Every custody case is different. Some parents get along, and some don’t. Disagreements over custody and parent time can cause enormous stress for the parents and the children. A well-drafted custody order can help prevent future disagreement and, hopefully, prevent future litigation. Although no list can address all issues, here are 12 provisions of a custody order that can help prevent future problems:

  1. Decision-Making Authority
  2. One key component to a custody order will be who makes decisions. Typically the parent who has the child will decide what the child does with his or her time. Primary custodial parents, the ones who have the children most, usually get to decide issues that require continuity, such as what school to attend, the child’s doctor, whether to get braces, and extracurricular activities. Joint decision-making can be problematic, but some parents make it work. Specify who will make decisions and what communication the parents will have about these decisions.
  3. Coparenting
  4. A parenting plan is required for joint custody orders. However, even in a sole custody order, there should be a provision for sharing information about the children. Both parents should know the child’s teachers, doctors, dentists, and other important people so that each parent has access to important information about their child. In a joint custody parenting plan, the parties should provide who will make what decisions when. The order should also describe what part each parent will play in parenting and decision-making and the process the parties will use to resolve disputes.
  5. Parent-Time Schedule
  6. Parent-time schedules should be very exact so that nobody can disagree about each parent’s days and overnights with the children during the school year, for holidays, and the summer. These schedules can be changed by oral agreement, but a fallback plan avoids disputes.
  7. Surrogate Care
  8. If the parties live reasonably close together, the order should specify when the parties will have the other parent care for the children in their absence and when they will use surrogate care. This is particularly helpful if the children are small and cannot be left alone and the other parent is available and willing to be a care provider. Specify the circumstances in which parental care will be used and the method of notification of a need for care, the transportation of the care.
  9. Transportation for exchanges
  10. Specify who must transport the child and how the exchanges will occur. A simple solution that works in most circumstances is for the receiving parent—the one whose parent-time is starting—to pick up the children at the other parent’s house. For long distances, consider meeting each other halfway or sharing the cost.
  11. School
  12. Specify which parent’s neighborhood school the children will attend. When parents do not live within the same school boundaries, usually, the children will attend the school in the neighborhood of the parent who has the children the majority of the time. This should not be an inflexible assignment of a specific school because circumstances may change.
  13. Extracurricular Activities
  14. Unless the parties specify otherwise in the custody order, the court will require the custodial parent to cover things like piano lessons, sports teams, and school activities that he or she signs the children up for. The custodial parent generally will have the final say as to what extracurricular activities the child participates in. However, the activities cannot conflict with the other parent’s parent time without his or her agreement. The order is a good place to specify how extracurricular activities will be handled.
  15. Child Support
  16. Custody orders must provide for the non-custodial parent to pay Child support. Child Support orders should follow the statutory guidelines. If they do, there will be automatic adjustments when a child is emancipated, when a child has an extended stay with the other parent, or when there is a modification of sole custody. The order needs to establish a baseline for child support by stating the incomes of each party to use in calculating child support.
  17. Medical Insurance and Expenses
  18. Utah law requires that the order provides for a parent to cover the children with insurance if available at a reasonable cost. U.C.A. Section 78B-12-212. The order must also provide that both parents are equally responsible for uncovered medical expenses. For reimbursement from the other parent, the order should state that the parent incurring the bill for the child should provide proof of payment within 30 days to the other parent and the reimbursing parent should make payment within 30 days of notice.
  19. Child Care
  20. Utah law requires the parents to share work-related child care equally. U.C.A. Section 78B-12-214. For reimbursement from the other parent, the order should state that the parent incurring the bill for the child should provide proof of payment within 30 days to the other parent and the reimbursing parent should make payment within 30 days of notice.
  21. Tax Exemptions
  22. The custody order should specify who will claim the children as dependents for tax purposes. Some parents alternate years in which they take the exemption. If you want to have an option to purchase the tax exemptions from the other parent because one parent will benefit more from claiming the child, specify dates for this election and dates for the exchange of information. Also, indicate who will pay for the cost of determining what amount to pay to purchase the exemption.
  23. Relocation
  24. Utah law requires notice of relocation of more than 150 miles from the other parent 60 days before a relocation if possible so that the parties have time to get a new parent-time order. See U.C.A. Section 30-3-37. A custody order should include this provision unless the parties agree to a different way of handling relocation. If different than the statute, the parties should describe in the order what will happen if there is a relocation of over 150 miles from the other parent.

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