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If both parents are wonderful, will the court still favor the mother?

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

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

Not exactly. But close.

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

No question about it. The exceptions prove the rule.

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

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

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

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

Rather than awarding joint equal physical custody to both parents, awarding “just a little more time” to Mom than to Dad. Case in point: I worked a case where both Mom and Dad had full-time jobs, but the court awarded Mom more time with the children than with Dad anyway (8 out of every 14 days on a 14-day repeating schedule—the trial court even stated that denying the kids and dad that one day every two weeks would enable dad to have more time to get his work done). This was the case where I reached my breaking point (about three years ago). To his credit, my client agreed to appeal (and pay tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege), and he won, with the appellate court ordering the trial court to award equal child custody and parent time. If you believe that happens in every case like his, you would be mistaken.

Finding that, even in situations where the children are preteens or older, the mother was (past tense) the children’s primary caregiver when they were infants and toddlers, and therefore she always has that “advantage” over the father in the here and now. I have this case where mom had been working full-time for the past four years. The youngest of the couple’s children could take care of himself and did not need a full-time caregiver. Worse, mom worked outside the home full-time, while dad’s full-time job permitted him to work from home. At the temporary orders phase of the case, the court awarded mom primary physical custody of the kids because (and the court made no secret of the basis for its decision) she had been (past tense) the per children’s primary caregiver. Dad Wasn’t even seeking sole or primary custody; he was seeking joint equal physical custody, but he lost. Such an outcome is ridiculous and tragic, but not surprising.

Rejecting Dad’s claims that the mother is so lazy and that Dad not only works full-time each day outside the home, but then spends the rest of his time at home taking care the housekeeping and taking care of the kids as well. Why? Because (in my experience) in the minds of most judges it is unthinkable for a stay-at-home mother to be a lazy and inattentive parent (while at the same time it is easy for judges to believe—just believe—that a father doesn’t pull his weight when it comes to fulfilling child caregiving).

Penalizing the father for being the only full-time employed (in many cases the only employed) parent and awarding sole or primary physical custody of the children to the mother because she doesn’t work outside the home. Never mind (apparently) the fact that if the parties share joint equal custody, that would enable both parents to provide as much personal care to the children as possible and also allow them to work full-time jobs for their children’s financial support. Nope. Now clever courts will “acknowledge” and “praise” Dad for being a responsible and devoted breadwinner, but won’t award joint equal custody, justifying the unequal award of child custody with assertions such as:

Spending equal time in both parents’ Respective residences creates an “unstable” residential circumstance for the children.

The fact that unemployed Mom spends more of the waking hours with the children than does Dad (until the children start school, in which case the amount of time mom spends with the kids during waking hours is negligible compared to the time the children are with Dad while he’s at work) means that dad should spend even less of the children’s waking hours with them when he gets home from work. Otherwise stated, because Dad can’t be with the kids during the eight or nine hours that he is at work each day, that means that he should not spend the hours that he does have available to be with the children when the children could be spending that time or “consistently” in the custody and care of their mother. If you don’t understand this reasoning the first time you read through it, you’re not alone.

Courts will still indulge in blatantly discriminating against fathers:

  • by citing to the “fact” that women/mothers are “born nurturers”;
  • by citing to the “fact” that children are more closely bonded with, and thus need more time with, their mothers than with their fathers;
  • by claiming “it’s not the quantity of time but the quality of time” that children spend with their fathers that matters most, failing to concede that the quality of the time is a function of the quantity of time when it comes to parent-child interactions. How did the term “Disneyland Dad” evolve? Not by assuming the responsibilities and “heavy lifting” parental duties of day to day living. No, but by spoiling the child when they have such disproportionately little time on alternating weekends and one weeknight. It creates a warped sense of the father-child relationship and of reality for the kids in general, leading to the kids becoming self-absorbed, worldly, and feeling entitled around their fathers.

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

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Good news, for parents deserving of joint equal physical custody

Good news, apparently, for parents deserving of joint equal physical custody of their children but who have, up until now, been fighting an unfair, unnecessarily uphill battle.

