A petition for divorce or custody is the gateway to getting your decree. If you want child support or a set schedule to see your children, you will need a decree. This guide will focus on parenting issues. You can find information on real property, personal property and alimony in their corresponding articles. What follows is 5 Tips For your Petition and navigating your divorce.
1. Go For the Status Quo on Custody.
Do you want your divorce to go fast? Do you want to save money? One question you will have to answer when drafting your petition is whether you want sole or joint custody of your children. In Utah, Custody is split into two types: Physical, and Legal. Simply put, physical custody dictates how often each parent has the children residing with them. Legal custody governs decision making and access to records for your child. In Utah, courts will default to joint legal custody, unless you can show a good reason why not. As far as physical custody goes, the courts will often stick with the status quo. If your ex sees the child roughly 50% of the time, there’s a strong chance the court will order that to be continued. By asking for the status quo, you will likely save yourself time and money.
Divorces can become custody battles because parents often look to win rather than to preserve the status quo. Unless the other parent has serious issues, the court is going to try to keep both parents involved. The court will see the status quo, what you are doing currently, as the easiest solution. I often see parents fighting over a matter of hours, or over when they can and can’t speak to their children. This ends up costing the parties significant amounts of money in litigation and in the end, neither party gets everything they want. When you ask the court to order what is already happening, there will likely be less fighting. Less fighting means less spent on lawyers.
So if you’re looking to speed your divorce up, and save money, think status quo on custody. However, if there are serious issues, you may not be able to compromise on custody. That leads us to our next tip:
2. Carefully Consider Your Current Custody Arrangement.
It is obvious that status quo plays a strong part in determining the outcome of your divorce case. Assuming that there are no serious issues, the court will look to what the parties have either agreed to or are currently doing to make an order. So if you’re goal is to get 50/50 custody, you’re going to want to practice that. If you want the other parent to have the statutory minimum, you’re going to want to practice that.
However, if there are problems and you believe that minimum parent time is what is best for your children, you will need to practice that parent time. Police will not interfere with parental disputes unless there is violence or some other justification. Without an order, police will simply state there is nothing they can do. Even with an order, if there is no violence, the police cannot enforce parent time, only the court can. If this is your problem, see our article on enforcing decrees.
If you want the other parent to have the minimum statutory parent time, offer that to them and only that. Just know that if the other party wants more, short of a court order, there’s not much you can do.
3. Don’t Move Out of the Marital Home During a Divorce.
Yes, I know. This sounds impossible for two warring spouses. However, if your aim is to maintain 50/50 custody, this is a great way to ensure it. Think of it this way: If status quo on parent time is what the court will likely go with and you have not conceded any parent time, you can better dictate to the court what parent time should be. This may not be the best option for you, depending on the circumstances of your family. However, if both parents work, and you want joint custody of your children, this is an excellent move.
4. For a Contested Divorce, Be General On Alimony
Often times I will see parties ask significant amounts of alimony without any basis in the law. Alimony is not as clear cut as child support, but there are some guidelines the court will follow, and the maximum the court is allowed to order is your demonstrated need, minus any income you have (or could have). If you are not aware of what your needs will be, or your needs will be changing because of a sale of the home, it could be better for you to say that alimony should be fair according to the laws of Utah, and should meet your demonstrated need. Utah courts can also award alimony up to the full-length of a marriage. There’s no harm in requesting the full length.
Unless you are going to default your spouse, or have already agreed to something, you lose nothing through this tactic. You may also grease the wheels of negotiation with the other spouse when they don’t see a hard number.
5. Honestly Assess Your Wants and Needs
One problem a lot of couples have during a divorce is determining who should get what. Sometimes parties fight over items with very little monetary value(costing them hundreds or thousands of dollars doing so). Although your elephant statue may have sentimental value, is it worth the mediator costs, the opportunity costs of your time, or the extra stress? There are some things worth fighting over, but do an honest assessment. Ask yourself, “if I concede now, will the money I save allow me to replace that item with something better?”
This goes for custody as well. Honestly ask yourself whether getting sole legal and physical custody of your child is worth the fighting if the reason is because he is no longer going to church, but is otherwise a good dad. Personal parenting decisions, such as whether a child can watch PG-13 movies or not, is not worth your time fighting in a divorce. The other parent likely to do it regardless of the order you get.
Getting a divorce is a difficult time in your life. The last thing you want to do when you are doing it yourself, is start off on the wrong foot. The best thing to do is to start off with an attorney from day one. If you need help after you get started, give us a call!
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