenting the child.

(3) An order issued by a court pursuant to Title 78B, Chapter 7, Part 6, Cohabitant Abuse Protective Orders, shall be considered evidence of real harm or substantiated potential harm to the child.

(4) If a parent relocates because of an act of domestic violence or family violence by the other parent, the court shall make specific findings and orders with regards to the application of Section 30-3-37.

30-3-33.  Advisory guidelines.

In addition to the parent-time schedules provided in Sections 30-3-35 and 30-3-35.5, the following advisory guidelines are suggested to govern all parent-time arrangements between parents.

(1) Parent-time schedules mutually agreed upon by both parents are preferable to a court-imposed solution.

(2) The parent-time schedule shall be used to maximize the continuity and stability of the child’s life.

(3) Special consideration shall be given by each parent to make the child available to attend family functions including funerals, weddings, family reunions, religious holidays, important ceremonies, and other significant events in the life of the child or in the life of either parent which may inadvertently conflict with the parent-time schedule.

(4) The responsibility for the pick up, delivery, and return of the child shall be determined by the court when the parent-time order is entered, and may be changed at any time a subsequent modification is made to the parent-time order.

(5) If the noncustodial parent will be providing transportation, the custodial parent shall have the child ready for parent-time at the time the child is to be picked up and shall be present at the custodial home or shall make reasonable alternate arrangements to receive the child at the time the child is returned.

(6) If the custodial parent will be transporting the child, the noncustodial parent shall be at the appointed place at the time the noncustodial parent is to receive the child, and have the child ready to be picked up at the appointed time and place, or have made reasonable alternate arrangements for the custodial parent to pick up the child.

(7) Regular school hours may not be interrupted for a school-age child for the exercise of parent-time by either parent.

(8) The court may make alterations in the parent-time schedule to reasonably accommodate the work schedule of both parents and may increase the parent-time allowed to the noncustodial parent but may not diminish the standardized parent-time provided in Sections 30-3-35 and 30-3-35.5.

(9) The court may make alterations in the parent-time schedule to reasonably accommodate the distance between the parties and the expense of exercising parent-time.

(10) Neither parent-time nor child support is to be withheld due to either parent’s failure to comply with a court-ordered parent-time schedule.

(11) The custodial parent shall notify the noncustodial parent within 24 hours of receiving notice of all significant school, social, sports, and community functions in which the child is participating or being honored, and the noncustodial parent shall be entitled to attend and participate fully.

(12) The noncustodial parent shall have access directly to all school reports including preschool and daycare reports and medical records and shall be notified immediately by the custodial parent in the event of a medical emergency.

(13) Each parent shall provide the other with the parent’s current address and telephone number, email address, and other virtual parent-time access information within 24 hours of any change.

(14) Each parent shall permit and encourage, during reasonable hours, reasonable and uncensored communications with the child, in the form of mail privileges and virtual parent-time if the equipment is reasonably available, provided that if the parties cannot agree on whether the equipment is reasonably available, the court shall decide whether the equipment for virtual parent-time is reasonably available, taking into consideration:

     (a) the best interests of the child;

     (b) each parent’s ability to handle any additional expenses for virtual parent-time; and

     (c) any other factors the court considers material.

(15) Parental care shall be presumed to be better care for the child than surrogate care and the court shall encourage the parties to cooperate in allowing the noncustodial parent, if willing and able to transport the children, to provide the child care. Child care arrangements existing during the marriage are preferred as are child care arrangements with nominal or no charge.

(16) Each parent shall provide all surrogate care providers with the name, current address, and telephone number of the other parent and shall provide the noncustodial parent with the name, current address, and telephone number of all surrogate care providers unless the court for good cause orders otherwise.

(17) Each parent shall be entitled to an equal division of major religious holidays celebrated by the parents, and the parent who celebrates a religious holiday that the other parent does not celebrate shall have the right to be together with the child on the religious holiday.

(18) If the child is on a different parent-time schedule than a sibling, based on Sections 30-3-35 and 30-3-35.5, the parents should consider if an upward deviation for parent-time with all the minor children so that parent-time is uniform between school aged and non-school aged children, is appropriate.

(19) When one or both parents are servicemembers or contemplating joining a uniformed service, the parents should resolve issues of custodial responsibility in the event of deployment as soon as practicable through reaching a voluntary agreement pursuant to Section 78B-20-201 or through court order obtained pursuant to Section 30-3-10. Servicemembers shall ensure their family care plan reflects orders and agreements entered and filed pursuant to Title 78B, Chapter 20, Uniform Deployed Parents Custody, Parent-time, and Visitation Act.

30-3-34.  Parent-time — Best interests — Rebuttable presumption.

(1) If the parties are unable to agree on a parent-time schedule, the court may:

     (a) establish a parent-time schedule; or

     (b) order a parent-time schedule described in Section 30-3-3530-3-35.130-3-35.2, or 30-3-35.5.

(2) The advisory guidelines as provided in Section 30-3-33 and the parent-time schedule as provided in Sections 30-3-35 and 30-3-35.5 shall be considered the minimum parent-time to which the noncustodial parent and the child shall be entitled.

(3) A court may consider the following when ordering a parent-time schedule:

     (a) whether parent-time would endanger the child’s physical health or mental health, or significantly impair the child’s emotional development;

     (b) evidence of domestic violence, neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse, involving the child, a parent, or a household member of the parent;

     (c) the distance between the residency of the child and the noncustodial parent;

     (d) a credible allegation of child abuse has been made;

     (e) the lack of demonstrated parenting skills without safeguards to ensure the child’s well-being during parent-time;

     (f) the financial inability of the noncustodial parent to provide adequate food and shelter for the child during periods of parent-time;

     (g) the preference of the child if the court determines the child is of sufficient maturity;

     (h) the incarceration of the noncustodial parent in a county jail, secure youth corrections facility, or an adult corrections facility;

     (i) shared interests between the child and the noncustodial parent;

     (j) the involvement or lack of involvement of the noncustodial parent in the school, community, religious, or other related activities of the child;

     (k) the availability of the noncustodial parent to care for the child when the custodial parent is unavailable to do so because of work or other circumstances;

     (l) a substantial and chronic pattern of missing, canceling, or denying regularly scheduled parent-time;

     (m) the minimal duration of and lack of significant bonding in the parents’ relationship before the conception of the child;

     (n) the parent-time schedule of siblings;

     (o) the lack of reasonable alternatives to the needs of a nursing child; and

     (p) any other criteria the court determines relevant to the best interests of the child.

(4) The court shall enter the reasons underlying the court’s order for parent-time that:

     (a) incorporates a parent-time schedule provided in Section 30-3-35 or 30-3-35.5; or

     (b) provides more or less parent-time than a parent-time schedule provided in Section 30-3-35 or 30-3-35.5.

(5) A court may not order a parent-time schedule unless the court determines by a preponderance of the evidence that the parent-time schedule is in the best interest of the child.

(6) Once the parent-time schedule has been established, the parties may not alter the schedule except by mutual consent of the parties or a court order.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

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Lamb v. Lamb, 2024 UT App 16 – divorce, custody, business, home equity

2024 UT App 16

THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

JOSEPH EARL LAMB,

Appellee,

v.

SONYA ELIZABETH LAMB,

Appellant.

Opinion

No. 20210787-CA

Filed February 8, 2024

Third District Court, Salt Lake Department

The Honorable Robert P. Faust

No. 174904728

Mary Deiss Brown, Attorney for Appellant

Gregory G. Skordas, Gabriela Mena, and Allison R.

Librett, Attorneys for Appellee

JUDGE DAVID N. MORTENSEN authored this Opinion, in which

JUDGES RYAN M. HARRIS and AMY J. OLIVER concurred.

MORTENSEN, Judge:

¶1 Joseph Earl and Sonya Elizabeth Lamb’s divorce was decided at a bench trial.[1] As relevant here, Joseph was awarded custody of their children, ownership of a family business, and half the equity of the marital home. Sonya now challenges the court’s custody determination and the award of the business. She also challenges the manner in which the court determined the equity in the marital home. We affirm the district court’s rulings in all aspects.

BACKGROUND[2]

¶2        Joseph and Sonya married in 2007 and separated in July 2017. We address separately each of the district court’s determinations with which Sonya takes issue.

The Custody of the Children

¶3        Joseph and Sonya have three children, all of whom were minors when they divorced in August 2021. In November 2017, at a hearing for temporary orders, Sonya’s counsel told the court that Sonya had been the children’s primary caregiver “until recently.” Sonya also admitted that she was arrested in July 2017 and was facing charges for possession and use of drugs, but she asserted that she had “taken responsibility,” had “stopped using drugs,” was “sober and more than capable of caring for the children and continuing on as their primary caregiver,” and had “been attending Narcotics Anonymous and Al-Anon meetings.” Sonya asserted that Joseph had a “serious drug addiction problem.” Joseph claimed that Sonya had vacated the marital home shortly before her arrest, and he revealed that he obtained a protective order against her. The court acknowledged the allegations both sides made against the other but noted that Joseph currently had the children in his care and was living in the marital home. The court then determined that Joseph should maintain “custody of the children on a temporary basis.”

¶4        Apparently, the children remained in the temporary custody of Joseph until the parties’ divorce trial, where the court received the testimony of a “reunification therapist” (Family Therapist), who had been hired by the parties after the custody evaluator had been “unable to perform an evaluation due to the children spending less than minimum time” with Sonya.

¶5        Based on the testimony of Family Therapist, which we recount when relevant in our analysis below, the court found that “unification” between Sonya and the two older children was “lacking” because of acrimonious relationships. The court noted that Family Therapist had testified that progress in reunification therapy would “influence what possible custody” Sonya might have in the future relative to the older children. The court determined that it was “in the best interest of the children that reunification therapy” continue to allow Sonya the opportunity “to reunify her relationship with the children.”

¶6        Accordingly, the court found that it was in the children’s best interest that Joseph be “awarded sole physical custody and final decision making authority,” with both parties being awarded joint legal custody. With regard to the youngest child, the court awarded supervised parent-time to Sonya one night a week. The court awarded Sonya no parent-time with the older two children. The court noted that supervised parent-time for Sonya would “be flexible” and might “increase after the current reunification issues” and Sonya’s “medical issues” were addressed. The court also stated that Sonya’s “non-use of cannabis” needed to be verified because marijuana use was “a contributing factor” that brought on her mental health episodes.

The Business

¶7        During their union, the parties were financially supported, at least in part, by a business that distributed supplies to gas stations. During the divorce proceedings, Joseph maintained that he was in the process of purchasing the business from his father but that he did not have the money to pay for it. Joseph explained that he drew a salary for his work with the business. In contrast, Sonya maintained that she and Joseph agreed to buy the business in 2010 and that they completed paying off the business in 2016. Sonya claimed that she and Joseph signed a document “to take over the business” but that she did “not have the document.” Sonya did produce a different document that explicitly stated the business was being sold only to Joseph.

¶8        The district court awarded the business to Joseph, along with all its debts and obligations. In addition, the court, apparently recognizing that the business was possibly still owned by Joseph’s father, ordered that any money Joseph borrowed against the marital home to purchase the business would “not be used to reduce the total equity in the home” so as to reduce Sonya’s share of the home’s value. In making this award to Joseph, the court was clear that it was basing its decision “on the testimony” provided by Joseph.

The Marital Home

¶9        Based on a Zillow estimate[3] provided by Sonya, the court determined the value of the marital home to be $998,659, but the equity in the home was reduced by mortgages and liens on the property. Joseph testified that three mortgages, totaling $402,000, were on the property.[4] And the home was additionally encumbered by eleven liens. Two of these liens, totaling $2,414, were attributed to Sonya and Joseph. The remaining nine, totaling $256,521, were tax liens and civil judgments incurred by the previous owner of the home.[5]

¶10      The court received evidence that when Joseph and Sonya purchased the home in November 2009, it was subject to some existing debt. Joseph testified as follows:

Counsel: “Was there anything particular about that purchase [of the home]?”

Joseph: “We didn’t have the credit or the means to get into a home at the time, so my brother is a real estate agent and he’s good friends with [the previous owner] and said, ‘Hey, this house is available. If you like it, I can probably get you into it.’ And so we took him up on that and (inaudible) that we had to take on (inaudible).”

Counsel: “So there were other debts on that house when you purchased it?”

Joseph: “Yes        I didn’t know about all of them at the time, but yes.”

Counsel: “What are those debts?”

Joseph: “There’s a lot of tax liens from [the previous owner] throughout the years. There’s a couple of (inaudible) from Sonya and I, medical bills that weren’t paid. . . .”

Counsel: “And have you paid off the tax liens? The liens on the house?”

Joseph: “No.”

Thus, in a somewhat unusual arrangement, the parties appear to have purchased the home subject to certain liabilities, even if they did not know the precise extent of those liabilities. Presumably, these liabilities would have been offset by a reduction in the purchase price, making the home more affordable.

