The old adage is that if both parties walk away unhappy after mediation, it was successful. The reality is that very few family cases go to a full custody trial. At some point, the parties agree, and there has to be a certain level of satisfaction with that because the parties had the option to go to trial and chose not to. This doesn’t mean that either party views the process as success. One party may have just run out of money, or some other factor caused them to give up the fight. Still, at the end of the day, many people are just relieved to be done. A divorce can be like a car accident, where a person may not feel the long-term repercussions immediately and tell police or EMTs that they are fine. That person may realize that they have lasting issues a short time later, though, and wish they could go back and change their original answers. Many people end up quite dissatisfied with the reality of their situation when they start to live it.
How Common Is It That You Hear from A Parent That Their Custody Situation or Child Support Arrangement Is No Longer Working or Perhaps Never Was Working for Him or Her?
It is widespread, though from my viewpoint I only hear from dissatisfied people. There are probably plenty of people out there who figured out how to work together and make it work. Still, there is an enormous number of people coming back looking for advice on how to change their Divorce Decrees because they are unhappy with the results of their original divorce or because they failed to anticipate various scenarios that are not causing them issues.
In Your Experience, What Are the Most Common Reasons Parents Are Seeking Out Your Help to Modify a Child Custody or Child Support Order?
A prevalent one is change in income. Many people get it in their heads that they should be getting more child support or paying less child support for various reasons. The practical reality is that changing child support is the easiest thing to change, and the Utah Child Support Act contemplates regular adjustments of child support as people’s income changes. Some people have got divorce when they were very young or were still students. Their income frequently changes as their career progresses. Utah has put provisions in place to allow for events in the future to modify child support without reopening everything else from the divorce.
Some thresholds need to be met before a party is entitled to an adjusted child support order. Those factors include the percentages of change and the size of the impact it would have on the child support order. If satisfied, changing child support is relatively straightforward, especially after three years. Many such modifications are resolved quickly and don’t constitute the bulk of a family law attorney’s work.
A common reason that people want to change custody is that they continue to have conflict with the other parent, and they don’t like co-parenting with them. As a result, they seek full custody to remove them and the child(ren) from the situation. Relocation is also a common cause because a noncustodial parent might not regret their arrangement until the custodial parent has a reason to relocate more than 150 miles away, threatening their weekend or summer visitations.
A client’s reasons to want to change the divorce decree can vary. Many reasons don’t justify a change in the Divorce Decree because they don’t constitute a change in circumstances under Utah law. In Utah, a material and significant change in circumstances is required before a custody order can be modified. The change has to be something that couldn’t have been taken into account at the time that the divorce decree was entered by the Court. Many people try to point to a child getting older or attending a new school as a change in circumstance. Realistically, these are both very foreseeable developments that should have been discussed and considered during the negotiations or adjudication that resulted in the parties’ divorce decree. Certain divorce decrees contemplate various checkpoints where the parties will get together, renegotiate or have discussions, and reopen specific questions in the courts. That is one way to deal with foreseeable future circumstances that can’t be fully accounted for at the time of the negotiation or adjudication. Since some parties are sophisticated and factored in these foreseeable things, courts are somewhat impatient when parties failed to do so and now want to re-litigate the issues.
Whether a change in circumstances has occurred is a question of fact, meaning that it is always a question that a judge will decide after hearing evidence from both sides. This means that a creative argument could work, but at the end of the day, the outcome will be entirely dependent on the facts of the individual case.
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