Child Custody and Visitation Laws in Wyoming

Learn how child custody is determined in Wyoming, how you can modify custody orders, and more.

By , Retired Judge
Updated by E.A. Gjelten, Legal Editor
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For parents who are getting divorced (or were never married), questions around child custody and visitation can be a big concern. Where will the kids live? How much time will they spend with each parent? And even once a divorce is final, custody and visitation can continue to cause problems between co-parents. So it's important to know how Wyoming law deals with child custody.

Types of Child Custody

Wyoming's child custody statutes don't define "legal custody" and "physical custody". But the state's courts recognize the difference between these two types of custody. Legal custody relates to parents' right to make important decisions in raising the child, such as education choices, non-emergency medical care, and whether the child will practice a certain religion. Physical custody refers to where the child will live most of the time.

Each type of custody may take different forms. For instance,

  • one parent may have sole legal and physical custody
  • the parents may share both legal and physical custody
  • one parent may have sole physical custody—meaning the children live primarily with that parent—while the parents have joint legal custody, or
  • one parent may have sole legal custody while the parents share physical custody (or even while the other parent primarily has the children).

Here again, Wyoming's laws don't define shared or joint physical custody, but it typically means that the children spend about the same amount of time with each parent. And although it's not mentioned in the state's laws, some parents may have a "split custody" arrangement, meaning that each of them will have at least one of their children—so siblings are "split" between their parents.

When judges are making decisions, they shouldn't favor sole custody or shared custody. Instead, their decisions should be based on what's best for the child under the circumstances of each case (more on that below).

(Wyo. Stat. § 20-2-201 (2024).)

Can Parents Agree on Custody Arrangements?

Courts encourage parents to reach an agreement on how they'll handle custody and visitation—and most parents do just that. But they'll have to submit their signed agreement to the court. A judge will review the agreement to ensure that it promotes the child's best interests and, if so, make it part of an official court order.

Wyoming law doesn't say what needs to go into a parenting plan. But the law does require that the court's custody orders are "well defined" in a way that helps parents understand and follow the orders, and it spells out some requirements for visitation orders (as discussed below). Because approved custody agreements become part of court orders, this means that the parents' agreement should also meet those requirements. (Wyo. Stat. § 20-2-201(d) (2024).)

The more detailed your parenting plan, the more you'll be able to avoid future disagreements. At the least, your agreement should include:

  • which parent will have the right to make decisions about certain areas of the child's life
  • a detailed schedule of when the child will be with each parent, including during school weeks and school breaks, as well as on holidays and birthdays
  • how you'll handle transportation (and the costs of that transportation) when exchanging the child
  • how you'll communicate with each other about your child, and
  • how you'll resolve any disagreements that come up in the future.

How Judges Make Custody Decisions: The Child's Best Interests

If the parents can't agree on a parenting plan, a judge will have to decide which custody arrangements will be in the child's best interests. When making that decision, judges must consider all of the relevant circumstances, including:

  • the quality of the child's relationship with each parent
  • each parent's ability to provide adequate care for the child, to accept all the responsibilities of parenting, and to respect the other parent's rights and responsibilities
  • each parent's relative competency and fitness
  • how the parents and child interact and communicate with each other, and how they can best continue and improve their relationship, and
  • how far apart the parents live from each other.

Under Wyoming law, the judge will consider any evidence of child abuse or domestic violence against the other parent as contrary to the child's best interests. However, the Wyoming Supreme Court has held that this is still just one of the factors that the judge must consider. It won't necessarily be the deciding factor, especially if there was only an isolated incident of spousal abuse in the past. Still, repeated or ongoing abuse will likely play an important role in custody decisions.

Wyoming courts have also held that judges may consider the custody preferences of a child who's mature enough to express a reasonable opinion.

(Wyo. Stat. § 20-2-201 (2024); Baer v. Baer, 522 P.3d 628 (Wyo. 2022); Yates v. Yates, 702 P.2d 1252 (Wyo. 1985).)

Visitation Rights in Wyoming

When a child is living with one parent, the judge will ordinarily grant the other parent visitation rights. As with custody, the child's best interest is the guiding principle. Under Wyoming law, the visitation order must:

  • include enough detail so that the parents will clearly understand the requirements and obey them
  • explain how the parents will divide the costs of transporting the children for the visitation, and
  • require 30 days' advance notice (to the other parent and the court clerk) when either parent plans to move to a different city or state.

(Wyo. Stat. § 20-2-202 (2024).)

There's no one-size-fits-all visitation template. The ultimate outcome usually depends on the circumstances of each case. The best arrangements tend to be those that reasonably accommodate the parents' and children's schedules.

Whenever a parent has been guilty of family violence, the visitation order must include restrictions intended to protect the children and the abused spouse from any further harm. For example, the judge may order that any visitation be supervised by an approved third party. (Wyo. Stat. § 20-2-201(c) (2024).)

Can You Modify a Custody or Visitation Order in Wyoming?

You may file a motion (written legal request) with the court, seeking to change an existing custody or visitation order. However, in order to be successful, you'll have to prove both of the following:

  • since the current order was issued, there's been a material change in circumstances (meaning that the change affects the child's welfare), and
  • the requested modification would be in the best interests of the children.

When the noncustodial parent is seeking a modification because the custodial parent has been repeatedly and unreasonably violating the custody orders by withholding visitation, the judge may consider proof of those violations as evidence of a material change of circumstances.

(Wyo. Stat. § 20-2-204(c) (2024); Evans v. Sharpe, 530 P.3d 298 (Wyo. 2023).)

As mentioned above, Wyoming requires either parent to give 30 days' notice before moving to a different city or state. This advance notice gives the other parent time to seek a modification in the current custody or visitation arrangement, if that's warranted. A parent's relocation (especially with the child) could qualify as a material change of circumstances, depending on the distance and whether the move would affect the current visitation schedule. But even if a move meets the changed-circumstances requirement, the judge would still have to look into the details to decide whether it would be in the child's best interests to modify the existing custody and visitation arrangements.

Be aware that Wyoming has special rules for any changes to custody or visitation when a parent in the military is on temporary duty, deployed, or mobilized. (Wyo. Stat. § 20-2-205 (2024).)

Resources and Help With Custody or Visitation

If you're having trouble reaching a custody agreement with your co-parent, you might want to try custody mediation. A trained, neutral mediation can help you work through the sticking points and identify solutions that you both can live with. Unlike many other states, Wyoming's courts don't provide free or reduced-cost mediation of custody disputes. But mediation is still a less expensive and lower-stress alternative to a court battle over custody.

There are a few resources if you want to apply for custody (as part of filing for divorce or in a separate proceeding) or request a custody modification. Wyoming Courts provide online self-help forms (under "Family Law"). And you can find the full text of Wyoming's custody laws discussed in this article.

Still, you should be aware that you may need the help of a lawyer in some situations, particularly if mediation doesn't work or isn't appropriate (as in cases involving domestic violence). And just because you hire a lawyer, that doesn't necessarily mean you'll have to go to trial. An attorney can help you prepare a strong case and negotiate a favorable settlement with your co-parent's lawyer.

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