One of the most important and emotionally charged issues of a divorce is who will have custody of the children. If you do not have children, your divorce will probably be more straight forward. If you have children, there are some things you need to know as you start down the path of divorce. You need to know how courts think about children, how child support works, and how a parent’s behavior can hurt their chances of being awarded time with their children.
- Custody: Courts look at the best interest of the children when determining custody. Two types of custody exists: Physical and Legal. Physical custody is who the child lives with most of the time. When considering physical custody, the Court wants to make sure the children are placed in a home where they are safe and able to thrive emotionally, intellectually, and physically. The court considers a long list of factors when determining which parent should have physical custody of the children, how much time each parent should have with the children, and whether both parents should have a say in decisions regarding the children. Legal custody is who gets to make decisions regarding the children. The State of Utah pretty much assumes both parents are capable of working together to make decisions regarding their children. That presumption can be rebutted if you have a good reason.
- Child Support: Child support is a calculation based on Utah state statute. There is a calculator provided by the Department of Health at https://orscsc.dhs.utah.gov/orscscapphs/orscscweb/action/public/custodyWorksheet/show. While the amount can be adjusted slightly if negotiated correctly, in general, the amount of child support a person will pay is pretty fixed by the statute. The basic calculation takes into account your gross monthly income, your spouse’s gross monthly income, the number of children from the marriage, how many overnights each party has with the children, and whether either party pays support to other children. Usually, the parent who has the children the least amount of time is the parent ordered to pay child support. I wish I were able to outline all of the ways child support can be manipulated, but this Guide would become more of a text book than a guide if I were to do so.
- Your Behavior: Your behavior during the marriage, immediately prior to your divorce, and during your divorce can affect your case for custody of your children. The Court generally does not like it when parents are addicted to drugs or alcohol, abuse their spouse or children, have recent criminal histories, leave their young children home unsupervised, do not have proper living arrangements for children, do not support their children, abuse their spouse in front of the children, leave the children with a mistress or girlfriend/boyfriend, move in with a significant other with a criminal record or addiction, or do anything else with the children that is not age appropriate or which brings into question your ability to keep the children safe and healthy. As with all things in a divorce, your exact circumstances are unique and how a court will deal with your situation depends on state law, case law, and what the Court feels is equitable. As mentioned above, you can access cases at the local law library, or you can discuss your case with an attorney.
- Effects on Children: Divorce effects all children differently. I am not a psychologist, but there are several things you can do to minimize the negative effects of your divorce on your children and help your legal case. If you and your spouse have been fighting in front of the children, then the possible negative effects of the divorce have already started. There are ways to minimize the damage a divorce can have on children. Here are a few guidelines to follow: 1) Never talk negatively about your spouse to your children or in front of your children (besides being detrimental to your child’s psychological well-being, the courts do not like it); 2) Respect the fact that your child loves your spouse, even though you may not; 3) Consider making a psychologist available to your child so that the child has someone to talk to who is not involved in your divorce; 4) Consider reading the Co–Parenting Survival Guide by Elizabeth Thayer Ph.D and Jeffrey Zimmerman Ph.D (This book is often recommended by one of the Utah Second District Court Judges from the Ogden Department); 5) Maintain your own psychological and physical health. It is really hard on children when their parent is stressed out, depressed, or unable to be there for there for them.