HOW TO CHANGE JURISDICTION FOR CHILD CUSTODY

In divorce and family law cases involving children, the court must ascertain whether it has custody jurisdiction. In other words, the court must make a determination about whether it has authority to decide custody and visitation issues.

Custody jurisdiction is not a big issue in the average family law case. The other parent in the case often lives in the same state, as do the children. But sometimes, the courts of another state have jurisdiction. Sometimes, this is because the other parent lives out-of-state and is pursuing an out-of-state divorce.

Custody jurisdiction is governed in most states by the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). Utah is one of the states that has adopted the UCCJEA as part of its child custody law. This blog post speaks as to Utah’s version of UCCJEA.

Generally speaking, in new cases, UCCJEA provides that the home state of the child has custody jurisdiction. The home state is where the child has lived (with a parent figure) for the six months before the case begins. For children younger than six months, it is the state in which they have resided since birth with a parent. If the child moves to a new state with one parent, and the other remains, the original state retains jurisdiction for six months. The jurisdiction question becomes more complicated under different circumstances. For instance, both parents might move to different states at the same time.

Once a court has made a custody decision in a case, it has exclusive continuing jurisdiction over custody. This can be problematic if parents need to modify custody, but have moved since the last court order. Unless jurisdiction is changed, parents seeking to modify custody will need to come to the court with jurisdiction.

Jurisdiction can be changed. And there are certain circumstances where it may be desirable for the parents to make that change, transferring child custody to another state. For example, if both parents have left the state, they want a court closer to them to have jurisdiction.

In Utah, the jurisdiction change process typically begins with registering the original custody order with the court. This will get Utah to acknowledge the existence of the order. But it does not give Utah jurisdiction. From there, there are then some different avenues to get jurisdiction changed to Utah. If the Utah court can ascertain that neither parent lives in the original state and that the child is in Utah, it might be able to take jurisdiction. With the cooperation of the original court, a Utah court can also decide to take jurisdiction.

The process for changing jurisdiction can be complicated for even attorneys and judges. The answers and procedures often depend on facts unique to each family’s situation. The attorneys at Christensen Law have experience with UCCJEA and with parental rights in Utah. They can help you evaluate your specific factual situation and explain how UCCJEA applies to your case. They can then help you navigate the process for registering your custody order and asking for a change in jurisdiction.

HOW TO CHANGE JURISDICTION FOR CHILD CUSTODY
read more

How Do You Get an Annulment in Utah?

In Utah, and in the United States as a whole, the most common way to end a marriage is through a divorce. However, in some very specific circumstances, it is actually possible to get an annulment instead. While annulments are less common, they may be a better option for your specific situation and may save you some time and money if you meet the qualifications. Here are the details on how to get an annulment in Utah.

What is an annulment and why get one?

So what is an annulment, and how is it different from a divorce? The difference is that, where a divorce is ending a marriage, an annulment declares that your marriage was not valid. So with the annulment definition, in the eyes of the law, you were never officially married in the first place, and thus the marriage never legally existed.

The various benefits of an annulment are that there is typically no waiting period, or it is shorter, meaning you can both move on with your lives much quicker. In most instances, there is also no division of property, and it can release you from the terms of a prenuptial agreement. However, the Court may make orders regarding child support and custody, if applicable, and they may even divide property and debts if necessary.  Many people also prefer to move forward without the perceived stigma of being officially “divorced.”

How do you get an annulment in Utah?

Now that you know that an annulment is an option, you might be wondering how you can obtain one for you and your spouse. To know if you qualify for an annulment, it is first necessary to make yourself aware of the various grounds for annulment in Utah.

In the state of Utah, a marriage can be annulled only for one of the following reasons:

  • One spouse was married to someone else, or their divorce was not yet final.
  • One person was under the legal age for marriage, and (if between the ages of 16–18) the parents did not consent.
  • The spouses were related — first cousins or closer.
  • One partner lied about or hid something that affects the marriage relationship, or misrepresented the other spouse; that is to say, fraud or misrepresentation, as recognized by the court.
  • One spouse refused or was unable to have sexual intercourse.

