How do I get joint legal custody in Utah?
As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, legal custody is the ability of a parent to be an active participant in the decision-making process that shapes a child’s life. It’s the ability of a parent to contribute to decisions such as whether your child goes to public school or private school, whether they should be taking certain medication, what kind of surgery they should receive, whether they should go to counseling, what religion they should affiliate with, etc. If a parent wants to be involved in these types of decisions, then they must ensure that the court awards them joint legal custody.
How does the court determine if I should be awarded joint legal custody?
Under Utah Law, joint legal custody is the default award. This means that the court is going to assume that both parents should be awarded joint legal custody unless there’s evidence of things like domestic violence, neglect, abuse, or other situations that make joint legal custody unreasonable or impractical. However, even if none of these issues are present the court may feel the need to undergo a more thorough analysis before awarding a parent joint legal custody. This can happen if one parent has persuaded the court that the other parent has been only minimally involved in the child’s life up to this point in time, or if the other parent has repeatedly made bad decisions. If there’s a question as to whether a parent should be awarded joint legal custody, the court can consider things like:
- Whether that parent can help meet the child’s physical, psychological, and emotional needs;
- Co-parenting skills like: (1) The parent’s ability to reach a shared decision with the other parent regarding the child; (2) ability to appropriately communicate with the other parent; (3) ability to encourage love and affection between the child and the other parent; (4) willingness to allow frequent and continuous contact between the child and the other parent where appropriate;
- The parent’s ability to put the child’s interests above their own;
- Whether both parents were active participants in raising the child before the court action was filed;
- How close the parents live to each other;
- The maturity of the parent;
- The ability of the parent to protect the child from conflict.
So what should I actually do?
A parent that wants to be awarded joint legal custody needs to try and show the court that:
- You’ve been involved in raising the child and making decisions for the child. Go to doctor’s appointments, get involved in the child’s school, go to parent-teacher conferences, be a coach or an assistant coach for their sports team. The court is more likely to award you joint legal custody if they can see that you have been in a position to make decisions for the child in the past and are still in a position to know what your child needs.
- You get along with the other parent. This is called co-parenting. This means that you’re reasonable and mature in your conversations; you help the child have a good relationship with the other parent; you solve problems with the other parent.
- You sacrifice your own interests and luxuries for the benefit of your child. Show the court that your child is more important to you than your work, your friends, your hobbies, or your significant other.
- You don’t expose the child to conflicts, especially involving your custody/divorce case. Even when the other parent brings these issues up in front of the child, you figure out a way to limit your child’s exposure to these issues.
If you can show the court that you’ve done these things you have a much better chance of being awarded joint legal custody.