Idaho Child Custody Laws

Idaho Child Custody

Here’s what you should know if you’re engaged in a child custody action in Idaho.

What are the Types of Child Custody in Idaho?

Idaho courts must decide on physical and legal custody of minor children in a divorce case.

Physical custody is where a child lives. A parent with physical custody spends substantial time with the child and handles most of the child’s daily needs. When parents share physical custody, the child spends time living with both parents, but not necessarily in equal amounts.

Legal custody refers to a parent’s right to make major decisions for the child. Parents with legal custody decide where a child will attend school, what kind of medical care they’ll receive, and whether they should be raised in a particular religious faith.

Idaho courts presume it is in a child’s best interests for parents to share legal custody. However, when parents have a contentious relationship or live far apart, a judge may award one parent sole decision-making power over a child.

Parents can share physical and legal custody, called joint custody, or one parent may be granted sole physical custody and legal custody.

If the judge does not award joint custody, the judge must explain the reasons for not granting joint custody.  That may be due to one parent being unfit due to substance abuse, domestic violence, or criminal actions.

Sole physical custody is when the child mostly lives with one parent, but the other parent can still have visitation rights.  A visitation schedule ensures ample and ongoing relationships with both parents, which is the court’s normal preference.

Idaho courts have full discretion when determining visitation privileges between children and parents. The courts can establish visitation, even if both parents agreed upon a no-visitation policy.

What can I expect from temporary orders?

A divorce can take time to get through the court system and fully resolve all issues between the parties. While the case is pending, the court can make effective temporary custody determinations until the court makes changes.

Temporary orders are called pendente lite orders and usually remain in effect only while a divorce is ongoing. Temporary orders are then replaced with permanent orders, which may be the same, but that is only sometimes the case.

Read More:   Idaho Divorce Guide

Determining Child Custody in Idaho

Either parent or a “de facto custodian” can file for custody.

A de facto custodian is someone related to the child (such as an uncle or great-grandparent) and has been the child’s primary caregiver and primary financial supporter without the child’s parent being present and with a “lack of demonstrated consistent participation” by the parent six months or more if the child is under three years of age, or one year or more if the child is three years or older.

A person cannot be considered a de facto custodian if they are the child’s step-parent or is the live-in partner of the child’s parent.

After the judge determines that someone is a de facto custodian, the issue then becomes if it’s in the child’s best interests for the de facto custodian to have custody in addition to one of the parents or instead of the parents.

Custody decisions are easy when parents can agree on how to divide and share in the care and support their children, but a judge will step in when parents can’t reach an agreement.  Sometimes, parents will use a mediator or a family law attorney to help craft an agreement which is then presented to the court for approval.

When judges decide on custody, they use the following factors to guide their decision.

  • Each parent’s wishes for custody
  • The child’s relationship with siblings and each parent
  • The child’s preference if the child is old enough and mature enough to have meaningful input
  • Each parent’s physical and mental health, including parental fitness
  • Each parent’s ability to meet the physical, emotional, and basic daily needs of the child
  • The child’s adjustment to school and community
  • Each parent’s history of domestic violence, if any
  • The child’s need for stability
  • Any other relevant factors the court deems as important.

An abusive parent isn’t automatically prohibited from receiving custody but will face additional challenges to win custody in Idaho.  Sometimes, the court may order that the abusive parent only has supervised parenting time.  This means that a friend, relative, or court-appointed worker must be present during the visitation.

In contentious custody cases, the judge can appoint a parenting coordinator to help the parents resolve parenting disputes that arise over time. The parenting coordinator is supposed to help empower the parents and minimize the degree of conflict between them.

The fees and costs of the parenting coordinator are usually divided between the parents by the judge.  The parenting coordinator provides at least one status report to the judge every six months.

Judges will allow children can express a preference in an Idaho custody case, but that doesn’t mean it will change the outcome. There’s no age at which a child’s custodial preference is absolute.  The judge always has the final say, not the child.

A child’s custodial preference can also apply to individuals other than the parents, such as a grandparent, when that person has acted as a de facto parent.