It is important to note that the length of marriages is not considered grounds for annulment in Utah, and any cases of fraud or misrepresentation may be difficult to prove and are quite rare. Overall, annulments can be difficult to obtain in Utah, and thus in the annulment vs divorce debate, many people simply opt for the latter.

What is the process for getting an annulment in Utah?

To request an annulment, you will file a “Complaint for Annulment” in the district court of your county (where either you or your spouse has lived for at least 90 days). After the complaint has been filed, the court will schedule a hearing, where you will bring any evidence or witnesses to help prove your grounds for annulment. If the judge believes you have proven your case, you will be granted an annulment.

While this process may seem relatively simple, it can still be difficult, and annulments in Utah are rare. It is worth consulting with an attorney first to make sure you have a good case. At Christensen Law, we have handled both divorces and annulments. Feel free to contact us at 801-303-5800 for a free consultation by phone or in-person.

How Do You Get an Annulment in Utah?
read more

Going to Trial

Some family law cases go to trial despite attempts to settle beforehand. At Christensen Law, the attorneys have experience with custody and divorce cases in Utah. We have experience with both amicably settling cases and taking cases to trial.

Below, we provide some tips for those who are going to trial now or may be going in the distant future. The advice we provide here is general in nature. You should consult with an attorney for specific advice for your unique situation.

Going to Court is Not Ideal, But May Be Necessary

When a judge makes a decision at trial, it is likely that neither party will be completely satisfied. Moreover, taking a case to trial is expensive. Therefore, you should give serious consideration to settlement options at all stages of your case. This includes the day of trial. But, you should be careful to avoid agreeing to a settlement with which you cannot live. It may be that trial is expensive in the short run, but cheaper in the long run.

You Will Not Be Able to Tell the Judge Everything You Might Want to Say

The law requires the judge to make decisions based on certain information. The rules of evidence also exclude other information or evidence. The judge will disregard information that is irrelevant to what he or she needs to know to make the decisions. Nor will the judge consider redundant or prohibited evidence or testimony. We have found that this reality can be emotionally difficult for some clients. Unfortunately, too much irrelevant or redundant information can distract the judge from good arguments and evidence. An attorney can help you understand which evidence the judge needs to know and present it to your advantage.

You May Need to Change Strategy at Trial

As the trial progresses, it may become clear that the judge likes some of your arguments better than others. This means you may need to abandon your favorite arguments or exhibits and focus on backups. An attorney can help you recognize the need to shift and help you come to trial with backup plans.

There Is A Good Chance Trial Will Not Go Perfectly

No matter how well prepared you are, it is likely that trial will not go perfectly. If you testify, you will be cross-examined. Witnesses do not always say things they way you wish they would say them. And of course, the other side gets to tell their story. An attorney can help you cope with and overcome the curve balls.

Trial is Not the End of the Case

After the judge has ruled at trial, there is the potential for post-judgment motions and appeals. If you lose, speak with an attorney about your options for a post-judgment motion or appeal. If you win, do not do anything rash and be patient for the appeal and motion deadlines to pass.

Have a legal question? Schedule a free consultation today!

Going to Trial
read more

WHAT HAPPENS TO THE HOUSE IN A DIVORCE?

In divorce cases, among other things, the court is tasked with dividing the property of the spouses.  Or, ideally, the parties mediate their divorce out of court and must find a way to divide the property.  This division, in or out of court, can include real estate such as the marital house. There are a number of ways to approach this situation.

The attorneys at Christensen Law are divorce attorneys practicing in Salt Lake City and other nearby Utah cities. Below, they discuss potential solutions for the division of a marital home. The discussion is generic. Your situation is unique, and you should consider consulting with an attorney to receive advice specific to your situation. Moreover, there are many more available options than are discussed below.

Option 1: One spouse receives the house, and the other receives other assets of equal value.
Or, the spouse receiving the house arranges to purchase from the other spouse.

On the surface, this option sounds easy. And, sometimes, depending on the case, it is as easy as it sounds. One spouse takes the house. The other is compensated for their half with money or other assets from the marital estate. Alternatively, the spouse receiving the house finds a way to pay off the other spouse. This might be done through refinancing.