¶11      Adding the mortgages and liens together for an amount of $660,935, the court determined that equity in the home was $337,724. The court ordered Joseph to pay Sonya $168,862 as her share of that equity.

¶12      Sonya appeals.

ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

¶13 Sonya identifies multiple ways in which she believes the district court erred. But “[f]or the sake of brevity,” we “consolidate these grounds” and “set out in the opinion only so much . . . as we deem necessary to a decision of the questions involved herein.” Patterick v. Carbon Water Conservancy Dist., 145 P.2d 503, 505 (Utah 1944), overruled on other grounds by Timpanogos Plan. & Water Mgmt. Agency v. Central Utah Water Conservancy Dist., 690 P.2d 562 (Utah 1984).

¶14      Sonya first contends that the district court abused its discretion in making custody and parent-time decisions because it lacked sufficient information to make those decisions. “We review custody determinations deferentially, and so long as the district court’s discretion is exercised 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.” Kingston v. Kingston, 2022 UT 43, ¶ 20, 532 P.3d 958 (cleaned up).

¶15      Sonya next contends that the district court’s findings were “entirely inadequate to explain” its reasoning for awarding ownership of the business to Joseph. “We review the legal sufficiency of factual findings—that is, whether the trial court’s factual findings are sufficient to support its legal conclusions— under a correction-of-error standard, according no particular deference to the trial court.” Brown v. Babbitt, 2015 UT App 161, ¶ 5, 353 P.3d 1262 (cleaned up).

¶16      Lastly, Sonya argues that the district court’s “procedures and decisions regarding the division of equity in the marital home were illogical and manifestly unjust.” “Determining and assigning values to marital property is a matter for the trial court, and an appellate court will not disturb those determinations absent a showing of clear abuse of discretion.” Mintz v. Mintz, 2023 UT App 17, ¶ 12, 525 P.3d 534 (cleaned up), cert. denied, 531 P.3d 730 (Utah 2023).

ANALYSIS

  1. A Note on Briefing

¶17      Sonya’s briefing is plagued by significant deficiencies and does not comply with the Utah Rules of Appellate Procedure for appropriate briefing. First, excluding the cases cited for the standards of review, Sonya cites only a single case in her opening brief, and she does so in a perfunctory fashion—making only a shallow attempt to explain its relevance to the issues. Sonya continues this trend in her reply brief, where she cites no cases at all. In this regard, she falls far short of appellate expectations. “A party may not simply point toward a pile of sand and expect the court to build a castle. In both district and appellate courts, the development of an argument is a party’s responsibility, not a judicial duty.” Salt Lake City v. Kidd, 2019 UT 4, ¶ 35, 435 P.3d 248; see also Utah R. App. P. 24(a)(8) (“The argument must explain, with reasoned analysis supported by citations to legal authority and the record, why the party should prevail on appeal.”); id. R. 24(b)(3).

¶18      Second, in her statement of the case, Sonya fails to include a single citation to the record. This is in contravention of our clearly stated rule. See Utah R. App. P. 24(a)(6) (“The statement of the case must include, with citations to the record: (A) the facts of the case, to the extent necessary to understand the issues presented for review; (B) the procedural history of the case, to the extent necessary to understand the issues presented for review; and (C) the disposition in the court or agency whose judgment or order is under review.” (emphasis added)). We note that Sonya somewhat more adequately cites the record in the argument section of her brief, but that is not what the Utah Rules of Appellate Procedure require, and by ignoring the rules to suit her briefing preferences, she does little to bolster judicial efficiency.[6]

¶19      We point out these deficiencies not to ridicule, disparage, or shame counsel, but to provide warning that future briefing of this nature will likely be deemed inadequate and that any arguments on the merits may not be substantively considered by this court. This court receives hundreds of briefs each year. They vary in quality and in their adherence to the rules. We recognize that members of the bar have a lot on their plates and occasionally miss a typo or overlook a citation. But wholesale disregard of briefing rules is quite beyond the pale and can have unwelcome consequences for attorneys (and their clients) who choose this risky path. See Ostler v. Department of Public Safety, 2022 UT App 6, ¶ 27, 505 P.3d 1119 (“We . . . retain discretion to not address an argument that is inadequately briefed.” (cleaned up)); accord State v. Schwenke, 2007 UT App 354U, para. 2; State v. Garner, 2002 UT App 234, ¶¶ 8–13, 52 P.3d 467. And we hasten to point out that the risk of ignoring briefing requirements should come as no surprise to any attorney in Utah owing to our multiple references to the issue over the years. See Trees v. Lewis, 738 P.2d 612, 612–13 (Utah 1987) (stating that the merits of a dispute need not be reached if an appellant “has not supported the facts set forth in [a] brief with citations to the record” as required by rule 24(a)(6) of the Utah Rules of Appellate Procedure); State v. Price, 827 P.2d 247, 249 (Utah Ct. App. 1992) (“We have routinely refused to consider arguments which do not include a statement of the facts properly supported by citations to the record.”); Koulis v. Standard Oil Co. of Cal., 746 P.2d 1182, 1184 (Utah Ct. App. 1987) (“If a party fails to make a concise statement of the facts and citation of the pages in the record where those facts are supported, the court will assume the correctness of the judgment below.”). That we have exercised our discretion to address the merits of the issues on appeal here should not be taken as an imprimatur sanctioning inadequate briefing but as a conduit to raise awareness of the risk of ignoring the rules.

¶20 We take this occasion to recall the advice offered by our supreme court several decades ago:

If the questions involved in a case are of sufficient importance to justify asking this court to decide them, they are worthy of the careful consideration of counsel presenting them. It is the duty of attorneys practicing in this court to present to the court the authorities supporting their views and to assist the court in reaching a correct conclusion.

State v. Thomas, 1999 UT 2, ¶ 13, 974 P.2d 269 (cleaned up). With that, we remind counsel of their responsibility to assist the judiciary in advancing jurisprudence through diligent advocacy, adherence to our rules, and competent representation.

  1. Custody and Parent-Time
  2. Disclosure

¶21      Sonya argues that the district court erred in admitting Family Therapist’s testimony when Joseph had not timely disclosed him as an expert witness pursuant to rule 26 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure, which requires disclosure “within 14 days after the close of fact discovery.” Utah R. Civ. P. 26(4)(C)(i). Sonya’s briefing on this point leaves much to be desired. She entirely ignores what happened at trial, instead substituting her own retrospective take on what she believes should have happened without attempting to explain why her timeliness argument should now be considered. Providing some persuasive caselaw—which may or may not exist—would have gone far to support her argument. But like the rest of her briefing, this part is inadequate.

¶22      A review of the record shows that Sonya did not object to Family Therapist’s testimony on the grounds of untimely disclosure. Instead, Sonya argued that Family Therapist had “far exceeded any kind of mandate,” that he had not signed confidentiality waivers, and that allowing his testimony created patient privacy and ethical violations. In her objection at trial, rule 26 was mentioned only in passing and not in a way that would suggest she was objecting on timeliness grounds. It certainly would not have been clear to opposing counsel that a rule 26 timeliness issue was being raised such that he would have known to argue a harmlessness or good-cause defense for the failure to disclose, which would have been an easy argument to make given that both Joseph and Sonya had jointly retained Family Therapist and Sonya knew about Family Therapist several years before trial. And it would not have been clear to the district court that it was being asked to rule on a timeliness-based objection. For these reasons, Sonya did not preserve any such objection for appellate review. See State v. Centeno, 2023 UT 22, ¶ 57, 537 P.3d 232 (“It is well established that we will not address the merits of an unpreserved issue absent a showing that an exception to the preservation rule applies.”).

  1. Hearsay

¶23 Sonya additionally argues that Family Therapist’s testimony, insofar as he testified as a fact witness, “was inadmissible hearsay and based entirely on his conversations with the parties and their children as their reunification therapist.” Sonya’s hearsay argument is difficult to follow and poorly briefed. Instead of analysis in support of her hearsay argument, she provides scant and unsupported assertions.

¶24      Sonya objected below to Family Therapist’s testimony on the grounds that it was hearsay. But the court ruled that it was not hearsay, concluding that Family Therapist’s testimony was not offered “for the truth of the matter asserted.” Rather, the court ruled that the “focus of [the] questioning” was, first, to allow the court “to find out how [the children were] doing, if they’re capable of going forward” and, second, to identify the present “obstacles” to “structuring visitation with [Sonya].” On appeal, Sonya makes no attempt to engage with the court’s reasoning, instead limiting her analysis to a blanket assertion that “it [was] evident” Family Therapist was “allowed to testify as an expert, offering hearsay, opinions and recommendations in [a] manner that simply is not permitted by the Rules of Civil Procedure.” Such superficial and undeveloped argument is simply not persuasive, most especially because it does not address the alleged error in the court’s reasoning. It is well settled that appellants who fail to “address the district court’s reasoning” also fail to carry their “burden of persuasion on appeal.” See Federated Cap. Corp. v. Shaw, 2018 UT App 120, ¶ 20, 428 P.3d 12; see also Spencer v. Spencer, 2023 UT App 1, ¶ 27, 524 P.3d 165; Bad Ass Coffee Co. of Haw. v. Royal Aloha Int’l LLC, 2020 UT App 122, ¶ 48, 473 P.3d 624.

  1. Custody Factors

¶25 Sonya next argues that the court did not address the custody factors outlined in section 30-3-10 of the Utah Code, making its custody findings insufficient. More specifically, Sonya argues that the court’s factual findings were deficient due to the court’s reliance on the testimony of Family Therapist in making those findings.

¶26 Section 30-3-10 states that in “determining any form of custody and parent-time . . . , the court shall consider the best interest of the child and may consider . . . other factors the court finds relevant,” including factors for each parent articulated in the code. Utah Code § 30-3-10(2) (emphasis added). These factors a court may consider are “not on equal footing.” Hudema v. Carpenter, 1999 UT App 290, ¶ 26, 989 P.2d 491. Instead, “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. (emphasis added). “And where significant evidence concerning a particular factor is presented to the district court, findings that omit all discussion of that evidence must be deemed inadequate.” Twitchell v. Twitchell, 2022 UT App 49, ¶ 21, 509 P.3d 806. Thus, to “ensure that the trial court’s custody determination, discretionary as it is, is rationally based, it is essential that the court set forth in its findings of fact not only that it finds one parent to be the better person to care for the child, but also the basic facts which show why that ultimate conclusion is justified.” Id. ¶ 24 (cleaned up).

¶27      Here, the factors about which the court received significant evidence concerned Sonya’s ability to function as a parent, which the court received as testimony from Family Therapist. As we have explained above, Sonya’s challenges to the admissibility of Family Therapist’s testimony fail, and we accordingly conclude that the district court acted well within its discretion in relying on his testimony.

¶28      Regarding Sonya’s ability to parent the two older children, Family Therapist testified that they were “very angry” with Sonya and “announced that they would never see or talk to her again.” Their anger was due to their religious sensibilities and Sonya’s announcement that she was pregnant by a man other than their father during the pendency of the divorce.

¶29      With regard to Sonya’s parenting, Family Therapist stated that the youngest child was very frightened after “his last visit with [Sonya] when she was struggling psychiatrically.” Moreover, Family Therapist also testified the youngest child was beginning to see himself as Sonya’s “partner,” resulting in the child “becoming parentified.”[7]

¶30 Family Therapist further indicated that while he was unaware of Sonya’s “current condition or functioning,” Sonya had been “hospitalized and diagnosed with some issues.” He asserted that “safety” needed to be addressed, meaning that Sonya required a psychiatric evaluation to demonstrate that her “situation” was “under control.” He also indicated that Sonya needed to work on “being forthright with medications.” Sonya, by her own admission, had “suffered an isolated manic episode” related to bipolar disorder and “called the police for assistance” because she was suffering from “visual and auditory hallucinations.”

¶31    Sonya’s briefing on this point misses the mark because it entirely relies on the assumption that Family Therapist’s testimony was inadmissible, an assumption we conclude is without foundation. See supra ¶¶ 21–24. She does not explain why, in light of Family Therapist’s admissible testimony, the court’s consideration of the statutory custody factors was insufficient. Sonya’s briefing makes no attempt to explain why the court is not allowed to rely on the evidence it receives when making custody decisions.

¶32 Moreover, Sonya does not identify any “significant evidence,” see Twitchell, 2022 UT App 49, ¶ 21, as to the other factors in section 30-3-10 that the court received but left unaddressed. Instead, her briefing advances an argument that is entirely conclusory and unsupported by record citation or legal authority:

Although § 30-3-10 gives broad discretion to the court as to the relevance and appropriate weight to give each factor, the district court in this case simply did not have any information that would allow it to make findings as to most of the statutory factors. For instance, the district court did not know who the primary caretaker of the children during the marriage was. The district court did not know anything about the marriage. The district court would not permit any testimony relevant to Joseph’s moral character or his history of drug abuse and sexual proclivities. The Court would not allow any testimony as to Joseph’s inability and unwillingness to co-parent with Sonya. At the end of the day, the Court simply sidestepped its responsibility as an independent factfinder and deferred to [Family Therapist].

