Child Custody Disputes – How a Family Lawyer Can Protect Your Parental Rights

As a parent, it is natural for you to assume that your parental rights are definite. After all, your children are your flesh and blood. The idea that your parental rights need protection can be confusing. 

The reality is that family law matters can be full of nuances. Even a minor oversight or mistake in the legal process could put your rights at risk. Additionally, child custody disputes can be emotionally draining and complex. During a divorce, parents are often uncertain about their rights. Allegations of abuse or being an unfit parent can further complicate custody disputes. 

This is where a child custody lawyer steps in, not just as your legal advocate but also as your unwavering support system. What exactly does a family lawyer do to protect your rights? Why is it necessary to hire one for your case? 

Protecting Your Parental Rights in Child Custody Disputes

Do you need to modify a custody disagreement, or are you facing another family law issue? Having a child custody lawyer by your side can ensure that your parental rights are protected. 

Child custody lawyers possess the knowledge and experience needed to guide you through the divorce system. The right legal team can diligently build a solid case on your behalf.

When building your parental rights case, a family lawyer may:

  • Obtain witness statements
  • Gather medical records
  • Examine parental alienation, domestic violence, abuse, or neglect allegations
  • Present compelling arguments to support your position as a fit parent

The right family law attorneys for you will be able to ensure that your voice is heard. During the mediation and court proceedings, your child custody lawyers can represent you with both confidence and professionalism. They will present persuasive arguments based on their knowledge of relevant Utah laws.

Still, you may wonder, “Why do my parental rights need protecting?” Consider the following reasons why hiring a lawyer is essential for your custody case.

Understanding Parental Rights in Utah

In Utah, child custody refers to the legal rights and responsibilities that a parent has for his or her child. There are several types of child custody arrangements that can be determined by a court or agreed upon by the parents. 

Physical custody determines where the child will live on a day-to-day basis. Legal custody can be awarded either solely to one parent or shared between both. 

Legal custody refers to the right to make important child welfare decisions, such as: 

  • Education
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Medical decisions
  • Religious upbringing

A joint custody arrangement means both parents share physical and/or legal custody of the child. This allows for equal involvement in decision-making. It also ensures that both parents have regular contact with their children.

A split custody arrangement typically occurs when multiple children are involved in a dispute. Each parent is given full custody of at least one child – based on the kids’ best interests.

The following types of child custody orders are recognized in Utah:

  • Sole legal custody and sole physical custody
  • Joint legal custody and joint physical custody
  • Joint legal custody and sole physical custody
  • Split custody arrangement

What do family courts consider when determining parental rights in Utah? 

Factors Considered in Child Custody Cases

A family law court judge will assess each parent’s mental and physical health. Any history of substance abuse or domestic violence may significantly impact custody decisions. The court will examine each parent’s ability to provide the child with a safe, loving home.

Before the court decides on a parenting plan, it takes into consideration:

  • The existing parent-child relationship with each party
  • The involvement of each parent in daily caregiving duties
  • The medical care, education, and emotional support of the child, and;
  • Each parent’s willingness to foster a positive relationship with his or her co-parent

A judge may consider a child’s preferences if he or she is old enough. The child must be able to articulate his or her desires maturely. Of course, the court must act in the child’s best interests, even if it is not what the child prefers. 

The court may appoint a guardian ad litem in the interim or consult experts such as a mental health professional. These expert witnesses can provide information about what would be more suitable for the child.

The Truth About Child Custody Disputes

It is estimated that more than 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. As a result, approximately 1 million children experience divorce or separation each year. 

Fair or not, studies also show that mothers are more likely to be awarded primary physical custody of a child.

No matter the personal outcome, child custody disputes can be emotionally draining and highly contentious. They often involve intense arguments and conflicting emotions. Often, both parents have a deep-rooted desire to protect their individual parental rights. 

Of course, not all child custody disputes involve divorcing couples. Custody battles can happen with unmarried parents or when modifying an existing arrangement.

Sometimes, one party wants to gain parental rights. For example, if a child was adopted without a parent’s knowledge, that parent may seek custody. Other times, disputes arise between adoptive parents, step-parents, and biological parents.

In any case, the truth is that child custody disputes are rarely straightforward or quickly resolved.

Common Issues in Paternal Rights Disputes

Parents may have differing opinions on what is best for their children. This can lead to sharp disagreements over custody arrangements. With each parent fighting for what he or she feels is right, reaching an agreement can be difficult. 

