Child Custody in Wyoming: The Best Interests of the Child

Learn about the "best interests" standard and how it applies to child custody cases in Wyoming.

Wyoming courts make child custody orders that promote the best interests of the child when parents are separated or going through a divorce. The court may order joint custody--both parents share custody--or sole custody to one parent, and must decide joint or sole custody as to both legal custody (the right to make decisions about a child's welfare) and physical custody (the right to have a child live with you). A custody order may include any combination of joint or shared custody to both parents or sole custody to one parent.

To make its decision that's in the child's best interests, the court looks at a number of factors, including the child's relationship with each parent, each parent's ability to provide for the child's needs, and each parent's physical and mental ability to care for the child. The court will also consider each parent's willingness to accept parenting responsibilities, how the parents interact with each other, whether the parents respect each others' parenting styles, and where each parent lives. Finally, the judge will want to know how the child interacts with and communicates with each parent, and how each parent plans to maintain a strong relationship with the child. It is ideal for the child to spend time with each parent. However, if there has been any history of child abuse or spousal abuse, the court will make custody and visitation orders that best protect the child from the abusive parent.

If the child spends the majority of time with one parent, this parent is the primary custodial parent. The other parent is the noncustodial parent. Wyoming courts do not consider the gender of the parents when making custody decisions, so either the mother or father may be the primary custodial parent. Even if one parent has primary physical custody, both parents will have the same right to access the child's school and medical records unless the court orders otherwise. If the court orders joint legal custody, both parents will also have the right to make decisions about the child's school, religious upbringing, and extracurricular activities.

Parents who cooperate with one another to resolve parenting and scheduling differences are less likely to need a judge to determine custody and visitation. In fact, the court will often ask parents to attend mediation or work together to come up with a proposed parenting plan before appearing in front of a judge. If the proposed parenting plan gives each parent time with the child and also describes which parent the child will be with during school breaks, holidays, and vacations, the court will likely adopt the plan as an order. The plan should also specify who will provide transportation to and from visits with the noncustodial parent, as well as what the parents will do if the schedule needs to be changed. If the parents cannot agree, the judge will make an order in the best interest of the child. The judge may also require the parents to attend a parenting class for divorced or separated parents.

Once an order is in place, it cannot be modified unless both parents agree or there is a significant change in circumstances.

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