Months or even years after your divorce decree is settled, it’s possible to find that your child custody agreement no longer makes sense for you and your family. If this has happened to you, the situation isn’t hopeless. Under Utah law, you have a number of legal options available.
At Christensen Law, our knowledgeable family law attorneys have decades of experience helping families across Salt Lake City and the surrounding areas get the best possible outcome when they need a child custody modification. Our compassionate legal team has a deep knowledge of Utah’s family law, and we can provide you with all the tools you need to make the best decision for your family.
If you are considering filing for a child custody modification, contact Christensen Law today. We’ll listen to your story, help you understand your legal options, stand by your side, and help you fight for your family’s best interest. To get started, contact us today at (801) 303-5800 or reach out to us online to set up a consultation.
What Are the Grounds for Requesting a Utah Custody Modification?
In order for Utah family courts to consider a petition for a change in your child custody agreement, you must present evidence to meet certain requirements:
Material and Substantial Change in Circumstances
To request a child custody modification, you must demonstrate that a significant change has occurred that impacts your former spouse’s parenting abilities or the custodial relationship between you and your ex. Examples of material or substantial changes are when the parties have been following a different schedule than the one ordered, the child is not thriving, or the custodial parent is not co-parenting as ordered or agreed.
Additionally, if the custodial parent moves out of state, then the non-custodial parent might be able to petition the court to make them the custodial parent. In making its decision, the court will look at issues like whether the move is in the child’s best interest and whether the parent who is moving notified their former partner at least 60 days ahead of the move.
The Child’s Best Interest
Secondly, the court will only order a change if they think it is best for the child’s psychological, physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Some factors that they will consider in making this decision include each parent’s relationship with the child, each parent’s ability to care for the child, and anything that might impair their parenting abilities like alcohol or drug abuse.
Courts also look at the location of extended family and whether the child custody modification will separate siblings. Other factors include each parent’s past actions like engaging in abuse, neglect, or emotional instability or exposing the children to these kinds of harmful situations. They’ll also take note of whether the child is happy, healthy, and well-adjusted in their current circumstances.
How Do I File a Request to Modify My Child Custody Agreement in Utah?
The process for filing a petition for a Utah child custody modification typically involves several steps, including:
- Deciding which specific changes you would like, such as a complete change in custody or a specific change in visitation rights
- Determining which court has jurisdiction over your child custody agreement – this depends on the location where your original divorce decree was decided, as well as where you and your ex currently reside
- Gathering the evidence necessary to prove there has been a material or substantial change in circumstances and that the modification you are requesting would be in the best interest of your children
- Filing all the required forms for a petition to modify child custody, the parenting plan, or child support with the court
- Paying the required filing fee
- Officially notifying your ex that you are requesting a child custody modification and making sure they are properly served with copies of all the forms you filed with the court
- After you serve your former spouse with these papers for modification, then they must respond to this notification and file an official answer with the court; if they fail to respond, then the court might grant you a “default judgment”
- Requesting a proceeding or hearing
The modification process often also involves a child custody evaluation. The court might order this evaluation to help ensure they have sufficient information on what would be in the child’s best interest. The court will appoint an evaluator that the parents hire. Evaluators may be professionals, such as a psychiatrist, licensed social worker, or psychologist. This person usually interviews and observes the children, each parent, and interactions between each parent and the children.
They then prepare a report and request a settlement conference with everyone involved – including the court, the attorneys, and each parent – where the evaluator presents their findings and recommendations and tries to help the parents reach a settlement. If a settlement can’t be reached, then the evaluator prepares a full written report, and the matter will likely go to trial.
Are There Other Options For Solving a Custody Dispute?
There are many instances where you don’t have to go to court to get what you want in a custody dispute. In some cases, it might even be easier and cheaper to consider an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). ADR is a process like arbitration or mediation that allows people, including former spouses, to resolve their conflicts outside of the courtroom.
If you and your ex are able to resolve your differences through an ADR, then you can mutually petition the court to modify the terms of your divorce decree according to this agreement.
Get Help With Your Salt Lake City Child Custody Modification
The child custody modification attorneys at Christensen Law are here to help give you peace of mind and help you find the solution that works best for your family. To get on the road to recovery and move on with your life, contact us today at (801) 303-5800 or reach us online to schedule your consultation.