I’ve written previously about Utah child custody evaluations (some examples are here, here, and here).
As the name implies, a custody evaluation looks at child custody (i.e., who should have the kids most of the time and who should make big decisions for the kids), but it’s not the only type of evaluation out there.
There’s also what’s called a “parent-time evaluation.”
A parent-time evaluation is like a pared-down version of a child custody evaluation.
While a custody evaluation looks at all aspects of a divorce as it relates to children (e.g., custody, parent-time, decision-making, where kids will go to school, relocation), a parent-time evaluation looks at one thing: where the kids will spend their overnights.
And overnights are really what parent-time is all about. This is because where kids spend their overnights is how Utah courts determine how much time kids spend with their parents. Overnights are also a large component in how Utah courts calculate child support and alimony.
So, instead of asking to change custody from one parent to another, a parent-time evaluation asks to adjust the number of overnights a child spends with a parent.
Let me give you a couple examples of what I’m talking about:
- Example 1: Parents share a 60%-40% parent-time arrangement (we call this a 35.1 split because 30-3-35.1 lays out Utah’s 60-40 split). 40% parent wants to move to a 50-50 split, so they file a petition to modify and ask for a parent-time evaluation.
The reason for this is a 60-40 split is joint physical custody, and so is a 50-50 split, so there is no need for a change-in-custody analysis.
- Example 2: Dad has minimum time with his son (i.e., every other weekend and one evening per week, or about four overnights per month). He wants to increase his time from four to eight overnights per month. That’s not quite enough to move from Mom having primary physical custody to Dad and Mom sharing joint physical custody.
What dad would do is file to modify parent-time and ask for a parent-time evaluation.
Does a Parent-time Evaluation Costs Less than a Custody Evaluation?
Once people realize that a parent-time evaluation doesn’t deal with custody, a natural question comes up: does a parent-time evaluation cost less than a custody evaluation?
The answer is: it depends.
It depends on how much work the evaluator has to do to determine a good parent-time split.
Sometimes, figuring out if a 50-50 split is better for the kids than a 60-40 split is actually harder than figuring out is a 60-40 split is better than a 90-10 split.
Sometimes, close cases are the most hotly contested ones, which means an evaluator will spend more time figuring things out.
Our general experience has been this: parent-time evaluations are sometimes less expensive than custody evaluations, but not by much, and not very often.