One common issue arising in child custody cases is relocation. When a parent wants to move away with the children, conflicts may arise. Moving can impact existing custody arrangements significantly.

Additionally, not all parents enter into child custody disputes with pure intentions. Sometimes, parents use parental alienation tactics. They may do this to turn children against the other co-parent. 

Such manipulation can affect the child’s well-being and relationship with both parents, possibly even leading to further conflict between parents. A lawyer, though, can advocate for your rights as a parent and take legal action if necessary to prevent parental alienation from occurring.

Another common issue is determining the primary custodial parent. In some cases, both parents may fight to be the primary custodian of the children.

Establishing Parental Rights

When it comes to child custody disputes, protecting your parental rights is crucial. Child support plays a vital role in ensuring that both parents contribute financially to the well-being of their children. 

A family lawyer can help you navigate the complexities of determining child support payments. These calculations are based on factors such as income, custody arrangements, and the child’s needs. 

Establishing paternity may be necessary to obtain parental rights. It grants both parents specific rights and obligations towards their child. These include custody, visitation, and financial support.

What if there are disagreements or doubts about paternity? Family lawyers can facilitate the DNA testing process by helping you identify accredited testing facilities, coordinating the testing appointments, and ensuring that the results are legally recognized and admissible in court.

In some cases, presenting evidence beyond DNA testing may be required to establish paternity. This evidence can include documents, testimonies, or other compelling information that supports the claim of paternity.

Family lawyers can assist in gathering documents, such as: 

  • Birth certificates
  • Medical records
  • Written acknowledgments of paternity

These documents can help substantiate the biological ties between the alleged father and the child.

By taking these steps, you can solidify your position as a legal parent. You thereby gain access to important decisions affecting your child’s life.

Voluntary vs. Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights

The termination of parental rights is a very serious matter. It can have significant consequences for both parents and children involved. If your parental rights are at risk, make sure to seek the legal counsel of a lawyer.

What happens in family law cases where a parent willingly relinquishes his or her parental rights? This is considered a voluntary termination, and it is an irrevocable decision. 

Parents may do this if they can’t provide proper care or financial support for their child. What if a biological parent and step-parent are considering adoption? The biological co-parent may need to terminate parental rights.

Sometimes, the Utah juvenile court orders an intervention on a child’s behalf. The court may then decide that it is in the child’s best interests to have one or both parent’s rights terminated. This is called involuntary termination of parental rights. 

This often happens in cases involving, but not limited to, the following offenses.

Child abuse

Child abuse is the intentional and harmful mistreatment of a child. This is done either through physical, emotional, or sexual means – or neglect. 

Abuse can encompass a range of behaviors, including physical violence and emotional abuse.

Domestic violence

Domestic violence is the use of physical, emotional, psychological, or financial abuse in the family. It is done to control, intimidate, or harm the other person. 

Domestic violence can also include threats, isolation, economic control, and more.

Child abandonment

Child abandonment is when a parent willingly leaves a child without proper care, supervision, and support. This may be done without any intent to return or without making adequate arrangements for the child’s welfare. 

This form of neglect can involve physically abandoning the child or failing to provide essential care and sustenance.

Child neglect

Child neglect is a form of child abuse. It refers to the failure of a parent or caregiver to provide for a child’s basic needs. This includes food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and emotional support. Neglect can be either intentional or due to a lack of understanding or capacity.

Drug addiction and alcoholism

What if one or both parents are addicted to drugs, including illegal substances or alcohol? This addiction interferes with the ability to provide a safe, stable, and nurturing environment for his or her child. 

It often leads to a range of issues, such as neglect, emotional trauma, and compromised physical and emotional well-being of the child. A parent’s severe mental health issues can also pose a risk to the child’s well-being.

The Process of Terminating Parental Rights

The termination of parental rights involves several steps and legal requirements. It usually begins with a petition filed by the other parent. Other interested parties, such as Child Protective Services, can also start this process.

During this time, the court may have the child live with other family members. The preference for temporary placement is with capable family members. These may be grandparents, aunts, uncles, or close family friends. 

If no family members can offer availability or adequate temporary living arrangements, then the child may be placed in the foster care system. Foster care involves the placement of the child with trained and licensed foster parents who can temporarily provide a stable and caring environment.

Temporary placement is not intended to be a long-term solution. The ultimate goal may be to reunify the child with their biological parents once safety and stability can be assured. What if reunification is not possible or in the child’s best interests? Plans for permanent placement, which may include adoption, may be explored.

