As other states do, the state of Utah recognizes two types of child custody: physical and legal. The differences between these two types are evident in their names. Physical custody refers to the child’s living situation, that is, with whom he or she lives all or most of the time. Legal custody, on the other hand, is granted to the parent — or, as is often the case, both parents — who makes all the important decisions about the child. Under these legal definitions, there are several different arrangements available to accommodate certain situations.
A parent who has sole legal and physical custody over a child not only makes all of the decisions having to do with that child, including where he or she will go to school or seek medical care, but also houses and cares for him or her as well. The courts typically award sole physical and legal custody to one parent only when the non-custodial parent lives far away or has demonstrated negative influences over the family through abusive or reckless behavior, or if the court deems it necessary due to other circumstances. Except in these situations, non-custodial parents are often still eligible for visitation rights and partial legal custody even if they do not have physical custody.
Other important custody arrangements include joint legal and physical custody and split custody. Parents who share decision-making responsibilities as well as time with the child have joint custody in both the legal and physical sense. Utah courts feel this type of custody is in the best interests of the child as long as the parents can communicate with each other. A split custody arrangement is used when there are two or more children and each parent has physical custody of at least one.
Divorce can be a difficult time for children. They are usually confused and may have a difficult time understanding what is happening. A family law attorney may be able to help a spouse come to an amicable agreement about normally contentious issues with the other spouse in order to make the process as easy to bear as possible. The attorney may also discuss all possible custody options or alternatives.
Source: Utah Courts, “Types of child custody“, October 22, 2014