House Bill 35 does not present a novel idea—instead it harkens back to “words that influenced our nation’s Founding Fathers.” At least, it does in some Utahns’ minds, where the state is now “closer to honoring the basic liberty interests upon which our nation was founded,” and the “government is working to strengthen families.” For a patriot and a family (wo)man, what better news could there be than that? Unfortunately for some families, much of the rhetoric used to praise HB 35 is nothing more than a prop, with whatever fallout from the new law that’s left being up to the family law attorney in Utah to sort through.
Because what a family law attorney in Utah does during a divorce is more complicated than reviewing the laws on the books and doling out custody according to what bills have been passed and what statutes are in effect. Every family relationship is different in its dynamics, its strengths and abilities, its troubles, and its resources, not to mention the investment by the parties involved into resolving the familial separation peacefully and functionally. Just because the state of Utah now says that the noncustodial parent gets 40% more time with the child than they had previously, that doesn’t really clear things up in court every time, for every family.
But the author of the Salt Lake Tribune OpEd piece does have a point, and one that we don’t want to slough aside lightly. (He’s got credentials, too, being the chair of legislative affairs for the National Parents Organization of Utah). Mainly that historically, in going through a family law attorney in Utah, or anywhere else in the U.S. for that matter, America’s court systems have been decidedly one-sided in the determination of parental custody rights. In the days of our Founding Fathers, the dads got all the power (mainly because they had all the income and ability to provide for kids). More recently, courts have been biased toward mothers as the appropriate default party to care for their children after a family split.
What Utah’s doing now is trying to even out the scales. By awarding more minimum time to noncustodial parents, the state is emphasizing the role of shared parenting in a family after a couple divorces: the duty and responsibility to raise a child you brought into this world alongside the privilege of sharing the joyful moments in building a relationship with your offspring come hand-in-hand.
This is something that a family attorney in Utah has never forgotten, and when serving clients going through difficult divorces and shared custody agreements, will work tirelessly to represent the interests of the children in presenting arguments for shared or sole custody, as appropriate. But yes, as far as new law reflects the changing values of a society, Utah is on the forefront of telling America and the world that parents shouldn’t do it alone after a divorce, and that one biological sexed parent is not automatically assigned a more privileged status as caretaker. Sure, we’ll call that equitable; we’ll call that progress.