However, the home is often the largest assets of the parties. There may not be enough value in other assets to make it possible to achieve such a split. Or, it is too much of a stretch. The spouse receiving the house may be left with no liquid assets. In such a situation, the spouse could be at high risk for foreclosure.

Refinancing can also be tricky. The lender will want to see that the spouse receiving the house will have the ability to make payments.

Option 2: The house is sold as soon as possible and the proceeds divided.

This is one way to make a clean break for the parties and eliminate a mortgage. It also frees up the equity for expenses and changes caused by the divorce. For at least one of the spouses and maybe both, it might be a distasteful option. People are often emotionally attached to their homes. Moreover, parents often want to avoid uprooting their children. However, from a practical standpoint, it is an option that should be strongly considered.

The difficulty might be found in actually selling the house. The parties may dispute about which realtor, what price, and other concerns.

Option 3: The house is sold at a later date.

Sometimes it is clear that the home must be sold eventually, but the parties wish to delay. For example, the parents might want to wait for the children to graduate school or reach a good time to move. In this situation, the parties agree or the court orders the house to be sold sometime in the future.

This might work for the parties to the divorce. But, there can be downfalls. With the house in limbo, the divorced parties will have difficulty making a clean break. They will have to interact. The party not in possession of the house will have worry about what the other is doing to the house. Further court proceedings may be necessary. However, the delay could prove profitable if the market goes up or if the parties are able to wait for the optimal buyer.

Have a legal question? Schedule a free consultation today!

WHAT HAPPENS TO THE HOUSE IN A DIVORCE?
read more

What Discovery is and Why It is Important in Divorce and Custody Cases

If you are involved in a family law case in Utah, the divorce discovery process will play a role. You might be confronted with discovery requests. Alternatively, you might be the one who needs to use discovery. Therefore, discovery can be a complex process. The attorneys at Christensen Law, located in Salt Lake City, have experience in divorce, custody, and child support cases. They can help you satisfy discovery requirements or use discovery to help your case.

The information Christensen Law provides below is for general informational purposes only. However, for advice specific to your case, you should consult with an attorney.

What is Discovery?

Discovery is a process by which the parties to a lawsuit can gather information about the case. The information gathered will help the parties file motions or go to trial. There are various discovery methods and requirements.

In family law cases, the parties, as part of discovery, are automatically required to exchange financial information. The court provides a financial declaration form the parties fill out and to which they attach financial documents. On the financial declaration, parties disclose income, assets, debts, expenses, and other information.

In family law cases and all other civil cases, litigants can employ more generic discovery tools. Parties can submit written interrogatories to the opposing party. So, an interrogatory is a question that the opposing party must answer in writing. Parties can submit requests for admission, asking the other side to admit or deny facts that should be obvious. They can request that the other party produce copies of documents relevant to the case. So, parties can issue subpoenas to other parties or to banks, employers, and other institutions for records. Parties can depose (interview) other parties or potential witnesses to explore potential testimony at trial.

How is discovery useful?

Therefore, at a trial or in hearings, you need to present evidence or testimony and prove facts to prevail. In a lot of family cases, both parties already have facts and documents. But sometimes, they will not. Discovery can help you get the evidence and testimony you need to do well in court. Therefore, if you have an obligation to produce discovery, meeting your obligation is important. Thus, it can actually help you. With the facts at your fingertips, you can both make your best case or negotiate a good settlement.

At Christensen Law, we can help you with your discovery needs and obligations. So, good discovery requests and responses will help your case.

What Discovery is and Why It is Important in Divorce and Custody Cases
read more

When is the Case Over and Does It Matter?

Is your case over?  It is good practice to ensure that you understand whether a case is over, or finalized. Whether a case is final or not determines your options and liabilities going forward. This applies to divorce cases, custody cases, personal injury cases, and other civil cases.

