Which Type of Child Custody Arrangement is Best for Me and My Kids?

There are four main types of child custody in Utah. Understanding the types of custody will improve the chances that you and your children will end up in a situation best suited for your needs.

One common myth about child custody is that you – the parent – decide what kind of custody arrangement your children receive. Actually, the Utah court that processes your divorce has the power to determine the child custody arrangements in your divorce decree. If the court determines that you are unfit to parent your children, custody will be given to someone else. If your spouse fights your custody plan, the court will decide who ‘wins.’

Because the final divorce decree is not in your hands, working with an attorney experienced in family law and custody rights will increase your chances of successfully advocating for yourself and your children in court. In addition, a divorce lawyer will help preserve and magnify your credibility in court, help you collect court-worthy evidence, and offer personalized advice.

What are the 4 primary types of child custody in Utah?

  1. Joint Legal Joint Physical Custody
  2. Joint Legal Sole Physical Custody
  3. Sole Legal Sole Physical Custody
  4. Split Custody

In addition to these types of parental custody, courts also have the option of giving custody to a non-parental third party.

This article will describe each type of child custody in the order listed above.

1. What is Joint Legal Joint Physical Custody?

Divorce decrees may dictate this type of custody when:

  • The divorce is amicable.
  • Both parents want the children to live with them.
  • Both parents live within the same town or neighborhood.

“Joint physical” means that the children will split their time between parents, spending at least 111 days each calendar year with each parent.

“Joint legal” means that both parents share legal decision-making on the children’s behalf. Legal decision-making includes decisions such as:

  • Medications and treatments
  • School placement and extra-curricular activities,
  • Religion
  • Risky activities or sports
  • Leaving the country or applying for a passport
  • Any decision that a parent makes on behalf of minor children.

Joint legal joint physical custody might look like two parents living in separate homes in the same school district, with the kids living with one parent one week and the other parent the next.

The advantages of joint legal joint physical custody:

  • Children have two involved parents.
  • Children have two real homes – not one home and one place they visit.
  • Children and parents experience an arrangement as close as possible to a 50-50 split. A perfect 50-50 split down to the hour is impossible, but a joint legal joint physical custody arrangement comes fairly close.

The disadvantages of a joint legal joint physical custody:

  • Scheduling complexities may arise.
  • Children must often move between homes and may find it challenging to have homework, sports equipment, or other personal items in the right place at the right time.

2. What is Joint Legal Sole Physical Custody?

In a joint legal sole physical custody arrangement, both parents will be responsible for legal decisions described above (medical, educational, religious, travel, etc.). However, the children will reside with one parent and visit the other. The court will usually set a visitation or parent-time schedule, mandating the amount of time that the children will spend with each parent.

This type of custody arrangement works well when:

  • One or both parents work outside the home.
  • Parents do not live near each other.
  • The Utah court determines this arrangement to be in the child’s best interest (set routine, parents not amicable enough to manage a complex schedule, etc.)

3. What is Sole Legal Sole Physical Custody?

In a sole legal and sole physical custody arrangement, one parent makes all legal decisions for their children and provides the primary residence for their children.

In this type of custody arrangement, one parent is granted the right to make legal decisions on behalf of their minor children (medical, educational, religious, travel, etc.) without seeking consent from the other parent. Although the lead parent is not required to seek permission from the other parent, the lead parent is usually required to inform the other parent of legal decisions impacting their children.

The children live with one parent full-time, at least 255 nights per year. The other parent is entitled to visitation for 86 nights per year at a minimum. 86 nights per year roughly translates to some percentage of weekends, holidays, and school breaks.

This type of custody arrangement is most common when:

  • One parent is deemed unfit, unable, or unwilling to care for the children.
  • One parent is hard to find when legal decisions need to be made.
  • The court considers limited contact between parents to be in the children’s best interest.

4. What is Split Custody?

Remember the movie, The Parent Trap? One twin lives with her dad in California, and the other lives with her mother in London. The twins meet at summer camp, unbeknownst to the parents. At the end of the camp, the twins switch places: the California twin experiences a posh London apartment, while the English twin experiences a sprawling California vineyard.

The Parent Trap is an example of a split custody arrangement.

Split custody is the most uncommon of the four types of child custody in Utah. Split custody only occurs when two or more children are in a divorcing family, and the court splits the children between parents. In a split custody arrangement, one parent receives sole legal sole physical custody of one child, and the other parent receives sole legal and sole physical custody of another child.

Split custody might be in the child’s best interest if:

  • There is a history of sibling conflict or abuse.
  • One or more children has special needs (mental or physical).
  • Parents live farther apart and in situations that present various opportunities for individual children.

Determining which type of child custody arrangement is best for you and your children is a significant life decision. Seek professional advice before jumping to conclusions or signing legal documents. Remember that win-win proposals have the best chance of long-term success. You and your children can thrive in a new situation, especially when you have the support that you need.

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