Interviewer: Let’s talk about child custody and child support. You say the courts have to be fair; is there a typical custody arrangement?
Danielle Hawkes: They can be anywhere – all over the board. The very minimum that someone should get under Utah courts without extraordinary circumstances is every other weekend and then one evening per week. That’s the minimum schedule. Obviously, in cases where abuse and drugs and alcohol come into place, that’s different. It can be less than that or it could be supervised visitation only. In cases where someone is a little volatile it will require that it’s supervised visitation or no visitation at all until they get the help that they need.
Moving away from the minimum, the more standard practice is if both parents want to be in their children’s lives, the court will encourage that. The court wants both parents to be in the kids’ lives. What the courts are moving towards these days is going either towards the 50-50 plan or a 60-40 plan; 60% to the primary custodian, 40% to the non primary custodian. The 60-40 plan is what I see most often where we have two good parents who really want to be in the child’s life and who live near one another.
Interviewer: What would the 60-40 look like?
Danielle Hawkes: It can look like whatever we design it to look like. It can be that one parent has every Monday, Tuesday, the other parent has every Wednesday, Thursday and then they alternate Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. That pretty standard.
Interviewer: What are some of the main factors that go into swaying the agreement one way or another?
Danielle Hawkes: The main factors the court is going to take into consideration are things like what the status quo is, who has been the primary caretaker of the children, who are they most bonded with, and who is able to better facilitate the relationship with the other parent. Where we have one parent who is unwilling to facilitate that relationship very carefully, they’re not really the best option to become the primary custodian.
Yeah, the factors are the parents’ conduct and moral standards, which parent is more likely to act in the child’s best interests, which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent and continuing contact with the other parent, the best quality and nature of the relationship between the parents and the child. There are other factors that come into play when the court is deciding whether to do joint legal custody and joint physical custody.
Those factors are whether the joint legal custody or joint physical custody will benefit the child’s physical, psychological, emotion needs or the child’s development, the parent’s ability to give first priority to the child’s welfare rather than worrying about the parent’s needs, whether both parents participated in the raising of the children before the divorce, the distance between the parent’s homes, the children’s preference once the children get to a certain age, and the parent’s maturity and their willingness and ability to protect the child from conflict that arises between the parents. There are a ton of these; I could just keep going.
I should say that that visitation schedule that I discussed before is for children over five years old.
Interviewer: What ballpark range will child support payments fall into? How does that work? Does it depend on the number or ages of the kids?
Danielle Hawkes: It’s based on the number of kids and the parties’ income. It doesn’t take into account the age of the children. It takes into account how many children from that marriage there are, how many children from other marriages there are, and both parties’ incomes.
It also takes into account the type of custody – whether it’s joint or full custody –and then depending on what kind of custody it is they will just take into account how many overnight visits the non-custodial parent has.
Interviewer: The more overnight visits the noncustodial parent has does that mean they pay less child support?
Danielle Hawkes: Yes, that’s correct. That can be a real double whammy. If someone loses in the number of overnights they get, then they also are going to lose in the amount of child support they have to pay. They are going to end up paying more of child support depending on the child support arrangements.
Interviewer: Same thing with child support – what happens if you suffer a loss of income or your circumstances change?
Danielle Hawkes: Same thing; you just do a petition to modify saying that there has been a substantial change in circumstances.
Interviewer: What happens if one spouse is saying the other is wasting the child support or spending it on themselves? Can you get them taken away?
Danielle Hawkes: You’re not going to get it taken away but the child support is to go to the children. It’s not meant to go to the parent. Now, that can go towards rent and clothing, school, things like that. The parent has a lot of discretion about what they can spend that on but the law says that it goes to the benefit of the children. The thing that comes into account most often is when someone is paying child support to the other parent and that parent doesn’t even have the kids – they’re sending them off to grandma and grandpa for the summer or something like that.
Interviewer: How long will child support continue?
Danielle Hawkes: Until the child is 18.
Interviewer: When everyone has been remarried, will the support stay the same?
Danielle Hawkes: It will stay the same.