Child Custody and Relocation in Utah

Learn more about Child Custody and Relocation in Utah.

It’s common for a divorced parent to relocate, but this can create problems for the other parent, including decreased parenting time and increased visitation costs. In Utah, if a custodial parent wants to move more than 150 miles from their current residence, they must provide advanced notice to the court. If a noncustodial parent disagrees with the proposed relocation, they can ask the court for a hearing to deny the move, or modify custody.

What Constitutes a Relocation?

Utah law requires a custodial parent to give advanced notice if they plan on moving more than 150 miles from their current residence or from the residence of the other parent. The parent must send the notice to the court and the other parent at least 60 days in advance of the intended relocation. It is not enough just to tell the other parent you are planning to move, so be sure to include all the court required information in your notice to relocate.

The written notice must contain each of the following statements:

  • a parent-time schedule approved by both parties (or a schedule previously ordered by the court), will be followed, and
  • neither parent will interfere with the other’s parental rights pursuant to court-ordered parent-time arrangements, or the schedule approved by both parties.

Giving notice does not automatically entitle the parent to relocate. If the noncustodial parent disagrees with the proposed move, or if the court wants to investigate further, the court will schedule a hearing to review the proposal and review both the parent-time schedule and costs for parent-time transportation in the event of a move.qa

What Does the Court Consider During a Relocation Hearing?

A court wants to make sure that a relocation is in the best interest of the child, and it will consider any other relevant factors that are specific to your situation. If relocation is in the child’s best interest, the parents should work together to determine the best parent-time schedule for the noncustodial parent and the child. If the parents can’t agree, the court will determine the best parent-time schedule and determine transportation costs that each parent will incur for the child’s visitation.

In Utah, courts will evaluate the following factors when creating an appropriate parent-time schedule:

  • the reason for the parent’s relocation
  • the additional costs and difficulty to both parents in exercising parent-time
  • the economic resources of both parents, and
  • any other relevant factors.

To prevent unfair parent-time schedules, the state created a minimum parent-time schedule that all courts must follow. The court is free to expand on these guidelines, if appropriate, but a noncustodial parent can expect to receive a schedule like the one listed below.

For children ages 5-18:

  • in years ending in an odd number, the child will spend the Thanksgiving holiday, Wednesday until Sunday, and spring break (if applicable), beginning the last day of school before the holiday until the day before school resumes
  • in years ending in an even number, the child will spend the entire winter school break with the noncustodial parent. The child will spend the entire fall school break, beginning the last day of school before the holiday until the day before school resumes, with the noncustodial parent
  • the noncustodial parent will receive extended parenting time equal to ½ of summer break with the child, and
  • one weekend per month, at the option and expense of the noncustodial parent.

If the noncustodial parent finds it difficult (due to finances or distance) to exercise parent-time during the school year, the court will consider awarding more time during the summer, if it's in the child’s best interest. Before you agree to a schedule, make sure you have the time and financial ability to exercise any court-ordered parent-time.

There is no minimum parent-time schedule for children under the age of 5. Children under this age may have special physical or developmental needs, and the court will need to consider this when creating a schedule. The court should also evaluate how travel between the parent’s homes will affect the child, and how the parents will manage the cost and travel arrangements. Perhaps even more important, it is important for the court to assess the bond between the young child and each parent, and how time away from each will impact the child.

Who Pays for Travel Costs?

Travel costs can be expensive and burdensome, so it’s important for the parents to agree, in advance, who will have financial responsibility for the child’s travel expenses. If the parents can’t agree, and the court doesn’t order something different, the state requires that the custodial parent (the relocating parent) pay for all the child’s travel expenses throughout the school year, and at least half of the expenses during summer parent-time.

The noncustodial parent must be current on their child support obligation for the court to require the other parent to pay. If the noncustodial parent is behind on child support, that parent will be responsible for paying all parent-time travel expenses for the child.

Will the Court Modify Custody?

If the court approves a relocation and the noncustodial parent disagrees, that parent may ask the court­­—by filing a motion—to change custody. The court prefers stability for the child, so there are specific requirements that a parent must meet before the court will consider changing the current arrangement.

The nonmoving parent must first prove that there has been a substantial, and material change of circumstances since the last order. In other words, the parent needs to show the court there have been so many changes since the entry of the last order that the original custody agreement is no longer appropriate for the family. For example, in one 1999 case, a noncustodial parent (father) objected to a proposed relocation and asked the court to make him the custodial parent. The father explained to the court that since the last order, both parents remarried and moved to new communities which made their current visitation schedule impossible. The court agreed that this demonstrated a change in circumstances, so it would evaluate whether a change in custody was appropriate.

If the parent can prove a change in circumstances, the court will evaluate whether a modification is in the child’s best interest. To do this, the court will look at certain things—referred to as best interest factors— which include:

  • the parent’s past conduct and moral standards
  • which parent is more likely to act in the child’s best interest, including who the court believes will allow the child frequent, and continuing contact with the other parent
  • the extent of bonding between the parent and child, and
  • whether the parent has intentionally exposed the child to pornography or material harmful to a child.

The court may consider other factors, such as the child’s opinion, but ultimately, the court will decide custody based on all the factors combined.

Relocation cases are complicated. Not only do these situations involve changing residences and visitation schedules, you may also need to address modification of custody, which is difficult. If you want to relocate, or you object to a move, you should seek assistance from an experienced family law attorney.

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