Español | Français | Português
Call us today: UT: 801-884-3775   TX: 469-552-5992

There are many things that affect a court’s decisions regarding legal and physical custody (parent-time).

Legal Custody vs Physical Custody (Parent-Time)

Though the terms are often used interchangeably, legal custody and physical custody (parent-time) aren’t the same thing. There are two types of custody: legal custody and physical custody. Physical custody refers to where the child resides for a specified period of time. In Utah, there is sole-physical and joint-physical custody. Sole-physical custody means that one parent has less than 111 overnight annually. The typical schedule in this case is for that parent to have every other weekend with the child. There is also joint-physical custody where each of the parties has at least 111 overnights annually. Legal custody refers to each parent’s ability to make important decisions on behalf of the child. Such decisions may include where the child will go to school, what religion the parties’ child will be a member of, what medical procedures the child will have, and other major decisions regarding the child. In Utah, the law presumes that both parents having a role in making these decisions is in the best interest of a child unless there is some compelling reason for a parent to not have that right, such as ongoing drug addiction.

What Determines Custody?

When a judge is determining how much legal or physical custody each party will get, they look at the best interests of the child. They generally give preference to maintaining historical roles and care for the child. Ideally, children will grow up in a stable environment with parents who can meet all their mental, emotional, and physical needs. Having a job that requires a parent to work unpredictable hours, unusual hours, or requires a lot of travel, may make full custody less likely. If a parent has a behavioral addiction, or substance addiction, it may be difficult for that parent to get additional physical custody of the child, assuming that their addiction actively interferes with their ability to care for the child. Lastly, if a child has been abused or neglected by a parent, or there’s a substantial risk that the parent would abuse or neglect the child, that parent may get less or no physical custody. The court may also impose conditions for their interactions and physical custody of the child such as supervision or random drug testing.

Can All Parents Get Custody?

Parents who are fit to be parents, want to be involved in their child’s life, and are capable of being involved will likely get some physical and legal custody. Though some people tell their spouses, “you’ll never see these children again!” The aforementioned is very rarely the case.

Most judges feel as though it’s in the child’s best interest to have a positive and healthy relationship with both parents. Parents who have a history of abusing or neglecting their children, or any other children, are less likely to get custody, or unsupervised parent-time. Parents who have active addictions that may result in immediate and irreparable harm to the children may also be less likely to be awarded custody. This is typically only seen in situations involving addictions caused by substance abuse. In some situations, unfit parents may be awarded supervised parent-time.

Addiction vs Usage

There’s a big difference between a person who is addicted to adult content and a person who views it from time to time. Though an addiction can only be diagnosed by a qualified mental health professional, behavioral addictions typically involve compulsive behaviors that directly interfere with a person’s ability to function and fulfill their responsibilities and obligations.

For example, a person may be unable to hold down a steady job due to their addiction, or they may have financial difficulties due to spending money on the addiction. A person who’s clinically addicted to video games may have lost their job due to the addiction, spend excessive amounts on the addiction, or may have neglected to care for their children while gaming.

Judges should not prevent a parent from having physical or legal custody so long as their use of adult content, video games, or alcohol, does not interfere with the parent’s ability to care for the child and proper safeguards are in place to protect the child from harmful exposure to inappropriate material. Parents who are using illegal drugs or misusing prescription drugs may lose custody even if they’re not physically or psychologically addicted to the substance. 

When Does Addiction Prevent Custody

Addiction generally prevents parents from getting custody when it interferes with their ability to effectively parent and care for their children. So if a parent is too busy engaging in a behavioral addiction, or substance addiction, to properly care for their child, that may negatively impact the parent’s ability to have custody of the children. If the children are exposed to any elements of the parent’s addiction, that may also impact their ability to get custody. If you possess or regularly access images, videos, or written content that would not be safe for your children to view, safeguards need to be in place to prevent your children from exposure. 

When You’re Ready to File

If you’re considering divorce, and you’re concerned about protecting your children from a spouse’s addictive behavior, contact CoilLaw to get started today on an initial consultation. 



How to Survive and Thrive When Your Marriage Ends

Learn More