This might be a good argument if Sonya had supported it with citations to the record and to legal authority. As this argument stands before us, we are unable to verify what it asserts. But we suspect that Sonya might be indulging in hyperbole here. Indeed, Sonya’s assertion that “the district court did not know anything about the marriage” is patently false. Our review of the record indicates that the court, in fact, knew quite a bit about the marriage, such as its financial situation, issues related to the children, and the problems that led to its demise, to name just a few topics within its familiarity. And with regard to Joseph’s alleged use of illegal drugs, we found only one instance (subsequently echoed by Sonya’s attorney) in the record where Sonya asserted before the district court that Joseph had a “cocaine habit.” But the district court was free to “disregard such testimony if it [found] the evidence self-serving and not credible,” since the factfinder “is in the best position to judge the credibility of witnesses.” See Clark v. Clark, 2023 UT App 111, ¶ 37, 537 P.3d 633 (cleaned up). An isolated allegation made in passing certainly does not amount to “significant evidence,” see Twitchell, 2022 UT App 49, ¶ 21, especially given the district court’s role as the factfinder to judge the credibility of witnesses, see Ouk v. Ouk, 2015 UT App 104, ¶ 14, 348 P.3d 751. And as to the other statutory custody factors that Sonya asserts the court left unaddressed, she has not pointed us to any significant evidence that the court received with respect to those factors.

¶33      Thus, unlike the situation in Twitchell, where we concluded “that the district court exceeded its discretion by failing to include in its findings any discussion of the evidence relating to the abuse allegations against [the mother], her alleged neglect of [the child,] and her moral character, as well as the effect that evidence had on its best-interest analysis,” see 2022 UT 49, ¶¶ 22–23, 25, here there simply wasn’t significant evidence presented regarding section 30-3-10’s other custody factors. This lack of evidence—insofar as there was a lack—was not the court’s fault; it was Sonya’s fault for not presenting it. After all, a court cannot be faulted for failing to consider evidence that was not presented to it. In contrast, given the substantial evidence the court did receive about the serious mental health issues Sonya faced, we conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in its consideration of the statutory factors when determining that awarding physical custody to Joseph was in the best interest of the children.

¶34 In sum, Sonya has failed to show that the district court abused its discretion in accepting and relying on the testimony of Family Therapist in making custody determinations or that the district court did not properly address the statutory factors in determining custody of the children.

III. Ownership of the Business

¶35      Both parties agree that the district court concluded that the business was not a joint marital asset. The district court awarded the business to Joseph “[b]ased on [Joseph’s] testimony.” Along with awarding the business to Joseph, the court stated that Joseph was “responsible for payment of the purchase price of the business.”

¶36      Sonya’s briefing on this point is challenging because it consists largely of recounting financial matters pertaining to the marriage but unrelated to the ownership of the business. She then asserts, with no discernible effort to explain why, that the “findings/conclusions were entirely inadequate to explain the Court’s reasoning for giving ownership” of the business to Joseph. Her argument is difficult to follow, but its essence, insofar as we can tell, appears to be that the court erred in believing Joseph’s testimony over hers.

¶37 We disagree with Sonya that the court erred in crediting Joseph’s testimony regarding the ownership of the business over Sonya’s. Again, the court stated in its factual findings that its award of the business to Joseph was “[b]ased on [his] testimony.” In making this credibility determination, the court acted well within its discretion. “[W]here there exists evidence sufficient to support a court’s rulings regarding a divorcing couple’s finances, that ruling will be upheld on appeal, even if evidence was presented that might have cut the other way.” Clarke v. Clarke, 2023 UT App 160, ¶ 27. This is because “the fact-finder is in the best position to judge the credibility of witnesses and is free to disbelieve their testimony. Even where testimony is uncontroverted, a trial court is free to disregard such testimony if it finds the evidence self-serving and not credible.” Ouk v. Ouk, 2015 UT App 104, ¶ 14, 348 P.3d 751 (cleaned up); see also Kimball v. Kimball, 2009 UT App 233, ¶ 20 n.5, 217 P.3d 733 (“[I]t is the trial court’s singularly important mission to consider and weigh all the conflicting evidence and find the facts.”).

¶38      Here, the district court was in the best position to judge the credibility of the parties. It clearly found Joseph’s testimony regarding the ownership of the business to be more credible. Sonya has provided no reasoned argument—apart from her assertion that she disagrees with it—as to why the district court’s conclusion that the business was not marital property was erroneous. Accordingly, Sonya has failed to meet her “burden on appeal to show that no reasonable person would take the view adopted” by the district court, and we therefore conclude that the district court did not err in awarding the business, along with its liabilities, to Joseph. See Ouk, 2015 UT App 104, ¶ 14.[8]

  1. Equity in the Marital Home

¶39      Sonya’s final claim is that the district court abused its discretion in dividing equity in the marital home. “In divorce actions, a district court is permitted considerable discretion in adjusting the financial and property interests of the parties, and its actions are entitled to a presumption of validity.” Gardner v. Gardner, 2019 UT 61, ¶ 18, 452 P.3d 1134 (cleaned up). Thus, in such proceedings,

we will reverse only if (1) there was a misunderstanding or misapplication of the law resulting in substantial and prejudicial error; (2) the factual findings upon which the award was based are clearly erroneous; or (3) the party challenging the award shows that such a serious inequity has resulted as to manifest a clear abuse of discretion. Because we can properly find abuse only if no reasonable person would take the view adopted by the trial court, appellants have a heavy burden to show that an alleged error falls into any of these three categories.

Id. (cleaned up).

¶40      Sonya’s claim focuses on three aspects of the court’s valuation of the home: (1) the mortgage amount, (2) the use of the Zillow estimate, and (3) the amount of the liens on the home. We address each in turn.

¶41      The Mortgage Amount. Sonya complains that the district court, based on Joseph’s testimony, should have used $298,000 as the amount owing on the mortgages rather than $402,000, an adjustment that would have benefitted her by increasing the equity she would have received. “Generally, the marital estate is valued at the time of the divorce decree or trial. However, in the exercise of its equitable powers, a trial court has broad discretion to use a different date, such as the date of separation, when circumstances warrant. If the trial court uses a date other than the date of the divorce decree, it must support its decision with sufficiently detailed findings of fact explaining its deviation from the general rule.” Rothwell v. Rothwell, 2023 UT App 50, ¶ 39, 531 P.3d 225 (cleaned up), cert. denied, 537 P.3d 1011 (Utah 2023). In response to Sonya’s motion for amended findings, the court explained, “[Joseph’s] statement of the mortgage balance of $298,000 was referring to the total amount of all three (3) mortgages. The Court also took that into evidence taking into account that it was [Joseph’s] best estimate according to what his monthly mortgage payments are and how much was deducted from the principal each month.” We understand this to mean that the court took into consideration that it was through Joseph’s extraordinary post-separation payment efforts that the mortgage amount had been reduced. Moreover, Sonya concedes in her reply brief that it was within the district court’s discretion to use the earlier mortgage total. Accordingly, we see no abuse of discretion in the court’s use of the date of the separation to determine the amount of the mortgages.

¶42      The Zillow Estimate. Sonya next complains that the home should have been valued at about $260,000 more than was indicated by the Zillow estimate the court used. The glaring problem with this aspect of Sonya’s complaint is that it was her counsel’s idea to use the Zillow estimate. In open court, her counsel looked up the estimate and announced it to the court. And the court proceeded to base its calculations on the very data Sonya’s counsel supplied. We simply will not countenance Sonya’s assertion that the district court erred in proceeding to use the estimate that Sonya herself, through counsel, provided. Sonya invited any error in this regard. See Somer v. Somer, 2020 UT App 93, ¶ 14, 467 P.3d 924 (“Where a party makes an affirmative representation encouraging the court to proceed without further consideration of an issue, an appellate court does not consider the party’s objection to that action on appeal.” (cleaned up)). In her briefing on appeal, Sonya points to nothing in the record that would have allowed the court to value the home using anything other than the Zillow estimate. Sonya does not challenge that the court acted on the only information it had and that Sonya herself provided. Accordingly, “given the absence of any expert financial testimony, . . . the paucity of assistance the parties offered the court,” and the representations made by Sonya’s counsel regarding the marital home’s value, we conclude that “the court in this instance made findings within its discretion and supported by the evidence it was given.” Clarke v. Clarke, 2023 UT App 160, ¶ 55.

¶43      The Liens. Sonya argues that the district court abused its discretion in counting third-party liens against the equity in the home. Given the evidence the court received, we see no error on the part of the court in this regard. Indeed, there was evidence to support the court’s determination that the third-party liens should be included in the calculation of the home’s equity. Joseph testified that when he and Sonya purchased the home, they did so knowing that they were assuming responsibility for some of the previous owner’s debts. This is an admittedly odd arrangement, but Joseph testified that they were willing to accept it because they were not in a financial position to purchase the home otherwise. Sonya offered no testimony or other evidence to contradict Joseph’s assertion, and she still points to nothing presented at trial that contradicted this evidence. Accordingly, we conclude that the factual findings that included the liability associated with the third-party liens were not clearly erroneous and that the court did not abuse its discretion in calculating the home’s equity.

CONCLUSION

¶44      Sonya has not demonstrated that the district court abused its discretion in its custody determination, in awarding the business to Joseph, or in its division of equity in the marital home. Affirmed.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277


[1] Because the parties share a surname, we refer to them by their given names.

[2] As addressed below, neither party’s briefs included sufficient citations to the record. This shortcoming has necessitated us combing the record to establish some semblance of a background, something we are not obligated to do. See State v. Wright, 2019 UT App 66, ¶ 47 n.6, 442 P.3d 1185 (explaining the parties’ duty to cite the record in appellate briefs), cert. denied, 456 P.3d 391 (Utah 2019). Accordingly, our recitation of the facts is necessarily minimal as we limit it to what is essential to resolve the issues on appeal.

[3] Neither party produced an appraisal of the home or an appraisal witness at trial, leading the court to ask the parties, “Does anybody have any valuation [of the home] at all?” Sonya’s counsel answered, “Well, we could do it [with] Zillow.” At this point, while in court, Sonya’s counsel looked up the value and reported, “According to Zillow as of today, the estimated value is $998,659.” No objection was lodged at trial to the court receiving this information. “Zillow is a commercial website that provides, among other things, an estimated market value for many residential properties.” Chaudry v. Chaudry, No. 1794, 2021 WL 2910977, at *9 n.7 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. July 12, 2021).

[4] This number reflected the amount owing at the time of separation. At the bench trial, Joseph testified that the amount was currently about $298,000.

[5] Joseph’s counsel provided a LexisNexis report as evidence of the liens on the home. This report was admitted as evidence with no objection.

[6] Nor did Joseph’s counsel provide a single citation to the record in his brief. This shortcoming is most unhelpful. While an appellee is not required to file a brief, see, e.g.AL-IN Partners, LLC v. LifeVantage Corp., 2021 UT 42, ¶ 19, 496 P.3d 76, we observe that if a brief is filed, it would behoove counsel to provide record citations. After all, and at the risk of stating the obvious, record citations are required because in their absence it’s difficult, and at times impossible, to figure out what the parties are referencing.

[7] “Parentification is often referred to as growing up too fast. Typically, it occurs when a child takes on parental responsibility for their siblings or even their parents, taking care of a sibling or parent physically, mentally, or emotionally. This can damage a child’s mental well-being and lead to long-term mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.” Amber Felton, What Is Parentification, Web MD, https://www.webmd.com/parenting /what-is-parentification [https://perma.cc/N6TT-Y7QN].

[8] Sonya also argues that the district court violated her constitutional due process rights by its “ongoing interference” with her counsel’s presentation of her case. Quite frankly, apart from a litany of complaints about the court requiring counsel to keep her questioning relevant, the contours of her argument on appeal are difficult to discern, and she fails to cite a single case in support of the argument. Accordingly, we decline to consider her due process argument because it is inadequately briefed. See Utah R. App. P. 24(a)(8) (“The argument must explain, with reasoned analysis supported by citations to legal authority and the record, why the party should prevail on appeal.”); see also Orlando Millenia, LC v. United Title Services of Utah, Inc., 2015 UT 55, ¶ 30 n.3, 355 P.3d 965 (“The briefing on this claim . . . is inadequate. [The appellant’s] briefing on this issue fails to cite any authority and makes no attempt to connect the law to the facts of this case.”).

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CPS Has Encouraged Parental Alienation Before My Parental Rights Have Been Taken, My Public Defender Has Not Been Representing Me the Way He Was Supposed to Be, but I Didn’t Know Until Now. What Can I Do?

There are plenty of things you can do (plenty of activity in which you can engage), but whether any of it will do any good is the question. The answer is usually: not likely. When child protective services (CPS) is working against you, then usually law enforcement and the courts follow suit, whether you’re “guilty” or not. If you have a public defender, then you’re poor, and while there is no shame simply in being poor, it limits your options in a fight like this.

