We often hear the question from friends, family or on social media, “what do I need to do to get an enforceable custody agreement in Utah?”. Instead of answering this every time someone asks, because as attorneys we tend to be rather long-winded at times, we thought a blog would help so that it is out there for everyone to see on Google.
Starting at the beginning
First, you need a Court Order to make you custody agreement binding in Utah. Without an Order from a Utah Court, there may be an agreement but the local police will not be able to enforce your custody agreement. The most inexpensive way of getting a Utah Custody Order doing it yourself with the documents at www.utcourts.gov. They have a self-help or Online Court Assistance Program (OCAP) that can help you draft the documents on your own. Those documents are somewhat cumbersome, and more of a one size fits all, than tailored to your situation. They may work, but we often find that people come to us because of problems in the OCAP documents, whether it be confusion, or what was entered was not specific enough, or that the situation has changed. The cost for this is $20 in addition to the filing fee. The filing fee is currently $310, plus and $8 vital statistics fee for a divorce and $360 for a parentage/custody action, which is what you need if you are in Salt Lake and were not married but have children and need a custody order. You may be able to find someone that is not a lawyer that can help, perhaps a paralegal, or someone who used to work for a lawyer. The problem with this is that you are dealing with someone without a specific license, or legal duty to you to ensure that the laws are complied with. This is generally in the range of $100-$500 in addition to the filing fees noted above.
Finding the best solution
The best, albeit most expensive option, is to hire an attorney to prepare the paperwork for you. This gives you the benefit of having someone with the knowledge and experience of drafting the paperwork as well as a legal duty to do it correctly, and in accordance with the law of the State of Utah. After all, you did want a valid, binding and enforceable Utah custody agreement, right? If everything is agreed upon and it is literally only drafting the documents you can probably spend around 3 hours at and attorney’s hourly rate to prepare the documents. Most Utah attorneys charge between $150 and $350 an hour for their time. What we have found over the years is that although people believe that they have agreed on all of the issues, they have not thought about some of the major issues that need to be addressed, and usually don’t completely agree on all of the details of the issues. This usually ends up taking additional time, either through mediation, where an attorney can act as a third party neutral, or simply through an exchange of documents that can be done via email. The total cost of having an attorney prepare the documents is generally between $600 and $1500, unless there is significant disagreement or if the parties need more direction and explanation than usual.
The big picture with custody
If all of this fails you would wind up in Court in Utah with one or both of you hiring a local Utah Custody attorney and both litigating the issues. If you go this route, each party should plan on spending at least $3,000, and likely closer to $7500 or more to litigate your Utah custody or divorce case. Whichever way you choose, please make sure you get a Court order, as otherwise there is no way to enforce what you agree on.