Utah state policies seek to encourage a parent-child relationship between the child and both parents. If the mother has custody of the child, the father generally has child visitation, also known as parent-time in Utah. To protect his parental rights, a father should educate himself about Utah paternity law and custody procedures, as well as consider speaking with a lawyer.
Married fathers automatically have parental rights when their wives give birth to children, unless a Utah court decides otherwise. Unmarried fathers must prove their paternity in order to ask a court for visitation rights. If the mother agrees, she and the father can sign a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity. If the mother does not agree, the father can ask a Utah court or the Office of Recovery Services to establish the child's paternity.
Custody and Visitation Rights
Utah law differentiates between physical custody and legal custody. The court can award sole custody to one parent or create a parenting plan whereby the mother and father share legal and physical custody. Utah requires judges to make custody orders based on the child's best interests. If the court grants physical custody to the child's mother, the father is the non-custodial parent entitled to parent-time. A mother cannot prevent the father from visiting the children simply because he has fallen behind on child support. To limit visitation, the mother must get a court order based on potential harm such as child abuse or neglect, or another reason approved by a Utah court.
Married parents can ask the court for custody orders as part of their divorce case, but an unmarried father must assert his rights through a parentage action. Once the Utah court has issued an order regarding child custody and visitation, both parents must follow the terms of the order. If the mother prevents the father from exercising his rights under a visitation court order, the father can file a Motion to Enforce Parent-Time Order.
Parents have discretion to negotiate a parent-time schedule between themselves. If the parents cannot agree, however, the Utah State Courts generally apply a standard visitation schedule. The Utah Code Annotated provides the minimum guidelines for visitation under state law. The statutes set guidelines for visitation with children under the age of 5 and visitation with children from 5 to18 years of age. The guidelines generally provide non-custodial fathers with a weekday evening per week in addition to alternating weekends and holidays. Fathers with children under 5 years old might receive a schedule with shorter, more frequent visits.