At Christensen Law, in Salt Lake City, Utah, the attorneys handle divorce, family law, personal injury, and other civil matters. They can handle and give you specific advice on your case. However, for your general information, they provide some general guidelines below. The general guidelines should not be used blindly on your own case. You should seek an attorney for specific advice for your specific case.

When is the case over?

Your case is over when the court has adjudicated all claims as to all parties in the case. So, if you sued or were sued for multiple claims, each claim must be finalized. Or, the court must explicitly make its decision on one claim final. Take for example a case where Bob sues Billy for trespass and assault. If the court make a final decision on trespass, but not assault, the case is not over. Though, the court could declare the trespass decision a final judgment. But, it would have to do that explicitly. If there is a final decision on both trespass and assault, the case is over. This example could apply in the family law context as Bob suing Sally for divorce, custody, and child support. Each of those elements is a separate claim.

Why does it matter?

A case that is merely dormant and not final presents certain risks or opportunities. If the case is not finalized, it can be revived. Whether revival of the case is good or bad for you depends on a number of factors. An attorney can help you understand the risks and opportunities and take the next step to help you.

When is the Case Over and Does It Matter?
read more

How to Defend Yourself against a Petition to Modify Custody

A custody order in a divorce or paternity case is not permanent. Until the children reach age eighteen, either parent can petition the court to modify the prior custody award. This is true even if the current custody award was negotiated as part of a settlement or stipulation. The courts understand that circumstances can change and that the children need a change. If the custody award favors you, you might be defending against a petition to modify custody sometime in the future.

We are Utah custody lawyers practicing family law in the Salt Lake City area and along the Wasatch front. Below, we provide some tips for how to defend against a petition to modify custody. Please keep in mind that every case is different and the tips are generalities. If you have questions about your specific case, feel free to reach out for a free consultation.

Ensure That Your Children Are Thriving and Document It

If the children are thriving, it will be difficult for the other parent to persuade the court to change custody. Keep track of your children’s progress at school and in other things. Do not neglect or abuse the children or do anything about which the other parent could legitimately complain. Keep documentation of the good things so that you can prove it in court.

Do Not Attempt to Unnecessarily Cut Off the Children from the Other Parent

The conventional wisdom to which the courts adhere is that parents need both parents. If the other parent is entitled to parent time, see to it that he or she gets it. The exception is where the other parent might harm the children. Contact with the other parent is for the benefit of the children. Inappropriately cutting off the other parent will put you in a bad light.

Begin Defending Against a Petition to Modify Custody as Soon as Possible

Do not wait for a petition to modify custody to start acting like the good parent. Start now. Keep records. You do not want the court to determine you are a good parent only while a case is pending. Your children will benefit, and the other parent may not feel a need to fight for custody.

Have a legal question? Schedule a free consultation today!

How to Defend Yourself against a Petition to Modify Custody
read more

How to Modify a Child Custody Order

Changing circumstances may lead parents to decide to modify their child custody order. This post explores how to change a child custody order. This post only covers basic, general information regarding this topic.  For specific advice tailored to your circumstances, you should consult a Utah custody attorney.

Change of Custody by Stipulation

Sometimes, parents find themselves in a custody routine that differs from the custody order. It is usually a good idea for the parents to get that new routine included in the court order. Other times, the parents find themselves in a situation where they both agree that custody must change. If both parents agree or stipulate, the court will typically allow the parents to update the order. This update will also typically lead to an update on the child support order.

Change of Custody by Litigation

Many parents are unwilling to agree to have less custody. This can be true even if they do not regularly exercise all their custody rights. In such cases, the parent wishing to modify custody must convince a judge to change custody.

To convince a judge to change custody, the judge must believe two things:

First, the judge must believe that circumstances have changed since the previous custody order. Changes of circumstance must be significant and must be relevant to custody. (Though, if the previous custody order was based on a settlement, there is more leeway.) Additionally, changes must typically involve the parent who is to have less custody. For example, you might argue that a parent can no longer take care of the child. Or, that the parent no longer does care for the child or exercise custody. You will need to back these arguments with strong evidence.

Second, the judge must be convinced that the proposed change is in the child’s best interests. There are a number of factors judges consider. However, the focus will often be on the reason the parent wants to change custody.

