May 6, 2015
By Dan Deuel, Executive Committee Member, National Parents Organization of Utah
In March, National Parents Organization of Utah, successfully spearheaded passage of the state’s first shared parenting legislation! HB35 wasn’t the only success NPO Utah had, but it was the most significant. Headed by Dave Daniels and Janet Robins, NPO Utah is on a roll!
NPO Utah wants to thank Representative V. Lowry Snow for sponsoring HB35 and working so closely with NPO to help ensure its passage. He is an excellent legislator who practiced family law and saw up close many of the challenges parents and their children face when custody is considered. He understands these issues very well, and we appreciate his hard work on the bill. NPO also wants to acknowledge the Utah State Bar’s Family Law section that endorsed HB35.
Under current Utah law, a noncustodial parent is entitled to a minimum schedule of every other weekend (Friday evening to Sunday evening) and one week night per week for three hours. Additionally, noncustodial parents are entitled to one-half of the annual holidays and four weeks during the summer.
This schedule, often referred to as the “standard minimum,” when originally enacted, was intended to be the minimum a noncustodial parent and his/her children should spend together. All too often, however, litigants, attorneys, and judges forgot that this is intended to be the minimum, and instead consider it the maximum time arrangement.
This of course is bad for children as well as their noncustodial parents.
HB35, which takes effect on May 19, creates an optional schedule with a more equitable, shared parenting arrangement. It changes the weekly parent-time night to an overnighter, instead of merely a few hours after school, and also extends weekend time from returning the children Sunday night to returning them Monday morning. This arrangement can be especially beneficial in higher-conflict divorces, since pick-ups and drop-offs can be made at school or daycare, reducing the number of interactions between quarreling parents.
The new option provides an increased parent-time schedule from 80 overnights per year to 145. That’s about 40% of parenting time being awarded to the noncustodial parent. Noncustodial parents must first meet some fairly narrowly-defined criteria in order to qualify for the optional schedule, such as: 1) demonstrate that he or she has been actively involved in the child’s life, 2) communicate effectively regarding the child, and 3) any other factors the court considers relevant.
Utah NPO executive committeeman and legislative affairs expert Dan Deuel, who has six years of experience working on various pieces of legislation, including pro-family legislation, urged the 107-member legislature to pass this family-friendly bill. It ultimately passed both houses of the legislature with only one dissenting vote, and was signed into law by Governor Gary Herbert on March 20, 2015.
NPO of Utah members Amanda Davis, Janet Robins, Michelle Troche, and others joined Deuel on Utah's Capitol Hill in strong support of this timely piece of legislation. NPO of Utah also orchestrated a campaign of members statewide, urging them to contact their lawmakers in support of HB35.
While this bill is by no means perfect, it is a step in the right direction. NPO of Utah intends to work on refining the statute in future years to further improve Utah’s child custody law.
Well done Dan and all at NPO Utah!