How Do You Get Temporary Custody of a Child in Utah?

Temporary custody orders can be used while a divorce case is still underway. Like permanent orders, their terms must be obeyed by both parties. In this article, Salt Lake City custody lawyer Darwin Overson will explain why you might want to get a temporary order, and how the legal process works.

What is the Purpose of a Temporary Court Order in Divorce?

Temporary custody is a fairly self-explanatory term, but why seek it in the first place? Why not just go straight for permanent custody?

child upset due to fighting parents

Put simply, divorce proceedings tend to take some time to resolve completely. Even in the quickest scenario, state law mandates a minimum period of at least three months between filing for divorce and obtaining the final decree (though in some cases, divorcing spouses can obtain a waiver to make the process go even faster). The duration of a given divorce case will depend on factors like:

  • Whether you or your spouse is contesting any demands being made by the other party, such as a financial request regarding alimony (spousal support) or child support payments.
  • Whether you are subject to Utah’s mandatory divorce education requirement. (For more detailed information on this topic, please refer to our article about the 2015 summer divorce class schedule.)
  • Whether there are extensive assets or multiple properties which need to be distributed between the parties.
  • Whether you signed a prenuptial agreement addressing how legal issues should be handled in the event of divorce. Since a prenup essentially acts like a guide, having one already in place can help to speed matters along.

The more points you and your spouse are able to agree upon at the outset, the simpler and quicker the process will be.  However, if you are anticipating protracted legal proceedings, you may wish to seek a temporary custody order to help hold you over while the process is underway.

In addition to being used for child custody and/or visitation (parent time), temporary orders can also be used to address matters such as:

  • Who gets the house and/or car.
  • What can (and cannot) be done with assets.
  • Temporary arrangements for child support and/or alimony.
  • Forcing a spouse to vacate the family home, or to refrain from contacting you and/or your child(ren).
    • If you have any concerns about your personal safety, don’t wait for the situation to escalate. Seek a protective order or temporary protective order.

Just because temporary orders aren’t permanent doesn’t mean they carry any less legal weight. Like permanent orders, temporary orders must be followed to the letter for as long as they are in effect.

child splashing around blue plastic pool enjoying himself

How to Request a Temporary Custody Order in Utah

There is no law stating that you must retain an attorney in order to obtain a temporary custody order. However, the judiciary advises against representing yourself, and recommends getting professional legal help. This will ensure that your legal documents are prepared and filed properly. If any problems or discrepancies arise, or if your spouse opposes the order for some reason, your attorney will be able to handle the issue for you while making sure that you understand your legal rights and responsibilities.

The first step to obtaining a temporary custody order is to file a motion for temporary order. This motion can be filed at the same time you file the complaint for divorce, or afterward. You cannot seek temporary custody unless you have filed a petition or divorce (or to establish parentage). If the temporary order involves joint legal custody or joint physical custody, you will also need to submit a parenting plan.

Please be advised that if you request temporary child custody, you will also be required to go through the state’s divorce education course. You will not be granted a temporary order until you successfully complete the course, so attempting to get around this requirement will simply drag the process out. The sooner you complete the course, the closer you will be to meeting your goal.

Don’t expect your request to be granted simply because you asked. You must be able to give the court good reason for granting your request. Bear in mind the courts always use the child’s best interests as their guiding star when making decisions about custody, be it temporary or permanent. If your request would in any way harm or go against the child’s best interests – for instance, if the child would wind up having worse access to healthcare or other resources – then it will not be granted.

It’s important to note that rules for seeking temporary orders are not uniform across the state. The procedures you should use depend on where you live, because the rules are based on Judicial Districts. For example, Salt Lake County is part of the Third Judicial District, alongside Tooele County and Summit County.

Finally, you should know that your spouse may decide to challenge all or part of your request by filing a statement opposing the motion.

If you’re getting divorced in Utah, an experienced family law lawyer can help guide you through the process. To set up a free, completely confidential legal consultation, call attorney Darwin Overson at (801) 758-2287.