Usually the most difficult issues to deal with during a divorce are those surrounding your children. While both parents want what’s best for their children, having to split time and parent duties can be challenging. There are several strategies and resources for dealing with these issues as they come up during divorce, and it’s important to take advantage of these resources during a difficult time. One of the best places to begin is understanding Utah Parent Time Statutes, outlined in Utah’s divorce laws.

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Parent Time, What Does it Mean?

There are a lot of different terms that might come up in a discussion of parental custody, and it’s important to understand what they mean. Here are a few of the most common terms you will come across:

  • Physical custody – how parents share time throughout the year, whether it’s during the week, during holidays, and during vacations.
  •  Legal custody – how parents make major life decisions for their children, including things like residence, education, religion, health care and more. In addition, it can outline the responsibility of each parent to care for the child(ren) on a daily basis. Legal custody usually falls into one of three categories:
    • sole legal custody – one parent makes all the decisions,
    • joint legal custody – both parents equally involved in these decisions, or
    • split legal custody – each parent has sole custody of at least one child, in families with multiple children.
  • Primary residence – the legal address listed for the child(ren), where important records are sent, such as school information and medical records.

What is Parent Time?

When a judge is considering custody issues, they are often weighed against the “best interest” of the child(ren). In the absence of abuse or other harmful behaviors, most Utah courts believe that it is best for children to have “frequent, meaningful, and continuing access to each parent” and will create custody arrangements accordingly. There are two options for creating a parent time schedule: both parties outline and agree upon a schedule, or the courts can impose a schedule, if you and your spouse cannot come to an agreement.

Minimum Requirements for Parent Time

In cases where the two parties disagree, the court-imposed schedule will rely on Utah statutes outlining the minimum parent time applicable for children. There are two separate statutes, one that outlines time for children ages 5 to 18 and another outlining time for children under the age of 5. The minimum parent-time for children ages 5-18 is to spend at least one weekday evening with the non-custodial parent for at least three hours, perhaps longer. During the summer the non-custodial parent can opt to have the child(ren) from 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. if desired when school is not in session. In addition, parents will alternate weekends that include Friday night through Sunday night and split up holidays and the child’s birthday according to the court’s predetermined schedule of even-year/odd-year.

Children under age 5 have different parent-time requirements because their needs are different. Young infants (children under 1 year) usually have their parent time broken up into shorter visits between two and three hours at a time on several days throughout the week. As the child grows from an infant to a toddler and then an older child, the amount of time a parent can spend with him or her increases, including longer visits on weeknights, weekends, and holidays.

Figuring out the best way to care for your children and give each parent the appropriate amount of time to spend with them is never easy in a divorce, but Utah laws provide some guidance for what is appropriate and you should take some time to review them with a family law attorney.

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