All that stated, you need to fight with all you have for what’s right, or the regret and wondering “what might have been?” will surely torment you the rest of your life. You already know the outcome if you give up.

Now, pick your battles. Don’t run faster than you have strength, and don’t engage in “ends justify the means” tactics, but fight the good fight, so that if, some day, you confront your child who asks, “Did you try your best for me, Mom/Dad?,” you can answer in the affirmative.

Sometimes doing your best means kicking the bad habits, addictions, and mental health afflictions. The work on ourselves if often the hardest—not impossible (thankfully), but the hardest

I wish I had more for you, but this is the best I can offer.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

https://www.quora.com/In-California-CPS-has-encouraged-parental-alienation-before-my-parental-rights-have-been-taken-my-public-defender-has-not-been-representing-me-the-way-he-was-supposed-to-be-but-I-didnt-know-until-now-What-can-I-do

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How do you survive if the narcissist won custody of your kids and you have to accept it?

Hard truths incoming.

When dealing with a co-parent who is afflicted with a personality disorder, do these things, and do them all at the same time:

1) Examine your own personality flaws first. Acknowledge and work to correct your own personality flaws. You may gain insights into the other parent you couldn’t see before. If you must complain about the other parent’s personality flaws, do not do so without acknowledging and working to correct your own personality flaws. Be gracious (and that means when you don’t want to be).

In short: be humble, meaning open-minded, principled, and focused on solving the problem, not on self pity. Otherwise, you risk overlooking some (perhaps all) of the solutions, if there are any, to the problems you have with the other parent.

3) Adjust and adapt. When dealing with a co-parent who is afflicted with a personality disorder, you’re almost surely wasting time if you try to force or even to persuade the other parent to change. It is not fair that you have to do all the adjusting and adapting, but lamenting that fact is a waste. You need to understand and accept (“agree” is even better than “accept”) the fact that adjusting and adapting may be the only way to reach what peace and happiness there is to be had under the circumstances.

4) Engage in all of your dealings with the other parent with class. Fighting fire with fire burns you up emotionally and spiritually. Our children notice far more than we believe. “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” ― John Wooden

5) Reach out to God, sincerely. Lay your burdens at his feet and ask Him for help and guidance. He will “reach your reaching”.

For you own sake, be this way. It will take time and effort, but it will bring you peace and enable you to make the best of your situation).

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

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How can you appeal a child custody decision?

You have to show that the trial court that made the child custody decision committed an appealable error.

Many people believe that an appeal of a trial court’s decision is a “second bite at the apple”-style situation, that if you simply don’t like the outcome of the trial, then you can “appeal” the decision and get the appellate court to “re-try” the case on disputed facts. That is not how an appeal works.

The appellate courts do not retry cases or hear new evidence. They do not hear witnesses testify. There is no jury. Appellate courts review the procedures and the decisions in the trial court to make sure that the proceedings were fair and that the proper law was applied correctly (reference: Do appellate courts hear evidence? (LegalKnowledgeBase.com)).

As for just how a trial court’s decision is appealed, that is a rather complicated process that few who are not attorneys (and attorneys either with experience in appellate practice or geniuses who have the time to learn appellate while working their full-time jobs) can undertake successfully.

You also need to know that there is very short time limit for filing an appeal, and that filing an appeal is very expensive (although in some jurisdictions certain kinds of appeals may, under certain circumstances, entitle a parent to the services of an appellate attorney free of charge, such as in termination of parental rights cases in the jurisdiction where I practice law (Utah)).

If you want to appeal a trial court’s decision, talk to an appellate practice attorney immediately.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

https://www.quora.com/How-can-you-appeal-a-child-custody-decision/answer/Eric-Johnson-311

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Why would a co-parent suggest using a parenting app

I will start out my answer by acknowledging that reasonable minds can differ on the merits of a “parenting app,” also known as a “co-parenting app”.

I will continue my answer by stating that while I can see some exceptional circumstances where a parenting app might be just the ticket, for most people, using a parenting app is an implicit admission of various forms and degrees of parental and personal dysfunction.

Before we go any further, we first need to know what the definition of what a “parenting app” is. According to the makers of parenting apps (i.e., those who would tell a 79-year-old spinster she needs one, if they thought she’d pay for one), they are defined as follows:

Custodyxchange.com* (From $8/month)

*Their website is a great resource for divorced or separated parents, by the way.

“The best co-parenting apps (also called custody apps) offer shared calendars, printable messaging, customizable court documents and other tools. They help co-parents collaborate calmly and can keep lawyers or other professionals in the loop automatically.

“Why co-parenting apps are important

“Co-parenting apps store and organize large amounts of information, making custody less complicated for you.

“A parenting app gives you a permanent digital account of all things custody-related, allowing you to:

Ÿ Keep child custody information in one place’

Ÿ Make changes without starting from scratch

Ÿ Collaborate with the other parent rather than return to court.”

Talkingparents.com ($10 – $25/month)

Co-parenting apps help parents with joint custody communicate better when it comes to raising their children.

Co-parenting apps make it possible to share parenting responsibilities and information in a secure, neutral environment. Many family courts and professionals recommend co-parenting communication apps or services for families to mediate their conversations and create accountability for parents with joint custody. While there are many tools available for separated and divorced parents, it’s important to understand the true value of co-parenting apps, specifically.

2houses.com ($170/year)

Co-parenting apps can’t magically make your relationship and interactions with the other parent perfect and conflict-free, but they can help streamline communication, help you keep track of paperwork and make it a little easier to deal with a tenuous situation. Below we’ve covered just a few of the main benefits you can get from using a co-parenting app.

Ourfamilywizard.com* ($144/year)

Parents, children, grandparents, and other family members can all use OurFamilyWizard as their central platform to connect and share their most important family information within one a secure space.

* I’m a little surprised by how uninformative Ourfamilywizard.com’s “elevator pitch” definition is, given that they are one of the most popular “parenting apps”

But based on what the co-parenting app makers say, what’s not to like about co-parenting apps, right?

Well, right.

There’s nothing wrong with improving communication and reducing conflict with your co-parent. Nothing at all.

The problem lies in believing that an app can make the difference.

As they used to say in the early days of computer programming (back when it was called computer programming), “Garbage in, garbage out.” Even the best designed, best produced tool is only as good has the people who use it. A hammer won’t make a skilled carpenter out of a smash and grab thief. The best fitness app can’t run those miles and lift those weights for you. A co-parenting app can’t transform a vindictive, difficult co-parent into a trustworthy and cooperative “partner” or “teammate.”

Co-parenting app developers aren’t selling a solution (they can’t), they’re selling dreams. If they can get you to believe that using their app will make it easier for you to deal with a fiend, will tame a vicious beast, or will neutralize a sadist, of course you’re going to buy it.

Otherwise stated, bad co-parents aren’t bad for lack of an app.

There are rare circumstances where a co-parenting app maybe useful for a co-parent who isn’t evil, but just inept. For those kinds of parents, if they’re willing to use or will remember to use the co-parenting app, co-parenting apps can be a useful way to help parents communicate better, coordinate and schedule child custody and parent time exchanges and activities better and keep track of expenses and reimbursements. But those kinds of parents don’t need a dedicated parenting app, they just need to be more on the ball. Even the best app is useless if a parent can’t remember to use it or bother to learn to use it correctly.

So, in answer to the question, “Why would a co-parent suggest using a parenting app?,” The answer is one of the following possibilities (in the following order of most to least common):

  • the bad co-parent is making the other parent’s and/or the children’s life/lives miserable, and the hapless co-parent is desperately seeking a savior;

  • the parent who is proposing use of a co-parenting app is the bad co-parent and sees in the co-parenting app a potential new weapon to exploit against you;

  • you’re an out to lunch parent whose heart is in the right place, but whose head is empty, and the Co parent is hoping this app might help compensate for your weaknesses in communication and scheduling.

For normal people, they can do what co-parenting apps can do without having to incur the costs of and learn how to use yet another app. To wit:

  • We already have numerous ways to communicate; phone, video chat, e-mail, text messaging. In fairness, some co-parenting apps have what are known as “tone meters” that will take your first draft of a message you’ve written for a co-parent and point out where your message might be needlessly hostile or prone to misinterpretation and then suggest revisions to correct these errors. But this technology already exists in many e-mail and text messaging apps, without having to pay an additional fee for them. Besides, if you need a machine to tell you the difference between a courteous and a rude tone, you probably don’t care (and cannot be made to care) about being courteous in the first place.

  • Need to coordinate child healthcare appointments and athletic events and school plays and family Christmas parties? Create a shared Google Calendar. It’s free.

  • Need to document child health care, educational, athletic, club and other expenses that the other parent needs to reimburse you a portion of? Snap a picture of the bill and the receipt with your smartphone then e-mail or text message those documents to the other parent along with the request for reimbursement. Need to be reimbursed? Need to pay a reimbursement? Get a Venmo account. It’s free.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

Eric Johnson’s answer to What are some reasons why a parent will suggest speaking on a parenting app in a joint custody order? – Quora

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Can anyone recommend a good attorney for father’s rights?

Many fathers and those who care about them ask this question. It’s no wonder why. But beware. “Father’s Rights Attorney” is, for the most part, a scam. Don’t misunderstand me: fathers unquestionably get treated unfairly in child custody disputes. And there are a few attorney’s out there who may legitimately make focuses solely (and expertly) on defending and preserving and advancing father’s rights in child custody disputes, but generally, the “Father’s Rights Attorney” is just a marketing ploy. Have you ever wondered why you don’t see any “Mother’s Rights Attorney” advertising? Because men have more money than women (generally), so the “Father’s Rights Attorneys” play upon the fears of fathers by convincing fathers that “we specialize” and “we care” and “we know what it takes to get fathers JUSTICE!!!!!” Stuff like that to get fathers to open their wallets.

If you are a father and you are concerned that you will not be treated fairly or you are not being treated fairly by a biased judge, you’re likely not looking for a “Father’s Rights Attorney”; what you’re looking for is a skilled, knowledgeable, diligent, honest attorney who will first tell you whether he/she believes you have a fighting chance, and if so, will help you prepare and argue your case, so that you and the children are dealt with fairly when it comes to your involvement in your children’s lives.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

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Does it not feel weird to anyone that a parent who does not get child custody has to pay child support to the other parent who is enjoying the kids?

I think I know why you think it’s weird. Why have the children live with one parent instead both parents on an equal custody basis? In other words, “I’ll bear the financial costs of taking care of the children when they are with me, and you bear the financial costs of taking care of the children when they are with you.” That makes, sense. But there is more than one way to view this situation. Most jurisdictions in the U.S.A. see it this way:

If the children spend more time in the care and custody of one parent than the other, then that parent will bear greater financial burden in the form of having to pay for at least the food the children eat, the laundry detergent they use in the washing of their clothes, the extra utilities expenses they represent (using more water and electricity than if the parent lived alone) and the soap, shampoo, and toilet paper the children use.

In Utah (where I practice divorce and family law), child support is intended to cover not only these expenses of the children, but their clothing and bedding, school fees, and extracurricular activities too.

This is why most jurisdictions order the parent who exercises less care and custody than the other parent (the noncustodial parent) to pay what is called “child support” to the custodial parent.

But what if the parents share equal physical custody of the children? Does that mean that neither parent will pay child support to the other? Not necessarily.

In Utah, even if the parents were awarded equal custody of the children, one parent can end up still paying child support to the other, if one parent has a higher income than the other. The reason for this is the idea that the children’s lifestyle should be the same regardless of which parent they are residing with at the time. To ensure the parent whose income is lower can afford to provide the same lifestyle for the children as their other parent, many courts (including Utah’s) will still order the richer parent to pay child support to the poorer parent for this purpose.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

https://www.quora.com/Does-it-not-feel-weird-to-anyone-that-a-parent-who-does-not-get-child-custody-has-to-pay-child-support-to-other-parent-who-is-enjoying-with-kids/answer/Eric-Johnson-311?prompt_topic_bio=1

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Does it not feel weird to anyone that a parent who does not get child custody has to pay child support to the other parent who is enjoying the kids?

I think I know why you think it’s weird. Why have the children live with one parent instead both parents on an equal custody basis? In other words, “I’ll bear the financial costs of taking care of the children when they are with me, and you bear the financial costs of taking care of the children when they are with you.” That makes, sense. But there is more than one way to view this situation. Most jurisdictions in the U.S.A. see it this way:

If the children spend more time in the care and custody of one parent than the other, then that parent will bear greater financial burden in the form of having to pay for at least the food the children eat, the laundry detergent they use in the washing of their clothes, the extra utilities expenses they represent (using more water and electricity than if the parent lived alone) and the soap, shampoo, and toilet paper the children use.

In Utah (where I practice divorce and family law), child support is intended to cover not only these expenses of the children, but their clothing and bedding, school fees, and extracurricular activities too.