When there is enough evidence to support the decision, the court will move to end parental rights. After that, the parent loses all legal rights and responsibility for the child. These include custody, visitation, and decision-making authority.

To ensure that your side of the story is fully considered by the court, make sure to work with an experienced family lawyer. Your child’s well-being and future could be at stake.

Alternative Dispute Resolution Options for Child Custody Disputes

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) options can be incredibly beneficial in child custody disputes. They provide a more collaborative and less adversarial approach when creating parenting plans.

One option for parents is mediation. With the help of a mediator, parents can create an agreement in the best interests of their children.

During mediation, both parties (and their lawyers) can express their concerns and preferences on custody arrangements. This process promotes cooperation and empowers parents to make decisions together. This is often preferable to having a judge make these decisions.

Another ADR option for child custody disputes is arbitration. In this process, an arbitrator hears evidence from both sides. Afterward, he or she will make binding decisions on parenting issues. Arbitration can provide a quicker resolution than going through court proceedings.

Both mediation and negotiation focus on cooperation rather than confrontation. They provide a platform for creative problem-solving. Parents who choose ADR and actively participate may have fewer conflicts when co-parenting. This is because they both contributed to and benefited from the custody agreement.

Family lawyers can help the ADR process go more smoothly. It can certainly help to have their support to make your position and arguments clear in what can be a very emotionally charged setting.

The Importance of Communication in Child Custody Disputes

Communication and co-parenting play a crucial role in child custody disputes. When parents communicate and work together, the children can benefit. Good communication helps avoid unnecessary court battles by promoting negotiation instead of litigation. 

Effective communication doesn’t mean always agreeing on everything. It means actively listening, expressing your thoughts respectfully, and considering different perspectives.

Good communication means striving toward compromise when possible. It ensures that both parents have input on the decisions that affect their children. This also promotes stability and emotional well-being for the child.

A co-parenting plan is required in Utah if you are seeking shared custody. So try your best to collaborate with the other parent in making decisions about the following. A family lawyer can help you do so more effectively.

Visitation schedules

Collaborating on visitation schedules is crucial. Both co-parents should have meaningful and consistent time with the child. 

Both parents should be open to accommodating each other’s schedules and episodic changes. It is important to account for work commitments and special occasions.

Create a plan for clear and open communication about visitation. Decide on drop-off and pick-up arrangements. Always prioritize what’s best for the child’s routine, stability, and emotional well-being.

Education plans

Collaborating on education is vital for a child’s academic success and personal development. This includes decisions about schooling type (public, private, or homeschooling) and extracurricular activities. Discuss necessary accommodations for any special educational needs.

Maintain an open and respectful dialogue between co-parents. Decide how to share information about the children’s academic performance and school events. This includes ensuring that both parents have access to school portals or communication channels.

Healthcare needs

Determine who will provide health insurance for the children and how medical expenses will be divided. Collaborate on significant medical decisions. These include elective surgeries, long-term treatment plans, or specialist visits. 

Ensure both parents have access to medical records and information. Establish a clear plan for handling medical emergencies. Decide who should be contacted first and how to share critical medical information.

Religious upbringing

Decisions regarding religious upbringing can be a sensitive matter. It may have a profound impact on a child’s identity and beliefs. 

It is important for parents to find common ground and establish a plan for their child’s religious education. Once a reasonable plan for this has been agreed on, both co-parents should do their utmost to abide by the agreement.

We Care About Protecting Your Parental Rights

Going through court proceedings can be challenging emotionally and financially. Are you facing a difficult custody battle over your parental rights in Utah? Do you need help understanding your parental rights? Are you trying to modify a custody agreement or another custody issue?

Seek out the compassionate family lawyers at Brown Family Law. When you protect your parental rights, it is a commitment to providing the best possible environment for your child. 

Our legal team is dedicated to fighting for a custody plan that you and your child can enjoy. To maximize time with your child, contact Brown Family Law today to schedule a consultation with our dedicated child custody lawyers. 

It’s easy and convenient to get in touch with our team members. Simply complete our online contact form or call us at 801-685-9999 to get started.

Published On: November 3rd, 2023Categories: Child CustodyComments Off on Child Custody Disputes – How a Family Lawyer Can Protect Your Parental Rights
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About the Author: Marco Brown
Marco C. Brown was named Utah’s Outstanding Family Law Lawyer of the Year in 2015. He graduated with distinction from the University of Nebraska College of Law in 2007 and is currently the managing partner of Brown Family Law, LLC.
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