The Utah Legislature passed, during the 2021 legislative session, a new Utah Code section. It’s Section 30-3-35.2. Here is a copy of the new code section (see below). Section 30-3-35.2 goes into effect May 5, 2021. Note: this is not a law that will, of itself, constitute a basis for seeking a change of an existing custody award. But if you are in the middle of a custody fight for joint equal custody or expect to be in the future, you will want to know about section 30-3-35.2. § 30-3-35.2.

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 30-3-10.7through 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
109     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.

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

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What happens after an affair when you have kids?

What happens after an affair when you have kids?

I’ll answer as if this question were asked in the belief that the affair will have a profound effect upon child custody, child support, and/or alimony.

If you’ve had an extramarital affair, it generally won’t do your divorce case any favors, won’t win you any sympathizers.

But will it generally result in you being “punished” by the divorce court? The answer to that question is, in my experience as a divorce lawyer: probably not (unless your affair could be shown to have done your spouse and kids egregious financial, physical, or emotional harm) and/or you were a serial, unrepentant adulterer/adulteress).

Child custody: in the jurisdiction where I practice divorce law (Utah), it has been my experience that extramarital affairs are rarely seen as rendering a parent “unfit” to exercise sole or joint custody of his/her children.

While the court is required to consider “the past conduct and demonstrated moral character of the parent” (Utah Code § 30-3-10(2)(d)) in making its child custody evaluation and award, usually the court will reason that an adulterous parent is not inherently any worse as a parent than one who is not.

If the affair cause the parent to spend excessive time away from the children, caused the parent to neglect the children, or if the children’s knowledge of the affair caused the children serious psychological or emotional harm and/or the children distrust or hate a parent because of the affair, then it’s not really the affair that is the problem itself, but the effects of the extramarital affair.

Child support: I have never seen an extramarital affair cited as a reason for awarding more or less child support had the child support payor not committed adultery.

Alimony: in Utah (where I practice divorce law), adultery can affect the alimony award, but will not automatically have an effect on the alimony award. Here is what the Utah Code contains:

(b) The court may consider the fault of the parties in determining whether to award alimony and the terms of the alimony.

(c) “Fault” means any of the following wrongful conduct during the marriage that substantially contributed to the breakup of the marriage relationship:

(i) engaging in sexual relations with an individual other than the party’s spouse[.]

(See Utah Code § 30-3-5(9)(c))

What does this mean? The Utah Supreme Court construed that section of the Utah Code in the case of Gardner v. Gardner (2019 UT 61, 452 P.3d 1134 (Supreme Court of Utah 2019)):

¶ 26 As with harm in a negligence case, a “great number of events” may have contributed to a divorce. In fact, we have previously recognized “that it is seldom, perhaps never, that there is any wholly guilty or wholly innocent party to a divorce action.” So in almost all divorce cases, it could be argued that each spouse contributed in some way to the breakup of the marriage. But some causes are clearly more substantial, or significant, than others. So even though it may be impossible to state with certainty a sole, or even the first, cause leading to the breakup of the marriage, it will certainly be possible in many cases for a court to determine the significant or important causes of the divorce.

¶ 27 Accordingly, we conclude that “substantially contributed” to the breakup of the marriage is conduct that was a significant or an important cause of the divorce. Under this definition, conduct need not be the sole, or even the most important, cause for it to substantially contribute to a divorce. So when an important or significant cause falls into a category of conduct specifically identified in section 30-3-5(8), courts are authorized to consider it in an alimony determination, even if the at-fault party can point to other potential causes of the divorce.

*****

¶ 53 Section 30-3-5(8)(a) requires district courts to consider the financial situations of both spouses as part of its alimony determination. Additionally, section 30-3-5(8)(e) urges district courts to “look to the standard of living, existing at the time of separation, in determining alimony in accordance with Subsection (8)(a),” and section 30-3-5(8)(f) provides that the “court may … attempt to equalize the parties’ respective standards of living.” Together these provisions codify the default rules that an alimony award should be crafted to “provide support for the [receiving spouse] as nearly as possible at the standard of living [he or] she enjoyed during marriage,” and, “to the extent possible,” to “equalize the parties’ respective standards of living.”