Read More:   Divorce Laws in Idaho

What is Idaho’s Best Interests of the Child Standard?

In all Idaho custody cases, the primary consideration is the best interests of the child. Parents desires are secondary, although they are taken into account.

To determine a child’s best interests, Idaho child custody laws set factors to be considered by the court, as noted above.

When parents create agreements, the court also requires them to follow this best interest standard in all child custody cases.  If the parents do not, the court will reject the agreement and decide custody instead.

Read More:  The Psychological Effects of Divorce on Children (and How to Help Them Cope)

What to Know About Parenting Plans

Parenting plans are detailed instructions about a child’s physical and legal custody in divorce.

Sometimes, parents may work with a mediator or a family law attorney to help them draft a plan.  Each plan is different, but at a minimum should contain the following:

  • Physical custody details, including the number of overnight visits for each parent.
  • Legal custody and how those responsibilities are allocated between parents.
  • Holiday and school break schedules
  • Vacation and travel approval and advance notifications
  • How will a child communicate with both parents
  • How is communication between parents handled?
  • Contact with other family members and friends
  • How are tuition, medical costs, school activities, hobbies, and recreational activities expenses handled?
  • Child support payment amounts and recourse if a parent falls behind.
  • The manner of exchanging children, including when, where, and time of day
  • Transporting children for visitation and other necessary movements
  • Access to records and information
  • Children’s use of technology and online activities
  • How to address child discipline and mental health issues
  • Guidelines when a new partner is involved
  • Grooming and dress guidelines (extreme haircuts, make-up, etc.)
  • Drinking or drug use in the presence of the children

When parents create a plan, the court must review it and approve it before it becomes a legally binding document.

How Do I Modify an Idaho Custody or Visitation Order?

Situations often change and a custody order is put in place.  When this happens, and if the circumstances are significant enough, the court may grant a change in the existing order.  Events that may warrant a change are things like major health issue, a move to a distant location, a job change, or the emergence of domestic violence, criminal activity or substance abuse in one parent’s home.

Either parent can file a petition to request a custody modification. The court will schedule a hearing on your case to hear all the evidence and ultimately decide if a change is warranted based on what is best for the child.  A judge will evaluate the same best interests factors in a modification case.

There isn’t a specific amount of time that you need to wait before you can file a modification petition. Whether the judge agrees to hear a case depends on the individual judge, the type of modification requested, whether both parents are agree a modification is warranted and other related factors.

Military servicemembers can receive special treatment when a modification request is due to a parent’s military deployment. For example, a judge can temporarily modify an existing child custody order during deployment and then conduct an expedited or emergency hearing after the deployment ends.

Read MoreA Beginner’s Guide to Divorce Mediation

Idaho Child Custody FAQs

If child support isn’t paid, can a parent refuse visitation when child support or alimony isn’t paid?

No.  Alimony and child support payments and visitation are two legally independent matters.  If a parent tries to prevent visitation under these circumstnaces they could face legal consequences including being found in contempt of court.

Also, if one parent refuses to allow the other parent visitation, that may not be used as a reason to withhold or stop paying child support.

Will I receive child support if I have custody?

Child support is determined based on gross monthly income and other expenses. Who has the majority of time with the child, while a factor, is not determinative of the support obligation.

Do grandparents have custody and visitation rights?

In Idaho, the court may grant reasonable visitation rights to grandparents or great-grandparents when it is shown that the visitation would be in the best interests of the child.  It’s best to check with a family law attorney to discuss the merits of a nonparental visitation request.

What happens if I make an allegation of child abuse against the other parent?

If you allege that the other parent committed child abuse or child sexual abuse, the judge is supposed to order the Department of Health and Welfare to conduct an investigation within 30 days.  A final award of custody or visitation generally won’t be made until the judge receives the report from the investigation.  In some cases, the court may step in if there is some amount of proof that the child is in danger.

Can the non-custodial parent have access to the child’s records?

The non-custodial parent can access records and information relating to the child, including medical, dental, health, and school or educational records. However, information concerning the child’s address can be deleted from the records at the custodial parent’s request.  This is sometimes done when there is a perceived threat to the child or the custodial parent.

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