Wyoming Child Custody Law
By Mary Jane Freeman
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Wyoming understands that divorces run smoothest when spouses are amicable and able to work together, especially when it comes to children of the marriage. For that reason, Wyoming permits divorcing spouses to create a parenting plan on their own, choosing a custody arrangement that works best for their family and its unique dynamic. If the court finds the plan meets the child's best interests, the court will approve it and incorporate it into the divorce decree.
Types of Custody
Wyoming recognizes three forms of custody: sole, joint and split. A parent with sole custody provides a home for the child and acts as the child's primary caregiver; this is commonly known as physical custody. When one parent is awarded sole custody, the other parent typically receives visitation. Joint, or shared, custody may be awarded in one of two ways. Parents may share both physical custody, with each providing a home for the child, and legal custody, meaning the parents make decisions together on major issues affecting a child's welfare, such as education, health care and religious training. Or shared custody can mean both parents have legal custody, but only one parent has physical custody; this is a common arrangement in Wyoming. Split custody is when there is more than one child and the children are split between parents. Wyoming courts disfavor shared physical custody and split custody arrangements, so they are rarely awarded.
Wyoming courts prefer that divorcing spouses create their own parenting plan. Since divorce can have a profound effect on children, the court feels any potential negative impact is greatly reduced when parents work together. During the divorce process, parents may elect to participate in family law mediation. This involves one or more counseling sessions in which a trained professional helps parents reach an agreement on custody and draft a parenting plan to meet the family's needs. However, if you and your spouse are already in agreement, you don't need to participate in mediation. Simply draft a plan detailing the custody arrangement, including such information as where the child will live, visitation schedule and how decisions will be made. Once it is complete, you would then submit it to the court. If the court finds it serves the child's best interests, it will incorporate the agreement into the divorce decree, creating a legally binding court order.
Best Interests of the Child
If you and your spouse are unable to reach a custody agreement on your own, the court will make this decision for you. Before it does so, the court may order you to attend mediation in the hopes you can reach an agreement with trained help. However, this requirement can be waived for good cause, such as when there has been a history of domestic violence. If court intervention proves necessary, the court will create a custody arrangement that ensures the best interests of the child are met. To reach this decision, the court will evaluate several factors outlined in state law, such as each parent's ability to provide adequate care for the child, quality of each parent-child relationship, and each parent's willingness to engage in parental responsibilities and not intrude upon the other parent's relationship with the child.
Visitation Rights and Modification
Wyoming recognizes a parent's fundamental right to "associate" with her child. Unless an order is established to the contrary, Wyoming law upholds a noncustodial parent's right to have the same access to her child as the parent with physical custody, known as the custodial parent. This includes access to the child's school and medical records. To that end, the court will typically grant visitation to a noncustodial parent to the extent necessary to serve the child's best interests, and the custodial parent may not interfere with those rights. Wyoming permits either parent to request modification of custody if there has been a material change in circumstances since the order was established. So if the custodial parent interferes with the noncustodial parent's visitation rights, this would constitute a "material change" and the noncustodial parent can petition the court for modification. Modification requests are typically submitted to the court that established the most recent custody order.
- Wyoming Center for Legal Aid: Child Custody and Visitation
- Legal Aid of Wyoming: Parent’s Rights, Custody and Child Support in Wyoming
- University of Wyoming: Family Law Issues
- Wyoming Legislature: Wyoming Statutes, Section 20-2-201, Disposition and Maintenance of Children in Decree or Order; Access to Records.
Based on the West Coast, Mary Jane Freeman has been writing professionally since 1994, specializing in the topics of business and law. Freeman's work has appeared in a variety of publications, including LegalZoom, Essence, Reuters and Chicago Sun-Times. Freeman holds a Master of Science in public policy and management and Juris Doctor. Freeman is self-employed and works as a policy analyst and legal consultant.