This is why most jurisdictions order the parent who exercises less care and custody than the other parent (the noncustodial parent) to pay what is called “child support” to the custodial parent.

But what if the parents share equal physical custody of the children? Does that mean that neither parent will pay child support to the other? Not necessarily.

In Utah, even if the parents were awarded equal custody of the children, one parent can end up still paying child support to the other, if one parent has a higher income than the other. The reason for this is the idea that the children’s lifestyle should be the same regardless of which parent they are residing with at the time. To ensure the parent whose income is lower can afford to provide the same lifestyle for the children as their other parent, many courts (including Utah’s) will still order the richer parent to pay child support to the poorer parent for this purpose.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

https://www.quora.com/Does-it-not-feel-weird-to-anyone-that-a-parent-who-does-not-get-child-custody-has-to-pay-child-support-to-other-parent-who-is-enjoying-with-kids/answer/Eric-Johnson-311?prompt_topic_bio=1

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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 | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

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Blake v. Smith – 2023 UT App 78 – child custody, child support

Blake v. Smith – 2023 UT App 78

2023 UT App 78

THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

DEJUAN BLAKE,

Appellee,

v.

JILLYN SMITH,

Appellant.

Opinion

No. 20210779-CA

Filed July 20, 2023

Third District Court, Salt Lake Department

The Honorable Su Chon

No. 184900112

Julie J. Nelson, Attorney for Appellant

DeJuan Blake, Appellee Pro Se

JUDGE MICHELE M. CHRISTIANSEN FORSTER authored this Opinion, in which JUDGES DAVID N. MORTENSEN and RYAN D. TENNEY

concurred.

CHRISTIANSEN FORSTER, Judge:

 

¶1        Jillyn Smith appeals the district court’s order regarding custody and child support for her minor son (Child). Because we determine the court abused its discretion by awarding Smith sole physical and legal custody while requiring joint decision-making between Smith and Child’s father, DeJuan Blake, we vacate that part of the court’s custody award. Furthermore, because we conclude the court made a mathematical error in calculating the amount of child support, and that a further examination of the evidence of Blake’s income is warranted, we reverse the court’s child support award and remand for recalculation as appropriate.

BACKGROUND

¶2        Smith met Blake in 2007 in Las Vegas, Nevada, and the two entered into a relationship. As a result of the relationship, Smith became pregnant with Child in 2009. At the time Smith learned about the pregnancy, she was no longer living in Las Vegas—she had moved to Utah to escape her relationship with Blake.

¶3        After a tumultuous pregnancy, during which Blake continuously asked Smith to have an abortion, Child was born in Utah in October 2009. Blake traveled to Utah to visit Child twice during the first year of Child’s life, with each visit lasting “maybe an hour or two.” The sporadic visits continued over the next few years, with Child and Smith traveling with Blake on short trips together. Although Smith asked Blake for financial support during this time, Blake did not provide support and instead always offered an “excuse.” Eventually, the communications between the couple became too toxic and Smith elected to “take a break from communication” with Blake.

¶4        Thereafter, Smith decided to “give [Blake] a second chance.” Blake and Child had “maybe a few” “infrequent[]” telephone conversations a year, but the conversations were short due to Child’s speech impediment. Blake was not involved in Child’s schooling or scheduling, he never attended Child’s doctor’s appointments, and he “wouldn’t follow through” or offer any explanation as to why he could not help Smith with financial support for Child’s medical care or educational needs.

¶5        Blake traveled to Utah in 2015 to attend Child’s birthday party. Toward the end of the party, Blake and Smith had a verbal altercation regarding Blake’s failure to honor their agreement for Blake to pay Smith child support. Following this visit, Blake returned to Utah once in 2016 to attend Child’s baseball game. That visit also ended in a verbal altercation.

¶6        In January 2018, Blake petitioned the district court for paternity and custody of Child. At the time, Child was eight years old and living with Smith.

¶7        After initiating custody proceedings, Blake filed a series of three financial declarations with the district court. Blake is self-employed and owns a company managing professional and aspiring boxers. Blake’s stated gross income, monthly expenses, and debt listed on each of the three financial declarations differed significantly. In the first declaration, Blake claimed $0 in gross monthly income, $1,875 in monthly expenses, and a debt of $7,240. In the second, Blake claimed $2,000 in gross monthly income, $17,797 in monthly expenses, and no debt. And in the third, Blake claimed $1,686 in gross monthly income, $3,947 in monthly expenses, and no debt. The bank statements filed with each disclosure were incomplete; however, the bank statements that were submitted showed that between August 2017 and January 2019, Blake made deposits into his personal account totaling $456,669.98, and that during that same time, he made withdrawals totaling nearly $50,000 for investments in cryptocurrency, payments to his mother, payments to the mother of one of his other children, and luxury clothing.

¶8        The case proceeded to a bench trial in October 2020. At trial, Smith detailed the relationship between Child and Blake. She explained that Blake had never been actively involved in Child’s life and that Blake had not seen Child at all since May 2016. Smith testified that she and Blake had reached an “original agreement” for child support where Blake would pay her $1,000 per month. She further testified that this agreement did not start until 2015—when Child was already six years old—and that the payments had lasted for only one month. In total, Smith estimated that Blake had contributed $1,600 in support payments “over the entirety of [Child’s] life.”

¶9        Following trial, the district court adjudicated Blake as Child’s father, awarded Smith sole physical and legal custody of Child, and awarded Blake standard relocation parent-time pursuant to Utah Code section 30-3-37, which is approximately 17% of the year. In reaching its legal custody determination, the court analyzed the statutory factors outlined in Utah Code sections 30-3-10 and 30-3-10.2 and concluded that the presumption favoring joint legal custody had been rebutted and that joint legal custody was not in Child’s best interest. However, the court ordered a joint decision-making arrangement between the parties, requiring that the parties “discuss with each other decisions that should be made regarding [Child].” The arrangement further provides, “If there is a dispute, the parties should attend mediation and each pay half of the mediation fees. If the dispute remains, then [Smith] will have final say. [Blake] can . . . bring the matter to court if he is unsatisfied with the decision.”

¶10      Regarding child support, the district court primarily calculated Blake’s past child support payments based on his 2018 tax record, where he claimed $45,050 in gross receipts and $34,483 in deductions. After reviewing the evidence, the court concluded that several of the deductions—totaling $27,530—were unsupported and accordingly struck those deductions. Based on this, the court found that Blake’s “annual income should be $23,790” through March 2020. However, given the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the court concluded that “Blake’s income has come to a halt,” and it accordingly found it “appropriate . . . to impute minimum wage income of $1,257/month from March 2020 forward.”

ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

¶11      Smith now appeals the district court’s order regarding custody and child support, raising two issues for our review. First, Smith argues the court abused its discretion when it “issued an internally inconsistent [custody] award” giving Smith “sole legal and physical custody but also order[ing] joint decision-making” between her and Blake. “We review custody determinations under an abuse of discretion standard, giving the district court broad discretion to make custody awards.” K.P.S. v. E.J.P., 2018 UT App 5, ¶ 24, 414 P.3d 933 (quotation simplified). “But this broad discretion must be guided by the governing law adopted by the Utah Legislature. And on matters of statutory interpretation, we review for correctness.” Dahl v. Dahl, 2015 UT 79, ¶ 155, 459 P.3d 276 (quotation simplified). And “[w]here the court’s findings are internally inconsistent on a material point, reversal and remand are appropriate.” Vandermeide v. Young, 2013 UT App 31, ¶ 21, 296 P.3d 787, cert. denied, 308 P.3d 536 (Utah 2013).[1]

¶12      Second, Smith argues the district court abused its discretion when it calculated Blake’s income for purposes of child support. “We review the district court’s decisions regarding child support . . . under the abuse of discretion standard.” Pankhurst v. Pankhurst, 2022 UT App 36, ¶ 13, 508 P.3d 612 (quotation simplified). Where the court’s findings contain mathematical error or conflict with the record, we will remand for recalculation. See Miner v. Miner, 2021 UT App 77, ¶¶ 57–60, 496 P.3d 242.

ANALYSIS
I. Custody

¶13      Smith first challenges the district court’s custody award, contending the court abused its discretion in crafting the award because it is “internally inconsistent.” According to Smith, the joint decision-making arrangement “undermines” her award of sole physical and legal custody because it “allows [Blake] to force mediation and litigation whenever he disagrees with a decision made by [Smith], even though she has sole legal and physical custody.” We agree.

¶14      As an initial matter, the Utah Code does not define “sole physical custody” or “sole legal custody.” But in Hansen v. Hansen, 2012 UT 9, 270 P.3d 531, our supreme court provided guidance as to the meaning of those terms. In Hansen, the father and the mother were awarded joint custody of their daughter following their divorce. Id. ¶ 2. The mother was awarded sole physical custody and the father was ordered to pay child support to the mother. Id. Sometime later, the daughter entered a private youth homeless shelter, where she lived through her eighteenth birthday. Id. While the daughter was living at the shelter, the father filed a petition with the district court seeking to redirect his child support payments from the mother to the homeless shelter. Id. ¶¶ 2–3. The court denied the motion, which denial was ultimately upheld by the Utah Supreme Court. Id. ¶¶ 4–5, 30.

¶15      The supreme court’s decision centered on the meaning of custody. Although the daughter had been residing at the shelter, the court determined that the daughter’s physical custody had not changed; rather, the mother still retained physical custody. Id. ¶¶ 15–19, 28. The court explained,

Family law treatises consistently define custody as a bundle of constituent rights and obligations to a child’s possession, care, and control, and explain that the essence of custody is control over all aspects of the child’s life coupled with responsibility for the child’s welfare. Standard dictionary definitions of custody are to the same effect.

Custody is often divided into two subsets: legal and physical custody. Both encompass a duty of control and supervision. While legal custody carries the power and duty to make the most significant decisions about a child’s life and welfare, physical custody involves the right, obligation, and authority to make necessary day-to-day decisions concerning the child’s welfare. Although the latter is limited to the right to control the child’s daily activities, it still involves a right of control. This grant of authority is necessary so that the custodian can control and discipline the child or make emergency medical or surgical decisions for the child.

Id. ¶¶ 16–17 (quotation simplified). Put differently, “the legal duty of control or supervision [is] the essential hallmark of custody.” Id. ¶ 18 (quotation simplified). Legal custody encompasses the ability to make major decisions in a child’s life, while physical custody encompasses the ability to make day-to-day decisions in a child’s life.

¶16      Although the Utah Code does not define sole physical or legal custody, it does define “joint legal custody” and “joint physical custody.”[2] Under the current statutory scheme, a parent may be awarded “joint legal custody,” which is defined as “the sharing of the rights, privileges, duties, and powers of a parent by both parents.” Utah Code § 30-3-10.1(2)(a) (emphasis added). As this court has long recognized, the purpose of joint legal custody is to allow “both parents [to] share the authority and responsibility to make basic decisions regarding their child’s welfare.” See Thronson v. Thronson, 810 P.2d 428, 429–30 (Utah Ct. App. 1991), cert. denied, 826 P.2d 651 (Utah 1991).

¶17      Taken together, it follows that an award of “sole” legal custody does not involve sharing the “rights, privileges, duties, and powers of a parent.” See Utah Code § 30-3-10.1(2)(a). Accordingly, when the district court awarded sole legal and physical custody to Smith, it also awarded her alone the “rights and obligations to [Child’s] possession, care, and control,” see Hansen, 2012 UT 9, ¶ 16 (quotation simplified), including the sole authority to “make the most significant decisions about [Child’s] life and welfare,” see id. ¶ 17 (quotation simplified), and the “authority to make necessary day-to-day decisions concerning [Child’s] welfare,” see id. (quotation simplified). It therefore was inconsistent to simultaneously order a joint decision-making arrangement.

¶18       Moreover, the joint decision-making arrangement is at odds with the district court’s own findings regarding Child’s best interest. “In making a custody determination, a [district] court’s primary focus is what custody arrangement would be in the best interest[] of the child.” Grindstaff v. Grindstaff, 2010 UT App 261, ¶ 4, 241 P.3d 365. Utah law presumes that joint legal custody is in a child’s best interest, but that presumption may be rebutted by showing “by a preponderance of the evidence that it is not in the best interest of the child.” Utah Code § 30-3-10(3)–(4). And under Utah law, there is “neither a preference nor a presumption for or against joint physical custody or sole physical custody.” Id. § 30­3-10(8).

¶19      “In determining whether the best interest of a child will be served by ordering joint legal custody or joint physical custody or both, the court shall consider” a number of statutory factors. See id. § 30-3-10.2(2). Here, the court analyzed the statutory factors and determined that awarding Smith sole legal and physical custody of Child was in Child’s best interest. In particular, the court found that there was “very little evidence provided that either parent could function appropriately with co-parenting skills,” that it was “unclear” whether the parties could work together to reach shared decisions in Child’s best interest, and that there was “very little evidence” the parties “actually discussed and made decisions together.” In light of these findings, it is unclear how the joint decision-making arrangement—which is not limited to major decisions but instead encompasses all decisions—could be properly viewed as advancing Child’s best interest. It does not follow from the evidence of the parties’ ongoing issues making decisions relating to Child that such an arrangement would lead to success in the future. Rather, precisely because of the court’s findings, it seems likely that such an arrangement would cause ongoing issues, result in costly mediation and additional court involvement, and be detrimental to Child’s best interest, which is exactly what Utah law seeks to avoid.

