Interviewer: How long can this process actually take?
Danielle Hawkes: This process can take a long time. With parents who are cooperative, we can get it done fairly quickly and we can get it done in a couple of months but with parents who are not cooperating with one another, it really can extend beyond a year. I have a couple of cases that have come to me from other attorneys, one for example is six years old, and our goal in that one is just to wrap it up because it is not in anyone’s best interest to have a legal lawsuit pending for 6 years. It is just expensive and a waste of time and money.
Joint Custody is Essential for the Child to Have a Meaningful Relation with Both Parents
Interviewer: For the average family that is going through a divorce that you work with and in your experience, is it the old traditional sense where the child would stay with one parent for an extended period of time and then visit the other one like every weekend or every other weekend, and on holidays. Is it still like that?
Danielle Hawkes: Yes, so that every other weekend or one day a week sort of thing, that is actually Utah’s minimum visitation schedule. You can find it in Utah Code annotated 30-3-35. The courts really do want to give each parent more time than that. I think the new wave of thought is that the parent, both parents should have a very meaningful relationship with the children and that more time should be given wherever possible. So in cases where both parents want to play meaningful roles, the parents live close to one another and they live close to the school so the kids have access to their friends no matter which house they’re at.
The Courts Normally Opt for a 50-50 or a 60-40 Shared Plan of Custody
There is really no reason not to, the court will often go much closer to a 50 – 50 shared plan or a 60 – 40 sharing plan and really maintain a much closer unity between the children and both parents. If there are issues of drug or alcohol, or one parent really is not capable of providing that level of support to the child, then the court will go to that minimum parent time which is every other weekend and one day a week. If there are issues with drug and alcohol that are unresolved, then the court will often impose temporary supervision and no overnight, and start really restricting parent time to protect that child’s safety but the goal is always to move back up towards that minimum parent time, so once that parent becomes rehabilitated and reunified with that child, the court will implement that minimum parent time where possible.
The Financial Status of the Parents May be a Factor in Determining Child Custody
Interviewer: What about the finances of the parents? Are those ever considered as a factor?
Danielle Hawkes: In regards to visitation and time, the way that money can become a factor is it can play a couple of round about ways. The parent who has primary custody and the parent who is exercising visitation needs to have a safe and comfortable place for the child to go to. So, often times we are looking for a home. If one parent has a home where the child has their very own bedroom and the other parent doesn’t that will have an impact. If one parent is living with a bunch of roommates, and the other parent isn’t, that will impact the child’s custody factors.
The Court Will Seek to Use Child Support and Alimony to Share Money so that Children Don’t Experience Either a Deficit or a Surplus
Likewise, the parent who has more money, if they are working all of the time and they are not home with the child, while the other parent is able to be at home with the child, that will also impact custody and visitation as well because obviously the court is not going to leave young children home alone while one parent is working if there is a parent who can be home with those kids. And usually the court will seek to use child support and alimony to sort of share money so that the children aren’t experiencing a huge deficit at one home and then a huge surplus at another home.