This step-by-step guide can help you get the custody of your child without appearing in a Utah court:
- Hire an experienced family law attorney who resolves matters amicably
- Hold informal negotiations with your ex-spouse
- Opt for Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) processes
- Create a parenting plan
If parents want to resolve the matter without going to court, they need to understand the difference between physical, legal, sole, primary, joint, and split custody. They also should be aware of the visitation rights of the noncustodial parent, which are dependent on the child’s age group (Utah Code Section 30-3-35). After educating themselves about these concepts and the legal requirements, here are the steps they should take:
Hire an Experienced Family Law Attorney Who Resolves Matters Amicably
About 98% of child custody matters are resolved out of court. Parents need to hire an experienced custody attorney who believes in peacefully resolving custody disputes. The lawyer also should have experience in cases that require mediation or collaborative law resolution and he/she should have successfully settled most of his custody cases amicably.
Hiring an experienced lawyer is the first step toward reaching an out-of-court agreement because such lawyers can advocate the quickest, most affordable, and easiest way of resolving your custody issues.
Hold Informal Negotiations with Your Ex-Spouse
Spouses, who have accepted that the divorce was inevitable and so it’d be a good idea not to hold grudges and get on with life, are likely to be friendly and honest with each other. Such spouses can engage in one-to-one discussions and come up with a child custody plan, thereby saving time, money, and court hassles.
Firstly, they should decide mutually on sole and legal custody. Once they agree on custody, they should create a suitable parenting plan (details in the last section), which must also include the visitation rights of the noncustodial parent. Once they agree, they can ask their lawyers to write up a child custody agreement/parenting plan.
If informal negotiations are not possible, spouses can consider alternate resolution processes.
Opt for Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Processes in Utah
Spouses can choose any one of the following ADR processes:
- Collaborative Family Law
Mediation is a process in which both parents hire a mediator who helps them resolve the child custody-related issues in an informal and friendly manner. Typically, mediation is suggested in all cases, but the ex-spouses need to be willing to work with each other, and both the parties should not want to make their child custody matter public. The process begins with the lawyers of both parties helping their client hire a suitable mediator.
Many experienced custody attorneys suggest mediation to their clients because:
- Mediation allows the parents to discover solutions in a collaborative, private, and friendly environment.
- Mediation is quicker, more affordable, and less stressful than fighting it out in the courts. It can resolve custody–related issues in a very short time compared to court litigation. .
- Mediation can promote civility between the ex-spouses, and many people have found that post-mediation, their relationship with their ex-spouses improved.
- The children too may not feel stressed as both parents are cordially resolving matters.
- Utah’s mediators can only make recommendations; they cannot impose their solution on the parents.
- The process of mediation is much simpler and more straightforward than litigation, which takes much more of a lawyer’s time (read: costs parties more money) and can require hiring expert witnesses.
- The mediator keeps the emotions out of the discussions and does not take sides.
Collaborative Family Law
Collaborative family law is suggested by attorneys when both parties want to keep the matter private and are willing to negotiate and reach an agreement very amicably. Some issues that can be addressed by means of collaborative family law are: division of property, a spouse hiding some assets, or some disagreements on physical or legal custody, etc.
When both spouses decide to go for a collaborative law solution, they, along with their attorneys, have to sign a “participation agreement,” in which everyone agrees not to initiate court action before the case is resolved. Note that collaborative law resolution can be more expensive than mediation, although a modified form of mediation may be part of the collaborative process.
Except for the involvement of attorneys to iron out the differences on some issues, the proceedings in a collaborative law resolution process tend to be more informal and friendly than traditional litigation.
Create a Parenting Plan
As part of informal negotiations, mediation, or the collaborative law process, both parents have to create a parenting plan. The parents, as well as their attorneys, collaborate to create this parenting plan, which can include any topic that the parents have decided on. For example, a typical parenting plan includes living arrangements, transitioning between the parents’ homes, visitation schedule, child’s vacations, traveling schedules, telephonic and online contact, and more.
Plus, a parenting plan must include:
- The methods that the parents will use to resolve disagreements – for example, the parents may opt for arbitration, counseling, or mediation if they disagree in the future. The plan must contain specifics.
- A schedule that specifies where the child will stay on holidays, vacations, and special days (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.).
- Details about which parent (or parents) is responsible for making decisions about the child’s education, healthcare, and religion.
- Details of how the parent-time will change when one parent relocates. This should include the relocation notice period and which parent will pay for the child’s travel.
No matter what the parenting plan includes, the law is clear that when the child is living with a parent, then that parent is responsible for making the day-to-day decisions. Also, either parent can make decisions about the child’s health or safety should an emergency arise.
Once the parenting plan is ready, both parents have to get it signed by a judge so that it becomes a legally binding order. The judge will review the plan and ensure that it is in the best interests of the child before approving it. Any violations of the parenting plan are regarded as contempt of court and are punishable in law. The punishment can include placing restrictions on the violating parent, financial penalties, and/or jail time.
This is how you can get the full (primary), joint, or split physical/legal custody of your child without going to a court in Utah.