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What is Family Law in Utah?

What Is Family Law in Utah

Family law in Utah is vast. It covers various topics like marriage, divorce, alimony, child support, property distribution, estate planning, wills and the like. Whatever may be your problems, a Utah family law attorney can provide you with invaluable advice.

Divorce in Utah

A divorce legally dissolves the marriage. A legal separation doesn’t dissolve all marriage ties, but it does declare that the couple no longer live as husband and wife. It also declares that they no longer will be responsible for each other’s debts.

Utah law allows couple to file for divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable difference. This is known as no fault divorce. There is no need to prove fault on the part of the other spouse. Besides the no fault ground, you can file for divorce in Utah on the following grounds:

• Impotency
• Adultery
• Desertion
• Failure to provide common necessities
• Habitual drunkard
• Felony conviction
• Cruel treatment
• Living separately
• Insanity

Merely claiming one or all of the at fault grounds will not automatically result in a divorce order from the court. You have to prove the grounds to succeed. If you are filing a divorce petition in Utah, speak to an experienced Utah family law attorney.

Alimony in Utah

Alimony or spousal support is the payment one spouse is ordered to pay the other as part of the divorce. Generally, the husband is ordered to pay alimony to the wife. However, the wife can also be ordered to pay alimony or spousal support to the husband. This can happen in cases where the husband has given up his job to be at home and look after the kids while the wife is working and earning. An experienced Utah family law attorney can help you get the spousal support you deserve.

Child Custody and Support in Utah

If there are children involved in a divorce, the court must decide who gets custody of the child. To determine who gets custody, the court will look at the best interests of the child. Generally, in case of young children, the mother is given the custody. The other parent is given visitation rights. In some cases, the courts may order joint custody. In a child custody battle, an experienced Utah family law attorney can be your best friend and advisor. In Utah, the non-custodial parent is generally required to pay child support. The amount of child support is determined using the Utah child support guidelines.

Family courts hesitate to modify custody arrangements once they have been established. To do so, the circumstances in the child’s home must have changed dramatically, and the court must be convinced that a new home clearly would be in the child’s best interests. If this can be shown, the court might award custody to the child’s father, a grandparent, or another relative.

Usually it is the parents who decide as to who will have “primary custody” of the child. When the parents can’t decide on their own, the court will settle the issue for them. The court will consider “the best interests of the child” when settling the issue of child custody.

Under Utah law, the physical and legal custody of the children vests in the married parents. Married parents have both “physical” and “legal” custody of their minor children.

Joint custody is a type of custody arrangement in which the divorced parents continue to share physical custody, legal custody, or both. Joint custody gained popularity in the 1980s. The child might spend weekdays with one parent and weekends with the other, or live with one parent during the school year and stay with the other during summer vacation. When the parents share both legal and physical custody, both continue to make important decisions about the child’s education, religious upbringing, and extracurricular activities. Sometimes both parents will be awarded joint legal custody but just one will have physical custody.

Joint custody arrangements are usually more flexible than traditional custody arrangements, and most experts believe that joint custody cushions children against the traumas often associated with their parents’ divorce.
Under the terms of a support decree, parents can be required to support a child who is beyond the age of majority.

Visitation rights belong to the noncustodial parent, not the child. Courts grant visitation to the noncustodial parent except in cases in which it wouldn’t be in the child’s best interests.

Grand Parent Visitation in Utah

Grandparents visitation used to be decided by the custodial parent. In Utah there are laws permitting grandparent visitation. If the custodial parent denies visitation rights to a grandparent, the grandparent can apply to the court to enforce his or her visitation rights. In each case the court’s decision to permit grandparent visitation will be guided by the best interests of the child. The grandparent must demonstrate that the decision to cut off access to the grandparents is not in the best interests of the child. An experienced Utah family law attorney can help you enforce your grand parent visitation rights.

Step Parent Rights in Utah

Step parents may have parental obligations if they’ve agreed to assume certain parental obligations. Accepting legal responsibility for a stepchild generally resulting in the stepparent having legal rights similar to parental rights. The extent of those rights would depend on the responsibilities assumed. A good example of such an assumed obligation might be an agreement to provide for a minor stepson or stepdaughter. If you are seeking to enforce the parental obligations of a step parent, consult an experienced Utah family law attorney.

Child Kidnapping in Utah

Child snatching, sometimes called “child kidnapping,” occurs when a noncustodial parent unlawfully takes a child from the custodial parent or from the custodial parent’s home. Children are often snatched to exact a promise from the custodial parent to accept less child support, or to pressure the custodial parent to change custody or visitation rights.
Child snatching is a crime. This means that a parent who is guilty of child snatching can be punished under state law. In addition, federal law requires state courts to enforce out-of-state custody orders. This means that if a child is taken across state lines in violation of a custody order, a state court must order the child returned to the custodial parent, regardless of how far away that parent happens to live.

