Interviewer: At what point could the terms of child custody become modified?
Danielle Hawkes: A final decree can be modified for a number of different reasons, so one of those reasons is if there is a substantial change in material circumstances, that means if something changes but was unknown when the decree was entered into, then you can have standing to go back and ask the court to reopen the case and make new decisions on anything really, custody, visitation, alimony and then one of the major factors that changes for all of these things is income. So basically, under Utah code 78B-12-210, the party should have a right to adjust the child support order by motion after 3 years from the date of it’s entry if upon review, there is a difference of 10% or more between the amount of previously ordered and new amount of child support under the Utah guidelines. And then that change is not temporary and if the amount previously ordered does not deviate from the guidelines.
It is Recommended to Retain an Attorney for Modifications as it is a Complicated Process
So basically, if after 3 years from the decree, there is a bottom line change of 10% then the parties can motion to change the child support order and then the child support order can also be changed for, if there is a material change in custody, so if the custody switches, or if there is a relative change in wealth or assets of the party or if there is a change of 30% or more in the income of the parent, there are changes in medical needs or legal responsibilities. All these different things can be a reason to actually modify the decree. Modifications get a little bit complicated and it is definitely recommended that you have an attorney to do them, you are really going to start from scratch and in some cases, you are moving forward through the entire process again.
The Age of the Child is a Major Factor in Modifying Child Custody Agreements
Interviewer: In some cases would it be worse if someone has the opportunity, is the age of the child also a factor in that too?
Danielle Hawkes: Yes absolutely. Children, when they get older, they want to switch who they want to live with. If parties often agree that if a young man grows up, maybe it’s better for him to live with his father in certain situations if he becomes a teenager. The parties might just agree to modify the decree at that point where they may need to go back and argue about it needing to be modified because it is in that child’s best interest, that’s just one example but yes, in a child’s lifetime, things will change and will often have to be modified.
The Opinion of a Child Does Matter in Child Custody Arrangements
Interviewer: Does a child’s opinion ever make a difference in these proceedings?
Danielle Hawkes: Yes. Utah law doesn’t have a specific age or exact requirement but once a child turns, usually the age is 14. Once a child turns 14, they’re going to have a whole lot of say in where they want to live but another thing is when children are younger than that and you have a custody evaluator involved, they’ll interview the child and they’ll find out where the child wants to live and in certain situations where you have a 10 or 11 year old, that custody evaluator will consider that child’s opinion granted it is going to be weighted with what’s in that child’s best interest. For example, if you have a child who wants to be with one parent because they never make them go to school, the custody evaluator is going to take that into consideration. That has to be weighted, it’s not just all about the child’s opinion but also what’s in that child’s best interest. They may not want to live with the stricter parent, but if the stricter parent is getting them to school on time, then that’s probably the direction they’ll need to go.