What You Need to Know
First, realize that short of the death of a parent or spouse, going through a custody battle for your child is one of the most stressful events a person can go through. Many parents often find themselves driven more by emotion than by reason when it comes to the custody of their child. Some parents go so far as to convince themselves that either they are the perfect parent and the child cannot live without their daily guidance, or that the other parent is somehow evil or mentally ill and unable to care for the child. The truth is often somewhere in the middle.
Second, don’t try to represent yourself in a custody battle. Although an attorney may be expensive, an attorney brings a wealth of knowledge to your custody case, including how best to use available court procedures and how to best present the facts of your case. It is often far less expensive to hire an attorney up front, rather than hiring an attorney after the fact to fix problems you have created while representing yourself.
Third, be honest with your attorney and tell him or her about your positive attributes as well as the negative ones. Certain types of criminal convictions and/or administrative findings can be used to demonstrate a parent is not necessarily fit to be awarded custody. The last thing that you want is to lose a custody battle because your attorney learns for the first time at trial that you or someone in your household has a domestic violence or drug conviction in another state.
Fourth, realize that there are two kinds of custody, “legal custody” and “physical custody.” Legal custody is the right to be involved in the legal decision making when it comes to the needs of a child. Physical custody is where the child resides. Parents can share joint legal custody over a child, even where one parent is awarded sole physical custody. It is important in your discussion with your attorney to understand both types of custody.
Fifth, Utah Court Commissioners and Judges have a set of statutory and court rule factors they must use when determining which parent or parents should receive legal and/or physical custody over a minor child. The first and most important of these factors is who has been the child’s primary caretaker. If you want to be named as the primary caretaker, make sure you keep track of the days and times you have spent with your child on child centered activities such as meal preparation, laundry, helping little Bobby with his homework, and taking little Suzy to the dentist, and so on. The Court will often give these types of calendars or summaries additional weight when determining physical custody.