In a previous blog post, we discussed that in divorce, a parent might decide to relocate. If they relocate far away, it may be necessary to change the custody order to accommodate the distance factor.
Some custody orders include language discussing how parents should deal with a long-distance relocation. There is also a statute, Utah Code § 30-3- 37, that provides default rules for how to cope with a long-distance relocation.
When dealing with relocation, especially when it involves Utah Code § 30-3- 37, keep in mind a number of things. Previously, we pointed out that long distance relocation can result in a change of custody. Parents that want to relocate need to do it correctly. Also, long-distance relocation can be a good opportunity for a noncustodial parent to gain custody. Something else to consider is how quickly the court proceedings will move if one of the parents take a long-distance relocation issue to court. If you have such a hearing in your future, you will want to come well-prepared for it. You should probably consider consulting an attorney or having an attorney prepare for and attend the hearing with you.
Under Utah Code § 30-3- 37, the custody arrangement in your divorce decree or custody order can permanently change based on a short hearing where nobody directly testifies or is cross-examined.
The non-moving parent is entitled to request a hearing. They can submit this request once they are notified of the pending relocation or discover that it has occurred. At the hearing, the court will consider whether the long-distance relocation is in the best interest of the child. If the court determines relocation is not in the child’s best interest, the court can change custody. This can happen if the parent planning to relocate follows through with the move. Regardless of which parent retains or gains custody, the court will also make other orders. These orders are about how parent time and communication is to occur now that the parents live far apart.
The problem with this process is that in Utah’s more populous counties, the above-described relocation hearing is often conducted in front of a domestic commissioner. Commissioners typically consider affidavits and statements by attorneys as to what their client would say. They typically do not put witnesses on the witness stand. The hearings can be short. The evidence and arguments submitted are often subject to a page limit. With such a quick process, a parent that would normally retain or gain custody might lose custody. This happens because parents and attorneys can easily come unprepared or make mistakes at these short hearings.
Fortunately, commissioners are not supposed to have the final say in Utah’s district courts. An unhappy parent can request a hearing before the judge with witnesses, evidence, and due process.
However, this hearing before the judge will not go well if the parent did not put on a good case before the commissioner. The hearing before the judge and what must be done to prepare for that hearing while still before the commissioner will be discussed in a future blog post. The takeaway from this blog post is that if you are about to request or attend a relocation hearing before a domestic commissioner in Utah, you need to be well prepared with all your materials and affidavits from yourself and witnesses. You also need to be ready for the potential fast pace of the process. At Christensen Law, we can help you in many ways. We can evaluate your options, prepare for the hearing, and put on your case at the hearing.