In Utah, there are two areas of child custody in divorce or paternity actions. The two areas of custody are legal custody and physical custody. This article will focus on joint legal custody.
Joint legal custody does not involve the living arrangements of the children. Joint legal custody means that both parents share decision-making power over raising the children. Often these shared decisions involve educational, medical, religious and general welfare choices involving the children.
If joint legal custody is in dispute during a lawsuit, the Court will use the Utah Code to help in their legal analysis. According to the Utah Code, joint legal custody is the “sharing of the rights, privileges, duties, and powers of a parent by both parents. See Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-10.1.
Generally, the courts award both parents joint legal custody. It is unusual for one parent to be awarded sole legal custody. However, if a parent questions the ability of the other parent to make joint decisions about the children, the Court will look at many factors. These factors are found in Utah Code § 30-3-10.2 and are outlined below:
- Whether the physical, psychological and emotional needs and development of the child will benefit from joint legal custody;
- 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;
- Whether each parent is capable of encouraging and accepting a positive relationship between the child and the other parent, including the sharing of love, affection and contact between the child and the other parent;
- Whether both parents participated in raising the child before the divorce;
- The geographical proximity of the homes of the parents;
- 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 or physical custody;
- The maturity of the parents and their willingness and ability to protect the child from conflict that may arise between the parents;
- The past and present ability of the parents to cooperate with each other and make decisions jointly;
- Any history of, or potential for, child abuse, spouse abuse, or kidnaping; and
- Any other factors the court finds relevant.
If you have any additional questions regarding joint legal custody, please call Melanie Cook Law at (385) 777-5940.