In Wyoming, parents are encouraged to work out custody arrangements themselves without bringing the issue to court. If they cannot reach a mutually acceptable agreement, courts make custody decisions based on what is in the “best interest” of the child.

What Is a Parenting Plan?

When getting a divorce in Wyoming, parents are encouraged to develop a parenting plan for themselves. This is a detailed, written agreement that sets out how divorced parents are going to share legal and physical custody of their children. Legal custody is a parent’s right and responsibility to participate in making important decisions about their child’s life, such as whether the child is going to have a religious affiliation. Physical custody is having a child live with a parent.

In Wyoming, parents should try to make a parenting plan on their own before getting the court involved. If the divorcing parents cannot agree on a parenting plan, mediation is an option and a court might order it. If mediation is unsuccessful, the court will decide on the issue of custody.

A complete parenting plan should address the following issues:

  • How the parents plan to share time with the child;
  • The exact schedule for the time when the child resides with each parent or resides with one and has visitation with the other;
  • How the parents plan to transport the child between their homes;
  • How the parents plan to schedule and share school vacations, such as summer break;
  • How the parents plan to schedule and share holidays, such as Christmas, Thanksgiving, and the like;
  • Who is responsible for paying the child’s living expenses;
  • Who will cover have the child on their health insurance policy, pay their school tuition and entertainment expenses, e.g. summer camp;
  • Who is responsible for making important decisions about the child’s upbringing, such as health, education, religious affiliation, community involvement, and the like;
  • Which third party is going to provide child care when neither parent is available to do so;
  • How the parents plan to work through any conflicts regarding the parenting plan, the custody order or the child’s upbringing;
  • How each parent plans to work towards a positive relationship between the child and the other parent.

What Does the Court Consider in Assigning Custody?

The law in the state of Wyoming gives Wyoming judges the right to award either sole or joint legal custody as well as sole or joint physical custody for the child involved in a custody dispute.

In order to decide, the judge takes a number of factors into consideration. The judge’s decision also reflects the judge’s conclusions as to what is in the best interests of the child in the case, which is the legal standard a judge must apply.

While the court considers the parents’ wishes as a factor in their decision-making, the court’s primary function is to make sure the child is placed in a beneficial Wyoming child custody arrangement that provides a loving, supportive, and stable home and consistent contact with both parents, if possible.

Wyoming courts weigh and assess a number of factors when determining the best interest of a child. These factors include:

  • The depth and quality of the relationship that each parent has with their child,
  • The parents’ physical and mental ability to provide for the child emotionally and materially;
  • Whether the child has any physical issues or special needs;
  • Whether the child has any mental health issues;
  • The physical and mental health of each of the parents,
  • The distance between the parents’ residences,
  • The parents’ conduct and moral standards,
  • The parents’ willingness to accept responsibility for the child;
  • How each parent plans to maintain and encourage a strong a positive relationship between the child and the other parent
  • If there is any, evidence of child abuse or spousal abuse committed by either of the parents, and
  • The child’s reasonable preference, if it is appropriate to ask given the child’s age;
  • The parents’ wishes.

A parent’s gender is not supposed to be considered. In a custody dispute, a guardian ad litem may be assigned to advocate for the child and help the court in assessing the child’s best interest. Parenting classes may also be ordered.

To the Wyoming court system, the parent with whom the child spends most of their time is the custodial parent and the other parent is the noncustodial parent. The noncustodial parent usually has a visitation schedule that gives them time with the child.

Even if one parent has physical custody, both parents have access to the child’s medical and school records unless the judge orders otherwise. Also, if the court orders joint legal custody, both parents have an equal right and responsibility to participate in important decisions about the child’s upbringing. Of course, if their opinions differ on important issues, they have to compromise.

What Happens When the Court Has Made a Decision?

Once a parenting plan is adopted by the court or the court issues an order regarding child custody issues, the order is filed with the court clerk. At this point, both parents have a legal obligation to respect the court’s custody decision and order and comply with its provisions.

When changes need to be made in a custody arrangement that has been ordered by the court, which can happen as the child ages and the parents’ circumstances change, the parents need to submit a modified parenting plan to the judge for approval. In most cases, when both parents are in agreement on the changes that need to be made, they are approved by the court.

If the parents cannot agree on proposed changes, they may need to have a court hearing. Then the court decides the issues at the conclusion of the hearing. In these circumstances, the parent who proposes the changes to the agreement needs to make their case as to why the changes serve the child’s best interests. The judge then considers the proposed modifications and the child’s best interest standard in order to make a final decision. Should the modifications be approved, the court would then issue a new, modified court order regarding custody and any related issues.

In our mobile society, one or both parents may relocate. The issue of relocation is one that needs to be presented to a court before it can be added to a Wyoming child custody order. Relocation is challenging, because it can mean that a noncustodial parent with visitation would have less time with the child and would have a harder time fulfilling visitation. A parent might want to relocate within the state, out of the state or even to a foreign country.

A custodial parent who wants to relocate needs to prove to the court that the move is needed and would benefit the child. Once the judge has heard from both sides, they would take the parents’ wishes and concerns into consideration as well as the child’s interests. Once the court makes a decision, it becomes part of the custody order.

Should I Contact a Wyoming Lawyer Regarding My Custody Issues?

Child custody disputes can be stressful and require a detailed understanding of Wyoming state law concerning child custody. If you are in the process of getting a divorce and think that child custody can become an issue in your case, it is important that you speak with an experienced Wyoming child custody lawyer. A lawyer can best present your case both in negotiations and in court hearings. They can help you get the best possible parenting arrangement for your family.