On May 12th, 2015 a new law went into effect in Utah custody cases. It is Utah Code Section 30-33-35.1.
The new law provides for an optional minimum parent-time schedule for the non-custodial parent in custody cases. The old minimum parent-time statute is still in effect, but presumably the new optional statute will be applied in many cases going forward.
In effect, the new law allows a non-custodial parent to have a minimum of 145 overnights with the children each year. This amounts to joint physical custody, which is defined as sharing the overnights with the children in anywhere from a 50/50 split to a 70/30 split. Joint physical custody also presumes that the parents will share the expenses for the children.
The optional minimum 145 overnights for the non-custodial are accomplished by allowing the noncustodial parent to keep the children overnight during their mid-week visit and for an additional overnight (until Monday morning) during their alternating weekend visit. On the morning following their parent-time, the non-custodial parent may take the children to school or drop them off to the other parent, as appropriate.
The law provides examples of situations in which the optional minimum parent-time would be appropriate. The Court or the parties may consider factors such as the geographical distance between the parties, the ability of the parties to communicate effectively with each other, the historical extent of involvement of both parents in the children’s daily care including meal preparation, homework assistance, bathing the children, taking the children to doctor appointments, etc.
The optional minimum schedule requires a parenting plan to be filed by the parties. A parenting plan must always include provisions on how the parties will make major decisions involve the care and upbringing of their children.
The optional minimum schedule also results in a change of the child support obligation of the non-custodial parent. This is because the joint physical custody child support worksheet is used, rather than the sole physical custody worksheet. But joint physical custody also assumes that the parents will share expenses for the children in addition to the non-custodial parent’s child support obligation.
I think the new law is a good one. It is the result of careful study by members of the family law bar and the Utah state legislature. It recognizes the need for children to have both parents actively involved in their lives, particularly where this has been the historical pattern. Utah’s parent-time laws contemplate that the Courts will make specific findings regarding parent-time and a parenting plan when there has been domestic violence. So the new law is not a one-size-fits-all solution. But it does recognize that in many situations in which both parents have been actively involved in the children’s lives, there is a need for the children to have the guarantee of more time with the non-custodial parent than the old statute provided. In the respect, it seems like a step in the right direction.
This material should not be construed as legal advice for any particular fact situation, but is intended for general informational purposes only. For advice specific to any individual situation, an experienced attorney should be contacted.