¶20      In sum, the district court abused its discretion when it awarded Smith sole physical and legal custody while also ordering a joint decision-making arrangement between Smith and Blake. Although Utah law does not prohibit a joint decision-making arrangement in cases involving an award of joint physical and legal custody, an examination of the underlying statutory scheme reveals that such an arrangement is not compatible with an award of sole physical and legal custody. Furthermore, these competing provisions belie the court’s own findings regarding Child’s best interest as relates to custody. As such, we vacate the portion of the court’s custody award ordering the joint decision-making arrangement.

II. Child Support

¶21      Smith next argues the district court erred in calculating child support. Specifically, Smith takes issue with the court’s calculation of Blake’s income for purposes of child support, contending the court’s calculation (1) contains a mathematical error and (2) is inconsistent with the evidence in the record. We agree.

¶22      The Utah Child Support Act outlines the process by which a district court must evaluate the income of a parent when calculating child support. See generally Utah Code § 78B-12-202. To begin, the court must consider the “gross income” of a parent, which the Utah Code defines broadly as including

prospective income from any source, including earned and nonearned income sources which may include salaries, wages, commissions, royalties, bonuses, rents, gifts from anyone, prizes, dividends, severance pay, pensions, interest, trust income, alimony from previous marriages, annuities, capital gains, Social Security benefits, workers’ compensation benefits, unemployment compensation, income replacement disability insurance benefits, and payments from “nonmeans-tested” government programs.

Id. § 78B-12-203(1). And when a parent is self-employed—as is the case with Blake—the statute directs how gross income should be handled. It provides that “[g]ross income from self-employment or operation of a business shall be calculated by subtracting necessary expenses required for self-employment or business operation from gross receipts. . . . Gross income . . . may differ from the amount of business income determined for tax purposes.” Id. § 78B-12-203(4).

¶23      The district court determined that Blake’s income had been impacted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and accordingly evaluated his income for purposes of child support based on what he had earned pre-pandemic and what he was earning during the pandemic. On the record before us, we see two errors in the court’s calculations. First, the court made a discrete mathematical error in calculating Blake’s pre-pandemic income. Second, and more broadly, the court did not consider all the evidence of Blake’s finances when calculating Blake’s income, both pre-pandemic and at the time of trial.

¶24      First, the district court calculated Blake’s past child support payments using his 2018 tax record. On that record, Blake claimed $45,050 in gross receipts. From that, Blake deducted $34,483 as follows: $5,270 for “materials and supplies,” $3,605 for “advertising,” $360 for “legal and professional services,” $500 for “office expense,” $21,760 for “other business property,” and $2,988 for “utilities.” After viewing the evidence, the court found that Blake had failed to adequately explain why he should be entitled to deductions for “materials and supplies” ($5,270), “other business property” ($21,760), or “office expense” ($500), and it accordingly struck those deductions, totaling $27,530. As a result, the court should have concluded that Blake’s income was $38,097, or $3,175 per month rounded. But it did not. Instead, it concluded that Blake’s income was $23,790, or $1,983 per month. This value is mathematically incorrect.

¶25      Second, notwithstanding the mathematical error in the court’s calculation of Blake’s income, the value imputed by the court is inconsistent with the evidence in the record. Utah law is clear that “in contested cases,” a judge is entitled to impute income to a parent so long as the judge “enters findings of fact as to the evidentiary basis for the imputation.” See id. § 78B-12­203(8)(a). “The purpose of such imputation is to prevent parents from reducing their child support or alimony by purposeful unemployment or underemployment.” Connell v. Connell, 2010 UT App 139, ¶ 16, 233 P.3d 836 (quotation simplified). Accordingly, when imputing income, “the income shall be based upon employment potential and probable earnings considering,” among other things, “employment opportunities,” “work history,” and “occupation qualifications.” Utah Code § 78B-12­203(8)(b).

¶26      As explained above, the court calculated Blake’s income at $1,983 per month up until the time that the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020. And at trial, which was held in October 2020, the court concluded that due to the pandemic, “Blake’s income has come to a halt” and therefore determined it was “appropriate . . . to impute minimum wage income of $1,257/month from March 2020 forward.” But the financial documents submitted by Blake do not support the low amount of income the court chose to impute.

¶27      Blake’s bank records—which were all filed with the court—show that Blake made deposits into his personal account totaling $456,669.98 between August 2017 and January 2019. These deposits included a check for $200,000, which Blake testified “was for my services that was rendered” in connection with a high-publicity boxing match. And in addition to the deposits, Blake’s bank records show significant withdrawals. For example, the records indicate that Blake had regularly invested in cryptocurrency, had transferred over $15,000 to his mother, had transferred over $9,000 to the mother of one of his other children,[3] and had spent over $10,000 on luxury clothing.

¶28      Despite the evidence of Blake’s spending, Blake did not demonstrate how he was funding his lifestyle, and he claimed only one debt of $7,240 in the first of his three financial disclosures. In light of the foregoing, the district court’s determination that Blake was making no money and therefore should be imputed minimum wage is not supported by the evidence. Rather, the evidence suggests that Blake was less than forthcoming with the court as to the actual amount of his income. As such, on remand the court should reevaluate evidence of Blake’s finances, his earning capacity, and whether he is voluntarily underemployed and should make a further determination as to whether greater income should be imputed to him.[4] In so doing, the court should take special care to ensure that the final award is void of mathematical error.

CONCLUSION

¶29      The district court abused its discretion when it awarded Smith sole physical and legal custody of Child while also ordering a joint decision-making arrangement with Blake. We therefore vacate the court’s custody ruling as it relates to the joint decision-making arrangement. The court also abused its discretion when calculating child support. The current award contains a mathematical error and is not supported by record evidence. Accordingly, we reverse the court’s award of child support and remand with instructions that the court reexamine the evidence to determine whether greater income should be imputed to Blake.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277


[1] Blake did not file a brief or otherwise appear in this appeal. Although “an appellee’s failure to file a brief does not amount to an automatic default and consequent reversal of the lower court,” our supreme court has recently recognized that such failure does impact the “typical burden of persuasion on appeal.” See AL-IN Partners, LLC v. LifeVantage Corp., 2021 UT 42, ¶ 19, 496 P.3d 76 (quotation simplified). Because an appellee’s failure to raise any argument leaves the appellant’s claims “unrebutted,” see Broderick v. Apartment Mgmt. Consultants, LLC, 2012 UT 17, ¶¶ 18–21, 279 P.3d 391, “when an appellee fails to present us with any argument, an appellant need only establish a prima facie showing of a plausible basis for reversal,” AL-IN Partners, 2021 UT 42, ¶ 19 (quotation simplified). We question whether the standard articulated in AL-IN Partners should apply the same way in cases such as this where the standard of review on appeal is deferential to the discretionary decisions of the district court. But because this issue was not briefed and our decision on both arguments presented ultimately involves the conclusion that the district court did abuse its discretion and committed other errors, we need not decide the issue today. However, we note the question does warrant additional consideration in a case where it is squarely before the court.

[2] In relevant part, the statute defines “joint physical custody” as when “the child stays with each parent overnight for more than 30% of the year.” Utah Code § 30-3-10.1(3)(a). This particular provision is not applicable here because Blake was awarded standard relocation parent-time which falls below the 30% threshold. See id. § 30-3-37. Nevertheless, Utah law is clear that “[e]ach parent may make decisions regarding the day-to-day care and control of the child while the child is residing with that parent.” Id. § 30-3-10.9(6). Thus, by statute Smith has sole decision-making authority over day-to-day decisions when Child is in her care. Likewise, Blake has decision-making authority over day-to-day decisions when Child is in his care.

[3] This amount does not include child support payments awarded to the mother, which were $1,000 per month. Those support payments were made directly to Nevada’s State Collection and Disbursement Unit.

[4] Smith filed a post-trial motion pursuant to rule 59(e) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure seeking to amend, among other things, the court’s child support award. The district court issued a Memorandum Decision and Order denying the motion. In analyzing the child support issue, the court stated that “[g]ifts are not generally considered income.” This is legally incorrect. As explained above, the Utah Code explicitly defines “gross income” as including “gifts from anyone.” See Utah Code § 78B-12-203(1). To the extent Blake was gifted items, the court must include the value of those gifts when calculating his income.

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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.

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How Do Witnesses Contribute to the Decision-Making Process in Child Custody Hearings and Trials?

If what we learn from witnesses didn’t generally tend to be more informative and reliable than not, then we wouldn’t listen to witnesses at all. No sensible person believes that which he or she knows not to be true, and as long as we don’t know a witness is lying or have reason to believe the witness is lying, we normally benefit from believing what a competent witness says as true.

So, the qualifiers for a good witness or someone who is competent to testify and someone who does not give us any apparent reason to believe the witness is a liar or has any other motive but to tell the truth as the witness perceives it.

Good witnesses in child custody proceedings are witnesses who have personal knowledge of facts that are relevant to the child custody award. Bad witnesses are just the opposite. If the witness convinces us that he or she has such personal knowledge, the court will almost certainly consider that witness’s testimony in formulating its child custody award decision.

Generally speaking, it’s difficult for lying witnesses to get away with lying to the court. Inexperienced liars often (but not always) give themselves away. How? Some ways include: telling unbelievable and inconsistent stories, giving testimony that is clearly biased in favor of one party or clearly biased against the other party, giving testimony that clearly is rehearsed or comes across as rehearsed and not from personal knowledge and easy, confident recall.

Of course, if it weren’t possible to fool people into believing lies, very few lies would be told. Many judges and court personnel (not all, but more than you might suspect) mistakenly believe that they have an above average ability to detect lies. This thus sometimes results in judges accepting as true testimony that is false, and deeming to be false testimony that is true.

This is why lawyers tend to favor objectively verifiable fact over witness testimony, or at least over witness testimony alone, if and when it’s ever possible to provide such independently verifiable objective fact as evidence in a case.

But in child custody cases, given the predominantly private nature of family life, it is hard to prove objectively that a parent has been physically, sexually, or emotionally abusive, physically or emotionally neglectful, an alcohol abuser, mentally or emotionally crippled, a parent who truly cares about his or her children and has formed a strong loving bond with his slash her children, etc.

And so, the next best thing that we have is witness testimony. Not all witness testimony is created or treated equally. If a parent calls his own mother or father or best friend as a witness for that parent, the court is likely to believe or at least suspect—and in my opinion, rightfully so–that such a witness is biased. That such a witness will be likely to downplay (or outright deny) the parents weaknesses and sins and exaggerate (or outright fabricate) the parent’s virtues and accomplishments.

Witnesses who are perceived as most credible are those who don’t appear to have any personal interest in the outcome of the case. People who have nothing to gain or nothing to lose by giving their are honest account and opinions.

For better or for worse, witnesses do inform the judge’s child custody award decision. It’s always frustrating, even sometimes heartbreaking, when a judge believes lying witnesses and disbelieves honest witnesses (and then decides issues based upon false data), but no judge is infallible. The more you can rely upon objective, independently verifiable fact over witness testimony, the better.

 

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How Do I Inform a School About Divorce and That Their Father Is Not Allowed to Pick Them Up?

Great question. There are many ways to do this wrong, so let’s start with those.

Just tell the teachers and principal and expect them to take your word for it; bring an uncertified copy of the applicable court order(s) or just the “relevant pages” of the order(s) and leave it at the front desk with Francine and tell her that you expect the school to comply. The right way to notify the school and the teachers:

  • make an appointment with the principal (or assistant principal, whoever is responsible for such matters) for the purpose of notifying the school and teachers;
  • bring a certified copy of the applicable court order(s) to the appointment and personally hand it to the principal/assistant principal;
  • then send a courteously worded (not a dictatorial) e-mail a PDF copy of the order(s) to the principal/assistant principal, so that you have dated and time-stamped proof of having e-mailed it. Include in the email:

o   a statement of the date and time you met with the principal/assistant principal and gave him/her a printed certified copy of the order(s);

o   a request in the email a) that a copy of the order(s) be added to the child’s file; b) that the child’s teachers be notified of the provision in the orders that your ex is not permitted to pick up the child from school;

o   a statement that you expect the school to ensure that it does what it reasonably and legally can to protect the children from being picked up the children from school;

o   a request that the principal/assistant principal verify receipt of the email and the attached PDF copy of the order(s);

o   an invitation to ask any clarifying questions; and

o   a statement that you appreciate the school’s and the teachers’ and other staff members’ understanding and cooperation.