Obtaining Advice Specific to Your Case

At Christensen Law, the attorneys are Utah custody lawyers in Salt Lake City, serving the Wasatch front and beyond. We can give you advice about your circumstances and help with your case.

How to Modify a Child Custody Order
read more

WHAT IS A CUSTODY EVALUATION AND WHAT HAPPENS AFTER A CUSTODY EVALUATION?

What is a custody evaluation?

In Utah, the courts sometimes order custody evaluations. This can happen in divorce, paternity, modification, or other custody cases. And then, the court with input from the parties appoints an evaluator. If available, the evaluator will inform the court. From there, the evaluator receives standard instructions, and the parties receive orders to cooperate with the custody evaluator. The parties will likely visit with the evaluator, undergo assessments, and have a chance to share concerns. Eventually, the evaluator informs the parties and court that the evaluation is done or soon will be done.

What happens after the custody evaluation?

After the evaluation, the attorneys, parents, and evaluator will have a meeting. At the meeting, the custody evaluator will verbally inform everybody present of his or her conclusions. Often, a mediator will be present and involved. Then, the parties will be able to take advantage of the ability to mediate in light of the evaluation results. The results of the evaluation can have a number of effects on the mediation. The evaluation might clarify what is important or not important. The evaluation might also serve as a reality check for one or both of the parents. If you do not reach a settlement agreement, the case will eventually go to trial. If requested, the custody evaluator will prepare a written report and will be available to testify at trial.

What happens if the custody evaluator strongly favors or disfavors a particular parent?

As noted above, the custody evaluation can serve as a reality check. The evaluation might discourage one parent from moving forward on the case. On the other hand, it might give the other false confidence. The custody evaluator is not the judge. Then, the recommendation will not necessarily become the order of the court. If there is a custody evaluation in your case, consider hiring an attorney for the meeting. Then, the attorney can advise you about the effect the evaluation has in your case. Lastly, if you feel inclined to settle based on the evaluation, the attorney can help craft an agreement with which you and the children can live.

WHAT IS A CUSTODY EVALUATION AND WHAT HAPPENS AFTER A CUSTODY EVALUATION?
read more

3 TIPS FOR GETTING THROUGH THE DIVORCE PROCESS

Going through the divorce process can be stressful. There is often uncertainty, unfairness, and incivility, among other challenges. These challenges can both make your life difficult and interfere with your case. It is worth finding ways to overcome the challenges, even mid-divorce.

The attorneys at Christensen Law are Utah divorce lawyers. They are accustomed to handling divorce, custody, and other family law matters for local and out-of-state clients. Below, Christensen Law provides some tips that may help you. However, keep in mind that all situations are different. For advice tailored to you, you should consult a Utah divorce attorney.

Tip #1: Stay Organized and Keep Up with Things

You need to know what to ask the court to rule on. And, you will need to gather the evidence or testimony to support your arguments. Even if represented by an attorney, you need to coordinate with him or her.  If you want the court to split bank accounts, you need to show account statements. If the other side is harassing you with texts, you need to show the texts. Perhaps you are disputing alimony, and if so you will need to track and document expenses.

Tip #2: Try to Stay Calm During Hearings and Mediation

Feeling strong emotions is to be expected. However, if you lose control at a key moment, there could be long-term consequences. At hearings or trial, your demeanor in the courtroom will have a direct effect on the outcome of the hearing. The judge will note your behavior. Even if he or she does not, negative behavior will distract your attorney. As for mediation, you often will be in an entirely separate room with only your attorney. But, if you are not calm, you may make poor decisions that will have long-term consequences.

Tip #3: Consider Therapy or Counseling

A divorce is a big change and typically comes with an assortment of emotional issues. It may be that therapy or counseling could prove useful. A therapist or counselor can help you overcome the
emotional injury associated with divorce. He or she could help you find constructive ways to address ongoing challenges. And, he or she can help you learn how to develop the skills to deal with an ex-spouse.

3 TIPS FOR GETTING THROUGH THE DIVORCE PROCESS
read more