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Child Custody Lawyer in Salt Lake City

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Child custody is one of the most contentious issues in family law. These fights can negatively affect the children. Therefore, it is always in a child’s best interest for the parents to settle the custody disputes without litigation. In doing so, parents will also save quite a bit of legal expense. Having a skilled child custody attorney in Salt Lake City on your side can help ensure your rights and best interests are strongly represented.

Physical & Legal Custody

There are two kinds of custody: physical and legal. Physical custody pertains to where the child will live. One parent can have sole physical custody or the parents can have joint physical custody. Joint physical custody is the most common. However, joint physical custody only works when parents live fairly close to each other, and when pick up and drop off of the children to their schools and homes is relatively painless.

Joint physical custody exists when one of the parents gets at least 110 overnights or more with the child during a given year. Joint custody need not be 50/50, and it can be tailored to fit the needs of the parties and the child. Sometimes, a parent cannot enjoy joint physical custody due to his or her employment or living arrangement. In that case, if the parties cannot agree on who will be the primary caregiver, the court decides what the physical custody arrangement will be.

Legal custody involves which parent has the right to make decisions for the child. There is a strong preference for joint legal custody, where both parents share in the decision-making process. When parents have a hard time deciding what is in the child’s best interest, the court can award sole legal custody, which is to allow one parent to have final decision-making authority. Another possibility is for one parent to have exclusive or final decision-making authority over certain areas, such as medical issues, while the other has the same authority over another issue, such as educational matters.

Hiring a Custody Evaluator

Utah Rule 4-903 for the operations of the courts provides the criteria for custody evaluations in the state of Utah and the required qualifications to serve as a custody evaluator. Generally, the evaluator not only must be a mental health practitioner, but also be clinically certified in their field or, in other words, have worked as a psychotherapist for a period of time.

Courts love it when parties hire a custody evaluator, because the judge’s decision is made a lot easier by considering and weighing the testimony of this kind of expert witness. If an evaluator renders an opinion that a party disagrees with, the evaluator’s opinion can be challenged by a competing expert witness in the mental health field.

However, when parties cannot afford a custody evaluator (the cost usually ranges from $3,000 to $7,000), asking for the court to appoint a private guardian ad litem is a good alternative. A private guardian ad litem is an attorney who has received some training in the area of child advocacy. The guardian will interview the child and other third parties, and they can make a recommendation to the court regarding custody, as well.

Private Guardian ad Litem

One option available in a child custody or parent-time dispute is to ask the court to have a private guardian ad litem (PGAL) appointed. The PGAL is an attorney who has been trained to report to the court the child’s wishes and to make a recommendation. They are not a trained child custody evaluator, but they can make a recommendation on custody or issues involving abuse, neglect, or virtually any issue which pertains to the best interest of the child. They are a lot less expensive than hiring a custody evaluator. However, it has been our experience that there is a wide range of competence in panel attorneys serving as guardians ad litem. We recommend using one who is a member of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC). This organization is composed of judges, psychotherapists, and family law attorneys who meet periodically to discuss cutting-edge family law issues.

PGAL Recommendations

Although the court can keep the PGAL on the case for a long time, frequently, PGALs are used for a quick recommendation. They are paid $150 per hour if court-ordered, and each party shares in the payment—the percentage of payment depends upon each party’s ability to pay. The parties can also agree to select a particular PGAL who is on the court roster. The court will frequently follow the recommendations of the PGAL, so their use can be invaluable.

The PGAL statute is Utah Code Section 78A-2-705.

To learn more about your situation, your options, and how our child custody lawyer in Salt Lake City can help you, call Ted Weckel, Attorney at Law at (801) 845-9029 or contact us online.

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