 

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What Is the Point of Granting Divorced Parents Joint Custody and Splitting Parenting Time? Isn’t It the Idea That the Children Benefit From Having Two Parents? Isn’t That True Only So Long as Both Parents Are Positive Influences and Not Criminals?

You pose two very good questions, and there are very good answers to each of them.

Question 1) What is the point of granting divorced parents joint custody and splitting parenting time? Isn’t it the idea that the children benefit from having two parents?

Answer: Yes. More specifically, the idea is that the children benefit from having both of their fit* parents involved in their children’s lives as possible.

Question 2) Isn’t that true only so long as both parents are positive influences and not criminals?

Answer: Essentially, yes. The idea is that the children benefit from having both of their fit* parents involved in their children’s lives as possible. No one suggests that a child is inherently benefited by a parent exercising custody of that child if the parent is unfit to exercise custody of the child.

*What does it mean to be a fit parent? Every jurisdiction has different, though similar criteria for defining and evaluating parental fitness. Most concisely stated, a parent is not fit if that parent abuses, neglects, and/or poses a clear danger of such to his/her children.

What are the factors the courts consider in Utah when determining what the custody award will be?

30-3-10.  Custody of a child — Custody factors.

  1. If a married couple having one or more minor children are separated, or the married couple’s marriage is declared void or dissolved, the court shall enter, and has continuing jurisdiction to modify, an order of custody and parent-time.
  2. In determining any form of custody and parent-time under Subsection (1), the court shall consider the best interest of the child and may consider among other factors the court finds relevant, the following for each parent:

(a)        evidence of domestic violence, neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse, involving the child, the parent, or a household member of the parent;

(b)        the parent’s demonstrated understanding of, responsiveness to, and ability to meet the developmental needs of the child, including the child’s:

(i)         physical needs;

(ii)        emotional needs;

(iii)       educational needs;

(iv)       medical needs; and

(v)        any special needs;

(c)        the parent’s capacity and willingness to function as a parent, including:

(i)         parenting skills;

(ii)        co-parenting skills, including:

(A)       ability to appropriately communicate with the other parent;

(B)       ability to encourage the sharing of love and affection; and

(C)       willingness to allow frequent and continuous contact between the child and the other parent, except that, if the court determines that the parent is acting to protect the child from domestic violence, neglect, or abuse, the parent’s protective actions may be taken into consideration; and

(iii)       ability to provide personal care rather than surrogate care;

(d)       in accordance with Subsection (10), the past conduct and demonstrated moral character of the parent;

(e)        the emotional stability of the parent;

(f)        the parent’s inability to function as a parent because of drug abuse, excessive drinking, or other causes;

(g)        whether the parent has intentionally exposed the child to pornography or material harmful to minors, as “material” and “harmful to minors” are defined in Section 76-10-1201;

(h)        the parent’s reasons for having relinquished custody or parent-time in the past;

(i)         duration and depth of desire for custody or parent-time;

(j)         the parent’s religious compatibility with the child;

(k)        the parent’s financial responsibility;

(l)         the child’s interaction and relationship with step-parents, extended family members of other individuals who may significantly affect the child’s best interests;

(m)       who has been the primary caretaker of the child;

(n)        previous parenting arrangements in which the child has been happy and well-adjusted in the home, school, and community;

(o)        the relative benefit of keeping siblings together;

(p)        the stated wishes and concerns of the child, taking into consideration the child’s cognitive ability and emotional maturity;

(q)        the relative strength of the child’s bond with the parent, meaning the depth, quality, and nature of the relationship between the parent and the child; and

(r)        any other factor the court finds relevant.

(3)        There is a rebuttable presumption that joint legal custody, as defined in Section 30-3-10.1, is in the best interest of the child, except in cases when there is:

(a)        evidence of domestic violence, neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse involving the child, a parent, or a household member of the parent;

(b)        special physical or mental needs of a parent or child, making joint legal custody unreasonable;

(c)        physical distance between the residences of the parents, making joint decision making impractical in certain circumstances; or

(d)       any other factor the court considers relevant including those listed in this section and Section 30-3-10.2.

(4)

(a)        The person who desires joint legal custody shall file a proposed parenting plan in accordance with Sections 30-3-10.8 and 30-3-10.9.

(b)        A presumption for joint legal custody may be rebutted by a showing by a preponderance of the evidence that it is not in the best interest of the child.

(5)

(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.

(b)

(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 old or older shall be given added weight, but is not the single controlling factor.

(c)

(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.

(6)

(a)        Except as provided in Subsection (6)(b), a court may not discriminate against a parent due to a disability, as defined in Section 57-21-2, in awarding custody or determining whether a substantial change has occurred for the purpose of modifying an award of custody.

(b)        The court may not consider the disability of a parent as a factor in awarding custody or modifying an award of custody based on a determination of a substantial change in circumstances, unless the court makes specific findings that:

(i)         the disability significantly or substantially inhibits the parent’s ability to provide for the physical and emotional needs of the child at issue; and

(ii)        the parent with a disability lacks sufficient human, monetary, or other resources available to supplement the parent’s ability to provide for the physical and emotional needs of the child at issue.

30-3-10.2.  Joint custody order — Factors for court determination — Public assistance.

(1)        The court may order joint legal custody or joint physical custody or both if one or both parents have filed a parenting plan in accordance with Section 30-3-10.8 and the court determines that joint legal custody or joint physical custody or both is in the best interest of the child.

(2)        In determining whether the best interest of a child will be served by ordering joint legal custody or joint physical custody or both, the court shall consider the custody factors in Section 30-3-10 and the following factors:

(a)        whether the physical, psychological, and emotional needs and development of the child will benefit from joint legal custody or joint physical custody or both;

(b)        the ability of the parents to give first priority to the welfare of the child and reach shared decisions in the child’s best interest;

(c)        co-parenting skills, including:

(i)         ability to appropriately communicate with the other parent;

(ii)        ability to encourage the sharing of love and affection; and

(iii)       willingness to allow frequent and continuous contact between the child and the other parent, except that, if the court determines that the parent is acting to protect the child from domestic violence, neglect, or abuse, the parent’s protective actions may be taken into consideration; and

(d)       whether both parents participated in raising the child before the divorce;

(e)        the geographical proximity of the homes of the parents;

(f)        the preference of the child if the child is of sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent preference as to joint legal custody or joint physical custody or both;

(g)        the maturity of the parents and their willingness and ability to protect the child from conflict that may arise between the parents;

(h)        the past and present ability of the parents to cooperate with each other and make decisions jointly; and

(i)         any other factor the court finds relevant.

(3)        The determination of the best interest of the child shall be by a preponderance of the evidence.

(4)        The court shall inform both parties that an order for joint physical custody may preclude eligibility for cash assistance provided under Title 35A, Chapter 3, Employment Support Act.

(5)        The court may order that when possible the parties attempt to settle future disputes by a dispute resolution method before seeking enforcement or modification of the terms and conditions of the order of joint legal custody or joint physical custody through litigation, except in emergency situations requiring ex parte orders to protect the child.

30-3-35.2.  Equal parent-time schedule.

(1)

(a)        A court may order the equal parent-time schedule described in this section if the court determines that:

(i)         the equal parent-time schedule is in the child’s best interest;

(ii)        each parent has been actively involved in the child’s life; and

(iii)       each parent can effectively facilitate the equal parent-time schedule.

(b)        To determine whether each parent has been actively involved in the child’s life, the court shall consider:

(i)         each parent’s demonstrated responsibility in caring for the child;

(ii)        each parent’s involvement in child care;

(iii)       each parent’s presence or volunteer efforts in the child’s school and at extracurricular activities;

(iv)       each parent’s assistance with the child’s homework;

(v)        each parent’s involvement in preparation of meals, bath time, and bedtime for the child;

(vi)       each parent’s bond with the child; and

(vii)      any other factor the court considers relevant.

(c)        To determine whether each parent can effectively facilitate the equal parent-time schedule, the court shall consider:

(i)         the geographic distance between the residence of each parent and the distance between each residence and the child’s school;

(ii)        each parent’s ability to assist with the child’s after school care;

(iii)       the health of the child and each parent, consistent with Subsection 30-3-10(6);

(iv)       the flexibility of each parent’s employment or other schedule;

(v)        each parent’s ability to provide appropriate playtime with the child;

(vi)       each parent’s history and ability to implement a flexible schedule for the child;

(vii)      physical facilities of each parent’s residence; and

(viii)     any other factor the court considers relevant.

(2)

(a)        If the parties agree to or the court orders the equal parent-time schedule described in this section, a parenting plan in accordance with Sections 30-3-10.7 through 30-3-10.10 shall be filed with an order incorporating the equal parent-time schedule.

(b)        An order under this section shall result in 182 overnights per year for one parent, and 183 overnights per year for the other parent.

(c)        Under the equal parent-time schedule, neither parent is considered to have the child the majority of the time for the purposes of Subsection 30-3-10.3(4) or 30-3-10.9(5)(c)(ii).

(d)       Child support for the equal parent-time schedule shall be consistent with Section 78B-12-208.

(e)

(i)         A court shall determine which parent receives 182 overnights and which parent receives 183 overnights for parent-time.

(ii)        For the purpose of calculating child support under Section 78B-12-208, the amount of time to be spent with the parent who has the lower gross monthly income is considered 183 overnights, regardless of whether the parent receives 182 overnights or 183 overnights under Subsection (2)(e)(i).

(3)

(a)        Unless the parents agree otherwise and subject to a holiday, the equal parent-time schedule is as follows:

(i)         one parent shall exercise parent-time starting Monday morning and ending Wednesday morning;

(ii)        the other parent shall exercise parent-time starting Wednesday morning and ending Friday morning; and

(iii)       each parent shall alternate weeks exercising parent-time starting Friday morning and ending Monday morning.

(b)        The child exchange shall take place:

(i)         at the time the child’s school begins; or

(ii)        if school is not in session, at 9 a.m.

(4)

(a)        The parents may create a holiday schedule.

(b)        If the parents are unable to create a holiday schedule under Subsection (4)(a), the court shall:

(i)         order the holiday schedule described in Section 30-3-35; and

(ii)        designate which parent shall exercise parent-time for each holiday described in Section 30-3-35.

(5)

(a)        Each year, a parent may designate two consecutive weeks to exercise uninterrupted parent-time during the summer when school is not in session.

(b)

(i)         One parent may make a designation at any time and the other parent may make a designation after May 1.

(ii)        A parent shall make a designation at least 30 days before the day on which the designated two-week period begins.

(c)        The court shall designate which parent may make the earlier designation described in Subsection (5)(b)(i) for an even numbered year with the other parent allowed to make the earlier designation in an odd numbered year.

(d)       The two consecutive weeks described in Subsection (5)(a) take precedence over all holidays except for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

30-3-32.  Parent-time — Definitions — Considerations for parent-time — Relocation.

(1)        As used in Sections 30-3-32 through 30-3-37:

(a)        “Child” means the child of divorcing, separating, or adjudicated parents.

(b)        “Supervised parent-time” means parent-time that requires the noncustodial parent to be accompanied during parent-time by an individual approved by the court.

(c)        “Surrogate care” means care by any individual other than the parent of the child.

(d)       “Uninterrupted time” means parent-time exercised by one parent without interruption at any time by the presence of the other parent.

(e)        “Virtual parent-time” means parent-time facilitated by tools such as telephone, email, instant messaging, video conferencing, and other wired or wireless technologies over the Internet or other communication media, to supplement in-person visits between a noncustodial parent and a child or between a child and the custodial parent when the child is staying with the noncustodial parent.

(2)

(a)        A court shall consider as primary the safety and well-being of the child and the parent who experiences domestic or family violence.

(b)        Absent a showing by a preponderance of evidence of real harm or substantiated potential harm to the child:

(i)         it is in the best interests of the child of divorcing, divorced, or adjudicated parents to have frequent, meaningful, and continuing access to each parent following separation or divorce;

(ii)        each divorcing, separating, or adjudicated parent is entitled to and responsible for frequent, meaningful, and continuing access with the parent’s child consistent with the child’s best interests; and

(iii)       it is in the best interests of the child to have both parents actively involved in parenting the child.

(3)        An order issued by a court pursuant to Title 78B, Chapter 7, Part 6, Cohabitant Abuse Protective Orders, shall be considered evidence of real harm or substantiated potential harm to the child.

(4)        If a parent relocates because of an act of domestic violence or family violence by the other parent, the court shall make specific findings and orders with regards to the application of Section 30-3-37.

30-3-34.  Parent-time — Best interests — Rebuttable presumption.

(1)        If the parties are unable to agree on a parent-time schedule, the court may:

(a)        establish a parent-time schedule; or

(b)        order a parent-time schedule described in Section 30-3-35, 30-3-35.1, 30-3-35.2, or 30-3-35.5.

(2)        The advisory guidelines as provided in Section 30-3-33 and the parent-time schedule as provided in Sections 30-3-35 and 30-3-35.5 shall be considered the minimum parent-time to which the noncustodial parent and the child shall be entitled.

