Child Custody Considerations – part 2

If you’ve ever heard anyone talk about their “parent-time” in traditional terms, you’ve probably heard the old saw “every other weekend and one night a week”.

This version of parent time is also called “minimum parent time” even though it is very typical. In 2015, the legislature, in their infinite wisdom, saw fit to expand the schedule for parent-time. They call this “optional schedule for parent-time”.

Minimum Parent-Time vs Optional Schedule for Parent-Time

The differences between the two can seem minimal, looking only at the differences in actual parent time. The differences, however, are significant for a couple of reasons. Under the minimum parent-time schedule, the non-custodial parent will get the children on alternating weekends from 6:00 p.m. on Friday (or sometimes from after school on Friday) until Sunday at 7:00 p.m. If you’re counting, that’s two overnights. In addition to that alternating weekend, one weeknight per week from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. That’s NOT an overnight.

Under the new “expanded” parent-time, the alternating weekend goes from Friday at 6:00 p.m. (or after school on Friday) to the following Monday morning. In addition to that, the midweek visit is expanded to overnight. That’s two additional overnights in the same time period.

The operation of overnights is critical. Under the first, minimum schedule, it works out to be about 107 overnights per year for the non-custodial parent. Under the expanded parent-time, it turns into 145 overnights.

This is significant because of its impact on Child Support. This additional schedule moves the child support structure from “sole” custody to “joint” custody. Child support measures time with each parent based on how many “overnights” each parent has with the children.

To demonstrate the impact of that difference, consider a divorcing couple with two children. Assume custodial parent earns minimum wage and non-custodial parent earns $4,500 monthly. Under the minimum parent-time schedule, non-custodial parent would be obligated to pay $992.00 per month in child support. Now, compare the exact same income levels and a number of children under the expanded parent-time. Now the non-custodial parent’s obligation is reduced to $764.00 per month or about a 23% reduction in child support.

The New Parent-Time

The new parent time was not designed to simply reduce the non-custodial parent’s child support obligation. The legislature drafted this expanded parent-time with the consideration that, as I’ve written before, the state encourages healthy relationships between the children and both parents. To that end, the statute reads thusly: “the parents and the court may consider the following increased parent-time as a minimum when the parties agree or the non-custodial parent can demonstrate the following:”

Let’s examine why this was written this way. In the ideal situation, both parents will want the children to have and maintain a healthy relationship with the other parent and, therefore, agree to have an equal parent-time. Unfortunately, most cases are not the ideal situation. Many situations occur such that the custodial parent wants all of the parent-time and non-custodial parent to have none. There are many reasons for this, I don’t need to explain them… the reader can guess many of them.

When that is the case, however, the non-custodial parent has the opportunity to “demonstrate” that the expanded parent-time is appropriate. The statute goes on to list various factors that the non-custodial parent can demonstrate, of which we won’t list all of them, but a couple of important ones are how involved that parent has been in the children’s lives, whether the parent can facilitate the increased parent-time, among others. You can find the entire list in the statute at U.C.A. §30-3- 35.1.

When these issues present themselves, it’s important to understand the law and how it affects your case. A good Salt Lake City divorce attorney can help you navigate these new parent-time laws to help you get the most out of your divorce in Utah.