In 2014 I began taking clients and advertised myself as a general practitioner who would take anything a client brought to my desk. I didn’t have much experience and had just been admitted to practice law in late 2013, so in January 2014, I was getting sick of applying for prosecution work. Eventually, I put out some ads on Craigslist to see if anything would happen. I started getting calls, and even though I had hoped for criminal defense work, I was mainly finding requests to handle family law cases. I did not have much knowledge from law school regarding family law, so I contacted former classmates who had specialized in the field and gleaned their expertise. My first few cases were uncontested divorces with not much at stake, and my phone began ringing more frequently with custody cases. Most of the work coming in was dealing with Petitions to Modify where one or both of the parties had become dissatisfied with the status quo or wanted to deal with issues that had arisen after the divorce was settled.
I realized that my advertising was being responded to by individuals near the lowest end of the economic spectrum. Most people don’t go on Craigslist to find attorneys, and I was justly advertising as being relatively inexpensive. I handled cases in which the parties had tried to settle their divorces as cheaply as possible, leading to more problems later down the road. They now needed to go back in and do it correctly by hiring a lawyer. The challenge they faced is that it’s much harder to get it right the second time around. Many people cut corners in dealing with their divorce, trying to get it done quickly, not realizing how hard it will be to fix later. When speed is the top priority, there are inevitable tradeoffs that people are willing to make, which they end up regretting. I learned a lot as I did Petitions to Modify. I learned about the problems people put themselves in. Trying to untangle knots from previous attempts is uniquely challenging. These problems can and should have been avoided by hiring an attorney the first time around.
When Parents And The Marriage Are No Longer In A Relationship, How Are Custody And Child Support Generally Established? What Are Some Of Those Factors The Court Is Looking At In Determining That Best Interest Of The Child?
Custody is permanently established after the best interest of the child(ren) is determined. The Utah Code has two sections where various custody factors are laid out. Utah Code Section 30-3-10 has a list as well as Utah Code Section 30-3-10.2. There is some overlap between the two. The first list states the factors a court should consider in determining physical custody. The second list states the factors the court should consider in determining whether the child should be raised with joint legal custody between biological parents. The factors listed are not particularly surprising. The legislature is essentially directing the Court on what it should consider when making these important decisions. Unsurprisingly, the majority of these factors focus on the parents’ respective relationship with their child(ren), how strong their respective bond is, how much each parent participated in raising the child(ren) prior to their separation, and how deep their respective desire for custody is and has been.
The Court is directed to consider the physical, emotional, educational, medical, and unique needs of the child(ren). The parent’s co-parenting abilities are considered, and things like communication skills and the ability to remain accepting that the child will love both parents will be considered. The parent’s financial responsibility, religious compatibility with the child, the parent’s emotional stability, and specific factors are considered by the court. Niche factors that hopefully remain uncommon are evidence of domestic violence, neglect, or abuse, or whether the parent has intentionally exposed the child to pornography. When present, these factors significantly affect the Court’s ultimate decision. Finally, with older children, the court can consider the stated wishes and concerns of the child who, if 14 years old, will have their wishes more strongly considered. However, this is not to say that a child’s wishes will not be considered if they are not yet 14. There are other practical factors that will also be considered, like how close the parents live to each other or if some stepsiblings or half-siblings can be kept together through certain arrangements but would be disrupted by others. After this, the court can examine whatever else they please in determining the child’s best interest. If a party believes that there’s something the court needs to know to get to the right decision and to come to a ruling that will be in the child(ren)’s best interest, the Court will allow it, even if it doesn’t fit squarely into one of the statutory custody factors.
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