When you’re a parent who’s going through divorce, the major concern on the forefront of your mind is probably child custody. West Valley City child custody lawyer Darwin Overson helps divorced and separating spouses with legal matters such as:
- Drafting valid parenting time plans.
- Resolving custody disputes.
- Enforcing court orders for custody.
- Modifying or revoking existing custody orders.
How is Child Custody Determined in Utah?
Utah allows divorcing parents to create their own child custody plans. However, if parents are unwilling or unable to agree upon a valid and reasonable plan, the courts may intervene to impose an order. Ultimately, the goal is to create a plan which will grant the best possible quality of life for the child. Therefore, if a family law judge needs to enter the situation, he or she will try to answer questions such as:
- Can each parent provide financial stability? Nutritious food? Adequate shelter and access to education?
- Does either parent have a criminal record, particularly a record containing a felony, a violent crime, or a very recent crime?
- Does the child prefer one parent over the other, provided he or she is old enough to make a reasonable decision?
- Are there any siblings the child would be separated from if he or she went to one household or the other?
- Is either parent going to try and prevent the child from forming a healthy relationship with the other parent?
- Does the child have a disability or any special needs which are better suited to one parent than the other?
Because the decision ultimately falls to the discretion of a judge in cases where parents cannot agree, it is extremely important that you have an experienced custody attorney who can advocate on your behalf in court.
What if My Former Spouse is Not Following Their Custody Orders?
It’s always a stressful and frustrating experience when your ex-husband or ex-wife stops following the court’s custody orders, and you may be tempted to retaliate by withholding alimony or child support. However, violating your alimony or support orders will only make the situation worse, and could even lead to you being criminally charged with contempt of court. If your former spouse stops obeying the court’s custody orders, custody lawyer Darwin Overson can help you resolve the situation in a way that’s compliant with Utah’s laws.
If you’re trying to enforce a custody judgment, the appropriate course of action is to file a Motion for an Order to Show Cause. As part of Salt Lake County, West Valley City belongs to Utah’s Third District, which means your filing must be in accordance with Rule of Civil Procedure 101. Darwin Overson can help you navigate and comply with all applicable laws and court rules, so that you can feel confident about your filing.
Proving Your Ex Is an Unfit Parent: Terminating Parental Rights
Even in cases where one parent is awarded sole (primary) custody, the family court system still allows the non-custodial parent access to at least the bare minimum amount of parent time provided by state law. Therefore, if you’re worried that your child will not be safe and simply cannot be around your former spouse, you will want to terminate your former spouse’s parental rights. In order to have his or her parental rights terminated, you will need to prove to the courts that your ex-husband or -wife is what’s called an “unfit parent.”
Under Section 78A-6-508 of the Utah Code, all of the following issues count as prima facie evidence, or evidence which must be refuted by the defendant, of grounds for the termination of parental rights:
- Failure to communicate with the child, by any means, for at least six months.
- Mental illness or intellectual disability which prevents the parent from providing appropriate care.
- “Habitual or excessive use of” drugs or alcohol (i.e. drug addiction or alcoholism).
- Any conduct constituting sexual, physical, or emotional/verbal abuse.
- Having a history of violent behavior.
- Deliberately exposing the child to pornography, or any other “material harmful to a minor.” Under the state’s laws, “material” could be anything from a drawing, to a movie, to a photograph, to a musical recording.
Generally speaking, a parent is not automatically considered unfit solely because he or she makes a medical decision for their child based on a religious belief. However, there is an exception to that rule in cases where it can be proven that the medical decision is not “reasonable and informed.”
If any of these issues are affecting your family, West Valley City child custody attorney Darwin Overson can help. To set up a free and confidential legal consultation, call our law offices at (801) 758-2287 today.