Here’s essential information to know if you’re engaged in a Wyoming child custody case.
- What are the Types of Child Custody in Wyoming?
- Determining Child Custody in Wyoming
- What is Wyoming’s Best Interests of the Child Standard?
- What to Know About Parenting Plans
- How Do I Modify a Wyoming Custody or Visitation Order?
- Wyoming Child Custody FAQs
What are the Types of Child Custody in Wyoming?
All custody orders are based on the child’s best interests in Wyoming. In deciding custody, parents or the courts must decide on legal and physical custody issues.
Legal custody relates to making important decisions in raising the child, such as education choices, non-emergency medical care, and whether the child will practice a certain religion.
Physical custody refers to where the child will live.
Legal and physical custody are further broken down into sole and joint custody.
Sole legal custody means only one parent has major decision-making authority. With joint legal custody, both parents have a say in child-rearing decisions.
In a sole physical custody arrangement, the child resides with one parent. With joint physical custody, the child lives with each parent for certain periods, which can be anywhere from a few days a week to several months at a time, depending on the nature of the custody order.
When one parent is awarded physical custody, they are known as the custodial parent. The other parent is the noncustodial parent and will have visitation rights to spend time with their child as ordered by the court.
When there are multiple children, the court will sometimes order split custody. Judges typically don’t order split custody, preferring to keep children together. However, in split custody, one or more children live with one parent, and one or more live with the other. Split custody may be ordered when children do not get along well with each other, or there are extenuating circumstances that a judge must explain when the order is issued.
Often, judges will require a custody evaluation by trained personnel to aid in their decision. The court may also appoint a guardian ad litem. This is an attorney who specifically represents the child in court. They do not take the parent’s issues into account.
A parent who has abused the child or the child’s other parent likely will not be given custody in Wyoming. The parent may be granted visitation, but often this is supervised to ensure the child’s safety.
Based on the evidence presented in court, the custodial parent can request that the child be picked up and dropped off for visitation in a safe place, such as the police department, to make sure that no harm is done to the child during the visitation. In other instances, a third party will be present during the supervised visit. This can be a family member, friend, or someone appointed by the court.
The non-custodial parent can obtain visitation rights unless the child’s welfare is at risk with the visiting parent.
Visitation varies by each case. The court has complete discretion to decide if and how visitation takes place.
In most cases, the presumption is that the child benefits from having an ongoing and meaningful relationship with each parent.
Temporary orders may also be put in place to resolve short-term issues until the divorce is finalized.
What is the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act?
Wyoming courts follow the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) and will hear a custody dispute only after the child has lived in Wyoming for a minimum of six consecutive months. Infants under six months must have lived in the state from birth. Sometimes another state with rightful jurisdiction over the child waives it and allows Wyoming to proceed with a custody decision.
If a parent moves into Wyoming with the child, the last state of residence would have jurisdiction until six months have passed. If a parent and child move from Wyoming, the state would maintain jurisdiction for at least six months. In an emergency, such as the abandonment of a child or domestic violence issues, Wyoming issues temporary orders to protect the child until the state of jurisdiction can intercede.
Read More: How to File for Divorce in Wyoming
Determining Child Custody in Wyoming
Wyoming has statutory factors that the court considers when determining a custody order. In addition to this list, the court can consider any other factor relevant to reaching a fair and just decision.
The Wyoming Child Custody statutory factors are:
- The parents’ wishes or preferences as to custody
- The parent’s willingness to accept parenting responsibilities and ability in childrearing, such as parenting skills and discipline style
- Each parents’ ability to care for and provide for the child’s needs
- Each parent’s competency
- The nature of the relationship between the parents and the child
- The geographical distance between the parents’ residences
- Mental, emotional, and physical health of the parties involved in the proceedings
- Any history of domestic violence, child abuse, negligence, or substance abuse
- The child’s preferences for custody, provided that they are mature enough to make informed input
- Any other relevant factors that directly affect the child’s welfare
Gender and race are not considered in custody issues. Mothers and fathers have equal rights in a custody determination.
The Wyoming custody statute states that a judge’s decision may include any combination of the various types of custody. A court can award parents joint legal custody, but award one of the parents sole physical custody.
Also, if a child’s health or safety is endangered, an emergency custody order may be ordered to protect the child immediately. In dire situations, a child may be taken into custody without a warrant or an existing order.
Wyoming courts can also require divorcing parents with minor children to complete a parenting class before granting a divorce. This is completely at the judge’s discretion and if they think it will benefit the involved parties.
Read More: The Psychological Effects of Divorce on Children (and How to Help Them Cope)
What is Wyoming’s Best Interests of the Child Standard?
All Wyoming custody decisions are based on the child’s best interests. What parents want or request is secondary to the child’s needs.
Judges will use the statutory factors listed above to reach this best interest determination.
What to Know About Parenting Plans
Parenting plans are detailed instructions about each child’s physical and legal custody arrangements when parents legally separate or get a divorce.
Courts prefer that parents create a parenting plan, but when they can’t agree, the court will step in and create a plan instead.
Sometimes, parents may retain a mediator or a family law attorney to help them draft a plan. Even when this is the case, the court will still need to review and approve the plan, which should contain the following elements:
- 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
Read More: Dividing a Business in a Divorce: A Complete Guide
How Do I Modify a Wyoming Custody or Visitation Order?
Circumstances often change after a divorce, and when those changes affect custody, it’s possible for either parent to seek a modification.
To change a custody or visitation order already in place, you need to file a petition to modify the order, but you will need to show that there has been a material change in circumstances since the order was issued. You will also need to show that changing the order would be in the best interests of your child.
Many things can qualify as a material change in circumstances, such as the presence of domestic abuse, substance abuse, health issues, a job change, or a relocation to a distance that impacts visitation.
If a parent is in the military and gets temporarily deployed, is ordered to move a substantial distance away, or there is some other military-related reason that impacts custody or visitation responsibilities, this could be grounds to temporarily modify an order. However, the temporary duty, mobilization, or deployment and the resulting disruption to the child’s schedule are not considered a “material change in circumstances” to seek a permanent modification of the order
Ultimately, it’s up to a judge to determine whether a change in circumstances warrants a modification of a custody or visitation order.
Wyoming Child Custody FAQs
Can a parent who committed violence get custody or visitation?
Possibly. When deciding custody, the judge must consider any evidence of domestic violence or child abuse that can be proved. The judge usually determines that abuse goes against children’s best interests, and any visitation must protect the other parent and children from further harm.
Can a non-parent get visitation rights?
If you are the child’s grandparent or great-grandparent, then you may be able to get visitation rights. The judge will grant you reasonable visitation rights if it would be in the best interest of the child and not substantially impair the rights of the parents.
Aside from grandparents, the only other person who can file for visitation is someone who is not a blood relative to the child and, in the past 18 months, was the child’s primary caregiver for a 6 months or more.