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New Law Seeks Custody Equality For Divorce Cases

Photo of the Matheson Courthouse in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Brian Grimmett
File: Matheson Court House

A new law went into effect this month aimed at bringing more equality for parents when it comes to custody arrangements after divorce or separation.

Utah’s new law combats the family court tradition of awarding sole custody to one parent – usually to the mother. Instead, it encourages the state courts to more equally award child custody following divorce or separation. Dan Deuel is with the National Parents Organization of Utah, which was actively involved in pushing for the passage of the legislation.

“The number one thing both parents and children want, when they go to court, the number one thing they want is more time together," he says. "So we believe this will not only benefit the parents and child and especially the children, but this will benefit society as a whole.”

Deuel points to national studies that say children of single parents are at greater risk for teen pregnancies, drug addiction, suicide, and incarceration. He says more time with both parents will reduce these risks. The new law encourages the court to increase the child’s time with the noncustodial parent from the current level of 110 days per year up to 145 days. Deuel says more than 20 states around the country are considering similar laws. Utah may serve as a national model on this idea.

 “We’ve been getting queries from all over the nation, and everybody is looking at Utah," Deuel says. "And it makes sense really because Utah is a family centered state. At the end of the day, this is all about family. And family ties don’t need to be needlessly severed just because there is a divorce.”

The legislation was originally requested by Utah family court attorneys. The bill’s sponsor Representative Lowry Snow of St George told KUER he hopes to collect feedback from these attorneys on what kind of impact this law has for Utah families.

Andrea Smardon is new at KUER, but she has worked in public broadcasting for more than a decade. Most recently, she worked as a reporter and news announcer for WGBH radio. While in Boston, she produced stories for Morning Edition, Marketplace Money, and The World. Her print work was published in The Boston Globe and Prior to that, she worked at Seattleââ
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