Michael W. Risher III, Appellant,
Amy M. Emerson, Appellee.
District Court, Tooele Department The Honorable Robert W.
Adkins No. 154300059
M. Stott and T. Jake Hinkins, Attorneys for Appellant.
Russell W. Hartvigsen and Edwin S. Jang, Attorneys for
David N. Mortensen authored this Opinion, in which Judges
Michele M. Christiansen and Diana Hagen concurred.
Michael W. Risher III and Amy M. Emerson are the natural
parents of Child. To legally establish his rights as the
father of Child, Risher filed a petition for parentage. That
petition was litigated before the trial court. The court
reached a number of conclusions at trial and subsequently
entered an order of parentage, which included determinations
as to parent time, child support, surrogate care, decisional
authority, and attorney fees. Because the trial court made
virtually no factual findings whatsoever and provided no
reasoning for its conclusions, we reverse.
Child was born in December 2013. Never married to each other,
Risher and Emerson informally set up a schedule for
visitation, arranged child support, and addressed a number of
other issues. Nevertheless, contentions arose and in February
2015, Risher filed a petition for parentage. Litigation
followed, and the parties were ultimately able to reach a
stipulation on many issues. Custody and visitation issues
remained unresolved and a one-day trial was held in March
2016. At the conclusion of the trial, the court indicated
what it intended to order and asked Emerson's counsel to
submit proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law,
along with a proposed decree. Upon entry of the findings,
conclusions, and order of parentage, this appeal followed.
Determinations of custody and visitation are typically
reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard.
Grindstaff v. Grindstaff, 2010 UT App 261, ¶ 3,
241 P.3d 365. We "will affirm the trial court's
custody award so long as the trial court's discretion is
exercised within the confines of the legal standards we have
set, and the facts and reasons for the decision are set forth
fully in appropriate findings and conclusions."
Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
"Adequate findings of fact enable meaningful appellate
review because an appellate court can understand the trial
court's reasoning and assess its compliance with
governing law." Keyes v. Keyes, 2015 UT App
114, ¶ 29, 351 P.3d 90 (citation and internal quotation
marks omitted). "Findings are adequate only if they are
sufficiently detailed and include enough subsidiary facts to
disclose the steps by which" the trial court reached its
conclusion on each factual issue. See Taft v. Taft,
2016 UT App 135, ¶ 14, 379 P.3d 890 (citation and
internal quotation marks omitted).
On appeal, Risher challenges the trial court's decision
to award sole physical custody to Emerson. Specifically,
Risher argues that the custody award was not in Child's
best interests. Risher further challenges the trial
court's determination that Emerson should be given final
say on matters upon which the parties cannot agree. Further,
Risher notes that the trial court ordered a visitation
schedule that constituted a reduction in parent time compared
to the visitation schedule that the parties followed under
pretrial temporary orders. Risher also challenges the trial
court's determination that only twelve times per year,
upon seven-days' notice, could Risher exercise a right of
first refusal and provide care for Child when Emerson was
working. Risher also raises additional issues. As to all
issues, Risher maintains that the trial court made no
findings and provided no reasoning for its conclusions.
Our review of the findings of fact, conclusions of law, and
the order of parentage shows this assertion to be correct.
While it is true that the trial court signed a document
captioned "Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law,
" that document contains no findings whatsoever. The
document also fails to contain any reasoning for the
In Allen v. Allen, 2014 UT App 27, 319 P.3d 770,
this court explained,
Child custody determinations are "highly personal and
individual, and do not lend themselves to the means of
generalization employed in other areas of the law."
Roberts v. Roberts, 835 P.2d 193, 196 (Utah Ct. App.
1992). As a result, "[u]nlike support and alimony
determinations, . . . there is no checklist of custody
factors, " id., that "can govern custody
determinations in all cases, " Smith v. Smith,
726 P.2d 423, 426 (Utah 1986). But "the factors relied
on by the trial judge in awarding custody must be articulable
and articulated in the judge's written findings and
conclusions." Id. Utah Code sections 30-3-10
and 30-3-10.2 list a number of factors courts consider when
making a child custody award, including "which parent is
most likely to act in the best interest of the child,
including allowing the child frequent and continuing contact
with the noncustodial parent, " Utah Code Ann. §
30-3-10(1)(a)(ii) (LexisNexis 2013), "the extent of
bonding between the parent and child, meaning the ...