(3)        A court may consider the following when ordering a parent-time schedule:

(a)        whether parent-time would endanger the child’s physical health or mental health, or significantly impair the child’s emotional development;

(b)        evidence of domestic violence, neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse, involving the child, a parent, or a household member of the parent;

(c)        the distance between the residency of the child and the noncustodial parent;

(d)       a credible allegation of child abuse has been made;

(e)        the lack of demonstrated parenting skills without safeguards to ensure the child’s well-being during parent-time;

(f)        the financial inability of the noncustodial parent to provide adequate food and shelter for the child during periods of parent-time;

(g)        the preference of the child if the court determines the child is of sufficient maturity;

(h)        the incarceration of the noncustodial parent in a county jail, secure youth corrections facility, or an adult corrections facility;

(i)         shared interests between the child and the noncustodial parent;

(j)         the involvement or lack of involvement of the noncustodial parent in the school, community, religious, or other related activities of the child;

(k)        the availability of the noncustodial parent to care for the child when the custodial parent is unavailable to do so because of work or other circumstances;

(l)         a substantial and chronic pattern of missing, canceling, or denying regularly scheduled parent-time;

(m)       the minimal duration of and lack of significant bonding in the parents’ relationship before the conception of the child;

(n)        the parent-time schedule of siblings;

(o)        the lack of reasonable alternatives to the needs of a nursing child; and

(p)        any other criteria the court determines relevant to the best interests of the child.

(4)        The court shall enter the reasons underlying the court’s order for parent-time that:

(a)        incorporates a parent-time schedule provided in Section 30-3-35 or 30-3-35.5; or

(b)        provides more or less parent-time than a parent-time schedule provided in Section 30-3-35 or 30-3-35.5.

(5)        A court may not order a parent-time schedule unless the court determines by a preponderance of the evidence that the parent-time schedule is in the best interest of the child.

(6)        Once the parent-time schedule has been established, the parties may not alter the schedule except by mutual consent of the parties or a court order.

30-3-34.5.  Supervised parent-time.

(1)        Considering the fundamental liberty interests of parents and children, it is the policy of this state that divorcing parents have unrestricted and unsupervised access to their children. When necessary to protect a child and no less restrictive means is reasonably available however, a court may order supervised parent-time if the court finds evidence that the child would be subject to physical or emotional harm or child abuse, as described in Sections 76-5-109, 76-5-109.2, 76-5-109.3, and 76-5-114, from the noncustodial parent if left unsupervised with the noncustodial parent.

(2)        A court that orders supervised parent-time shall give preference to persons suggested by the parties to supervise, including relatives. If the court finds that the persons suggested by the parties are willing to supervise, and are capable of protecting the children from physical or emotional harm, or child abuse, the court shall authorize the persons to supervise parent-time.

(3)        If the court is unable to authorize any persons to supervise parent-time pursuant to Subsection (2), the court may require that the noncustodial parent seek the services of a professional individual or agency to exercise their supervised parent-time.

(4)        At the time supervised parent-time is imposed, the court shall consider:

(a)        whether the cost of professional or agency services is likely to prevent the noncustodial parent from exercising parent-time; and

(b)        whether the requirement for supervised parent-time should expire after a set period of time.

(5)        The court shall, in its order for supervised parent-time, provide specific goals and expectations for the noncustodial parent to accomplish before unsupervised parent-time may be granted. The court shall schedule one or more follow-up hearings to revisit the issue of supervised parent-time.

(6)        A noncustodial parent may, at any time, petition the court to modify the order for supervised parent-time if the noncustodial parent can demonstrate that the specific goals and expectations set by the court in Subsection (5) have been accomplished.

_______________

For a more detailed discussion of parental fitness factors in other jurisdictions, feel free to read on:

Parental fitness “is in some way tied into the best interest of the child. The jurisprudence variously has interpreted this statutory fitness as physical, economic, mental, or moral fitness[.]” Joint Custody in Louisiana, 43 LALR 85 (September 1982)

Another definition of parental fitness in the context of termination of parental rights is found in Louisiana Statutes, Louisiana Children’s Code, Title XI. Surrender of Parental Rights, Chapter 1. Preliminary Provisions; Definitions, at Art. 1103(5)(Definitions), but it wouldn’t make a bad standard for evaluating parental fitness in a child custody dispute either:

(5) “Parental fitness” means:

(a) That a parent has not abused the child. For purposes of this Subparagraph, abuse means the infliction of physical or mental injury which causes deterioration to the child, sexual abuse, exploitation, or overworking of a child to such an extent that his health or moral or emotional well-being is endangered.

(b) That a parent has consistently offered to provide reasonably necessary food, clothing, appropriate shelter, or treatment for the child. For purposes of this Subparagraph, treatment means medical care or other health services provided in accordance with the tenets of a well- recognized religious method of healing with a reasonable, proven record of success.

(c) That a parent suffers from no medical or emotional illness, mental deficiency, behavior or conduct disorder, severe physical disability, substance abuse, or chemical dependency which makes him unable or unwilling to provide an adequate permanent home for the child at the present time or in the reasonably near future based upon expert opinion or based upon an established pattern of behavior.

(d) Viewed in its entirety, the parent’s past or present conduct, including his criminal convictions, would not pose a risk of substantial harm to the physical, mental, or emotional health of the child.

See also this from Legal Rights of Children (November 2022 Update, Thomas R. Young), Part II. Children and the Family Relationship, Chapter 2. Child Custody. § 2:5. The best interests of the child rule:

The evolution of the best interests approach has focused on the development of a comprehensive list of factors that a court may or must consider in making its determination. As previously illustrated with regard to what the courts in the State of Missouri look for to determining a child’s best interest, the criteria upon which a court may rely in deciding which parent should be awarded custody may include the child’s preference, the bond the child may have with a parent, his or her health (physical and mental), the child’s sex and age,15 and each parent’s fitness to assume custody.[footnote 16]

[16] Hall v. Hall, 571 So. 2d 1176 (Ala. Civ. App. 1990); Stephen v. Stephen, 1997 OK 53, 937 P.2d 92 (Okla. 1997); Irwin v. Schmidt, 236 A.D.2d 401, 653 N.Y.S.2d 627 (2d Dep’t 1997); Issac v. Issac, 2004 WL 2915330 (Ky. Ct. App. 2004); Klausman v. Klausman, 2004-Ohio-3410, 2004 WL 1461356 (Ohio Ct. App. 9th Dist. Summit County 2004); Gress v. Gress, 271 Neb. 122, 710 N.W.2d 318 (2006); Patterson v. Patterson, 207 S.W.3d 179 (Mo. Ct. App. S.D. 2006); Kreps v. Kreps, 2010 SD 12, 778 N.W.2d 835 (S.D. 2010); and Pietrzak v. Schroeder, 2009 SD 1, 759 N.W.2d 734 (S.D. 2009) (when considering parental fitness during an initial child custody determination, a court may consider: (1) mental and physical health; (2) capacity and disposition to provide the child with protection, food, clothing, medical care, and other basic needs; (3) ability to give the child love, affection, guidance, education and to impart the family’s religion or creed; (4) willingness to maturely encourage and provide frequent and meaningful contact between the child and the other parent; (5) commitment to prepare the child for responsible adulthood, as well as to insure that the child experiences a fulfilling childhood; and (6) exemplary modeling so that the child witnesses firsthand what it means to be a good parent, a loving spouse, and a responsible citizen).

Other courts have suggested other criteria: the quality of the home environment and the nature of parental guidance that can be offered, the character and reputation of the parties involved, the ability to provide for the continued emotional and intellectual needs and development of the children, the potentiality of maintaining natural family relationships, the material opportunities affecting the future life of the child,20 and the opportunity for visitation.

Parental fitness can be subdivided into several categories: moral fitness, love and affection of the parent for the child, and past conduct affecting the child’s needs, both physically and mentally as well as financially. When making a custody award, a New York court has said that in determining what is best for the child, the court should review the child’s emotional and intellectual development, the quality of the home environment, parental guidance that is being or could be provided, the stability of the respective homes involved, and the child’s own desires.

Traditionally, courts have taken a moralistic approach to evaluating the fitness of a parent. A parent found to be an adulterer has historically been deemed to be morally unfit by reviewing courts and denied custody of the child as punishment. Courts, in using this approach, arguably never reached the issue of the child’s best interests. Today, however, courts tend to be more concerned with a child’s psychological well-being. Focusing more on the child’s rights and its best interests, rather than those of the parent, courts now give far less consideration to a parent’s conduct if it does not affect his or her relationship with the child. Several states have laws which expressly forbid consideration of parental conduct which does not directly affect the parent’s relationship with the child.

Courts are moving toward a more objective analysis of parental fitness as it affects a child’s well-being. This change in perspective requires that each parent be evaluated in terms of ability and willingness to care for the child, free of gender-based presumptions. For example, in 1982, the Virginia Supreme Court found that it was in the child’s best interests to be in the father’s custody where both parents were fit but where the home environment offered by the father was more conducive to the child’s well-being. In other cases, the maternal presumption has been replaced by a gender-neutral presumption favoring the parent found to be the primary caretaker. Still, other courts have rejected outright a mother’s claim to her child based only on the tender years doctrine. Today, a judicial finding of parental unfitness and denial of custody often requires compelling evidence of emotional instability, repeated and flagrant immoral acts, or a failure to provide care and guidance to the child through cruelty, abandonment, or neglect.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

Eric Johnson’s answer to What is the point of granting divorced parents joint custody and splitting parenting time? Isn’t it the idea that the children benefit from having two parents? Isn’t that true only so long as both parents are positive influences and not criminals? – Quora

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Is My Ex-spouse Responsible for Paying Our Child’s College Education?

In Utah, the law does not require divorced parents to pay for an adult child’s education. Divorcing parents can agree that one or both parents will fund some or all of a child’s college education, but they cannot—at least as of the date I make this post—force one or both parents to fund an adult child’s college education. Or can they? The policy of the law in the state of Utah is generally (and always has been) that parents have no support obligations to their adult children after they legally emancipate or, if exceptional circumstances dictate, up to the age of 21 years of age (although that policy is being challenged in the Utah Court of Appeals right now, so stay tuned). But I did find this decision of the Utah Court of Appeals from 1987. The case is Eames v. Eames, 735 P.2d 395.

In that case, the trial court awarded the wife alimony in the amount of $450 per month that would continue so long as the parties’ youngest child successfully pursued a full time college education, lived in the family home, remained single, or reached the age of 21 years. Then alimony was reduced to $300.00 per month and would remain so until plaintiff reached the age of 65 years, which point alimony would terminate. The husband appealed that award, but the Court of Appeals found no abuse of the trial court’s discretion in making the alimony award. While the alimony award didn’t expressly claim to fund the parties’ child’s college education, you could see how the argument could reasonably be made that the extra $150 per month was essentially for the child’s benefit, not the wife’s.

The takeaway: where there’s a will to force a divorced parent to pay for at least part of an adult child’s college education, the law of the State of Utah can be exploited interpreted to make it happen.

 

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

https://utahdivorceandfamilylaw.quora.com/

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If I Have a Temporary Court Hearing for Joint Custody and I Have Planned a Vacation Before the Order Is in Place. Can I Still Take My Child Out of State as the Custodial Parent?

This is a complicated question.

If there is no statute or court order in place that bars you from taking your child out of state with you for a vacation, and no law that provides that you must obtain the permission of the other parent to travel out of state or out of town with the child, nothing legally prevents you from going on that vacation with the child.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea to take the child with you on vacation against the wishes of the other parent.

Even if there is no statute or court order that prevents you from taking the vacation with the child against the wishes of the other parent, the court may (or may not) take a dim view of you taking such unilateral action. It may cause you to appear self-absorbed and immature, and/or a law unto oneself.

And put yourself in that parent’s shoes. Think of how you would feel. Now, of course, if the other parent opposes the vacation out of malice, that’s a different matter altogether. But if the parent is genuinely and reasonably worried that you’re going to try to abscond with the child and disappear, you may want to postpone that vacation until you either have the consent of the other parent or permission of the court to do so.

 

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

https://www.quora.com/If-I-have-a-temporary-court-hearing-for-joint-custody-and-I-have-planned-a-vacation-before-the-order-is-in-place-can-I-still-take-my-child-out-of-state-as-the-custodial-parent

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Can I File for an Order of Protection Against My Daughter’s Father for Myself, Even if She Is Living With Him?

If he poses a danger to you, then yes. The fact that a child you share lives with him will not prevent you from obtaining a protective order against him for your protection. If you are wondering whether a protective order against him might prevent you and him from interacting for the purpose of conducting child custody and parent-time/visitation exchanges, the court can structure the protective order to permit contact between you and him for that limited purpose.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

https://www.quora.com/Can-I-file-for-an-order-of-protection-against-my-daughter-s-father-for-myself-even-if-she-is-living-with-him

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