Child Custody: The Basics

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If you are petitioning to establish or modify child custody:

You need to fill out the Petition to Establish Custody or Petition to Modify Custody. You file the petition in the court where the children lived for the last six months before filing. You also send a copy of the petition to the other side.

After you file the petition, the other side has 20 days to respond or file a counterclaim, 30 days if the other side is out of state.

If the other side does not file a response within that time frame, you can file an Application for an Entry of Default. The court clerk will enter the default and if the judge signs off on the Default Judgment, then you will get your judgment.

In order to establish custody, you must provide evidence of the following factors found in Wyo. Stat. 20-2-201(a):

  • Quality of the relationship with each parent
  • Ability of each parent to provide adequate care
  • Relative competency and fitness of each parent
  • Each parent’s willingness to embrace the responsibilities of parenting
  • How the parents and child can best maintain and strengthen a relationship
  • The ability of each parent to allow the other to care for the child without intrusion
  • Geographic distance between the parents
  • Current and physical mental ability of each parent to care for the child
  • Any other factors the court sees as relevant

If there is DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, the court will automatically treat that as not being in the best interests of the children. If domestic violence is present, the court can order a visitation schedule that will protect the safety of the abused spouse and children.

If you receive a petition to establish or modify child custody

You have 20 days to respond, 30 days if you are out of state. If the other side files a Counterclaim, you must also respond to the Counterclaim.

Once you receive the petition, you have 30 days to submit your Initial Disclosures. You will also have to fill out a Confidential Financial Affidavit.

In order to modify a child custody order, the party asking for a modification must prove that there was a material change in circumstances and that changing the custody order is in the best interests of the children.

If you want to change the custody order but want it to be different than what the other side wants, then you also need to show that there was a material change in circumstances and that the change is in the best interests of the children. Kappen v. Kappen, 341 P.3d 377, 381. (2015)

Material Change in Circumstances

The relocation of the custodial parent is not by itself a material change. In fact, there is a strong presumption in Wyoming in favor of the custodial parent’s right to move as long as the motives for moving are sincere and legitimate. Arnott v. Arnott, 293 P.3d 440, 443. Such motives include going back to school or finding better employment opportunities.

Standard Visitation

A standard visitation schedule is every other weekend, sixty days during the summer, and alternating holidays. Kappen v. Kappen, 341 P.3d 377, 380. (2015)

However, the court can decide a visitation schedule that it believes is in the best interests of the children.

Except in exceptional circumstances, the noncustodial parent is entitled to some kind of visitation, whether supervised or unsupervised. This means that the custodial parent must allow the noncustodial parent visitation. If they do not, the other side may petition the court for contempt. If the court finds that a party is in contempt, it may impose punishments from fines up to jail time.

Grandparent Visitation- Wyo. Stat. 20-7-101

Grandparents may file a petition with the court for visitation with their biological grandchild.

They must show the court that such visitation is in the best interests of the children and that the rights of the parents will not be substantially impaired. If the grandparents can show those two things, the court may grant reasonable visitation.