Wills in Utah

Persons above the age of majority may legally decide how their property is to pass at death, and wills are the normal way of directing who gets what. Married people often leave their entire estate to a surviving spouse, although they aren’t legally required to. If the “decedent” is a child’s second parent to die, the estate often passes to the child and his or her brothers and sisters. This would happen regardless of whether the children are minors.

When a person dies without a will, the property passes “intestate,” which means it passes according to the Utah’s inheritance laws. The spouse is entitled to a major share and the children are entitled to the rest. If there is no surviving spouse, the children share the estate equally. Contrary to popular belief, if someone dies intestate, his or her property isn’t forfeited to the government.

“Probate” is the legal process for determining the validity of a decedent’s will (when one exists), collecting the decedent’s property, paying all debts, and distributing the estate to the proper persons. There are probate courts that supervise the orderly administration of decedents’ estates, whether or not the person died with a will.

Emancipation in Utah

Emancipation is an act or course of conduct that terminates the right of parents over a minor child, and also terminates the child’s right to be taken care of.

Parents usually seek emancipation. When it occurs, it is often because a judge confirms or denies its existence as part of a larger issue in a court case. But a court won’t declare an emancipation simply because a minor can’t stand his or her folks or because they can’t stand their child. It only happens if a minor already has been living apart from his or her parents and is clearly self-sufficient — if the minor’s emancipation already has been “implied.”

Under Utah law, even minor children aged 16 and above can apply for emancipation by making an application to the juvenile court.
Some important points the court will consider in an emancipation application are:

1. whether the minor still lives at home;
2. whether the minor pays room and board at home;
3. whether the minor has a job, and whether the minor is allowed to spend his or her earnings without parental interference;
4. whether the minor owns a car or house;
5. whether the minor pays his or her own debts; and
6. whether the minor is being claimed as a dependent on his or her parents’ tax return.

Legal Guardianship in Utah

If parents can’t take care of their children, the courts can step in. If a minor child is quite young or needs special treatment, a family court might appoint a “legal guardian” to be responsible for the child. The adult files a petition in the local family court to obtain his or her appointment. The petitioner is often a sibling or other relative.

Once appointed, the guardian makes decisions about the minor’s overall care and discipline, plus his or her education, medical care, and religious life. The minor almost always lives with the guardian. The appointment doesn’t relieve the parents of their legal duty of support, however, and usually the guardian is entitled to be paid for serving.

Unlike a court-appointed foster parent or custodian in abuse or neglect cases, neither the parents nor the child need to have gotten in trouble for a guardian to be appointed. Guardians also serve when parents have died, can’t be found, or don’t reside with the child for some other reason. Again in contrast to custody proceedings involving a child either at risk or in trouble with the law, the state’s involvement in a guardianship diminishes after the appointment is made. This means the legal guardian isn’t under the continuing supervision of the family court. Even so, a guardian is considered an “officer of the court” and must act in “the best interests of the child.”

Utah courts also have the power to appoint a guardian for an incapacitated adult.

The specific powers of legal guardians are always spelled out in state law. The guardianship lasts until the minor reaches the age of majority, unless the court believes it should continue longer. A guardianship might be extended beyond the age of majority if, for example, the young person can’t manage in the adult world because of a physical or mental disability.
If you are seeking to be appointed as the guardian of a minor child or an incapacitated adult, consult a Utah family law attorney.

Termination of Parental Rights in Utah

Parental rights can be terminated only if “due process of law”-a full hearing in family court — has been provided. Furthermore, the parent must receive plenty of advance notice of the hearing in order to have time to prepare a case opposing the termination. Of course, the parent’s goal will be to retain or resume custody of the child. An experienced Utah family law attorney can help you oppose the termination of your parental rights.
When seeking to terminate the parental rights of a person, the state must present facts establishing one or more of the following situations: extreme disinterest in a child, extreme or repeated neglect or abuse, severe deterioration of the parent-child relationship, failure to show an ability to care about the child, and failure to improve an already serious family situation. Also, the state must prove that severing the bonds between parent and child are in the best interests of the child. The state must prove its case by “clear and convincing evidence,” which is a higher burden of proof than in most other civil cases.

Utah Family Law Attorney

An experienced Utah family law attorney can assist you with the legal issues revolving around your family. Family law is complex. Never attempt to navigate the complex maze of Utah family law all by yourself. The consequences can be disastrous. Seek the assistance of an experienced Utah family law attorney.

Free Consultation with a Family Lawyer in Utah

When you need legal help, please call Ascent Law at (801) 676-5506 for your Free Consultation. We want to help you.

Michael R. Anderson, JD

Ascent Law LLC
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States

Telephone: (801) 676-5506