¶ 54 As we have explained, these default rules tend to further the court’s aim of achieving “a fair, just, and equitable result between the parties” because they typically put the parties in the best possible position to “reconstruct their [separate] lives on a happy and useful basis.” So the economic factors, and the general aim of placing the parties in the same position they enjoyed during the marriage, stand as an important starting point in any alimony determination.

¶ 55 But section 30-3-5(8) also provides courts the flexibility and discretion to depart from these default rules in certain situations where fairness demands. For example, in addition to the economic factors listed in section 30-3-5(8)(a), section 30-3-5(8)(b) also authorizes courts to consider “the fault of the parties in determining whether to award alimony and the terms of the alimony.” So the statute expressly provides district courts with the discretion to consider fault in determining whether to award alimony, as well as in determining the terms—the amount and length—of the alimony award.

¶ 56 Section 30–3–5 also provides guidance for how a court may adjust the amount and length of an alimony award in the event the court determines that one spouse’s fault necessitates a departure from the default economic alimony factors. For example, although section 30-3-5(8)(e) urges district courts as “a general rule,” to “look to the standard of living, existing at the time of separation,” it also instructs courts to “consider all relevant facts and equitable principles,” and grants courts “discretion” to “base alimony on the standard of living that existed at the time of trial.” When section 30-3-5(8)(e) is read together with section 30-3-5(8)(b)’s fault provision, it is clear that where a court determines that one spouse’s fault would make it inequitable to maintain both parties at the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage, the court has the discretion to lower the award to an amount sufficient to sustain the at-fault spouse at a reasonable standard of living post-marriage, rather than the standard of living the couple enjoyed during the marriage.

¶ 57 Similarly, section 30-3-5(8)(f) authorizes courts to depart from default alimony awards where fault contributed to the break-up of the marriage. It instructs courts to “attempt to equalize the parties’ respective standards of living.” But it also notes that courts should do so only “under appropriate circumstances.” So once again, when this provision is read together with section 30-3-5(8)(b)’s fault provision, it is clear that courts need not attempt to equalize the parties’ respective standards of living where one spouse’s fault would make equalization inappropriate.

¶ 58 Therefore, under the plain language of section 30-3-5(8), courts have discretion to depart from the default economic rules where one party’s fault makes it appropriate to do so. Because the district court determined that Ms. Gardner’s conduct qualified as fault under the statute, the court was authorized to depart from the default alimony rules by reducing Ms. Gardner’s alimony award by some amount.

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

https://www.quora.com/What-happens-after-an-affair-when-you-have-kids/answer/Eric-Johnson-311?prompt_topic_bio=1

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After a divorce, is joint residential custody better or worse for the children?

Let’s indulge an analogy to answer this question.

Is sugar good for you, or bad for you? It depends upon the circumstances. An occasional slice of cake or pie is a safe and pleasant way to enjoy sugar. ‘Nothing wrong with that. Eating so much sugar that your teeth rot and you pack on 30 unneeded pounds is irresponsible and hazardous to your health. ‘Nothing good about that. Yes, you have the right to ruin your health with too much sugar, but that does not mean you have the right to expect everyone around you to endorse or accommodate your irresponsible lifestyle.

So is joint residential custody better or worse for the children? It depends on the joint residential custody circumstances. Assuming there’s nothing emotionally or psychologically off about a child, when both parents are fit (not abusive or neglectful and physically and psychologically able to care for children), loving and supportive, there to provide personal care and attention, have residences that are safe and hygienic, and can at least tolerate the exercise of joint custody with each other, joint residential custody is unquestionably best for children (the research is copious and only getting clearer). When one of the parents is unfit, disengaged, and lives in a pig sty and/or in his/her car, joint residential custody would clearly not be in a child’s best interest.

Parental rights are fundamental, God-given, human rights. But they are not a parent’s absolute inviolable rights. If a parent is not minimally fit to exercise custody of a child, the law provides that such a parent’s parental rights can be infringed, restricted, even terminated. This is why a court can award sole custody of children, if it finds that the parents are not both fit to exercise joint custody and/or if it finds that joint custody would not subserve the child’s best interest.

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

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https://www.quora.com/After-a-divorce-is-joint-residential-custody-better-or-worse-for-the-children/answer/Eric-Johnson-311

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