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Lay v. Lay

Court of Appeals of Utah

July 12, 2018

Brandon Christopher Lay, Appellant,
v.
Corinna Nicole Lay, Appellee.

          Third District Court, West Jordan Department The Honorable Bruce C. Lubeck No. 074400807

          Steve S. Christensen and Clinton R. Brimhall, Attorneys for Appellant

          J. Brady Kronmiller and Amy G. Larsen, Attorneys for Appellee

          Judge Jill M. Pohlman authored this Opinion, in which Judges Michele M. Christiansen and Ryan M. Harris concurred.

          POHLMAN, JUDGE

         ¶1 Brandon Christopher Lay and Corinna Nicole Lay, now Corinna Nicole Gustafson, divorced in 2008. The divorce decree awarded the parties joint legal and physical custody of their minor daughter (Child). Gustafson was designated as Child's primary physical caretaker, and Lay was granted six out of every fourteen overnights for parent-time. Around 2011, the parties informally agreed to a new parent-time schedule due to conflicts with Lay's work schedule and Child's need for more stability. Under their agreement, Lay would have Child only on alternating weekends, Friday night through Sunday night. Although Lay's scheduling conflict was eventually resolved, the parties continued to operate under the revised parent-time schedule for approximately five years.

         ¶2 In 2015, the parties-for different reasons-each asked the district court to modify the divorce decree. The district court ordered that the parent-time schedule originally established in the divorce decree be followed during the summer months. For the school year, the court ordered that Lay would have Child only on alternating weekends but that his parent-time "should be Friday and Saturday nights only, not Sunday nights, to better accommodate school attendance."

         ¶3 Lay appeals, raising two main challenges. First, Lay contends that the district court misinterpreted the statute that provides for increased parent-time for the noncustodial parent and erred by not adopting the optional schedule described in that statute. Second, Lay contends that the district court exceeded its discretion and made legally inadequate findings regarding its decision to grant him "only alternating Friday and Saturday overnights during the school year instead of alternating Friday, Saturday, and Sunday overnights" and its decision to deny him midweek parent time during the school year. We affirm with respect to Lay's first contention, but because we agree with Lay that the district court's findings are inadequately detailed, we remand for further proceedings.

         STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         ¶4 We generally will not disturb the district court's parent-time determination absent a showing that the court has abused its discretion. See Wight v. Wight, 2011 UT App 424, ¶ 23, 268 P.3d 861. However, we review the district court's interpretation of a statute for correctness. Id. Likewise, "we review the legal adequacy of findings of fact for correctness as a question of law." Jacobsen v. Jacobsen, 2011 UT App 161, ¶ 15, 257 P.3d 478 (quotation simplified); see also Brown v. Babbitt, 2015 UT App 161, ¶ 5, 353 P.3d 1262 ("We review the legal sufficiency of factual findings-that is, whether the [district] court's factual findings are sufficient to support its legal conclusions-under a correction-of-error standard, according no particular deference to the [district] court." (quotation simplified)).

         ANALYSIS

         I. The Statutory Optional Parent-Time Schedule

         ¶5 Lay first contends that the district court misinterpreted Utah Code section 30-3-35.1, which sets forth an optional parent-time schedule that provides more parent-time for the noncustodial parent than the default minimum amount. According to Lay, he satisfied his evidentiary burden under that statute, and the district court was therefore required to adopt that statute's optional parent-time schedule.[1]

         ¶6 Each divorced parent "is entitled to and responsible for frequent, meaningful, and continuing access with the parent's child consistent with the child's best interests." Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-32(2)(b)(ii) (LexisNexis Supp. 2017). To that end, Utah Code section 30-3-35 sets a default minimum parent-time schedule "to which the noncustodial parent and the child [who is between five and eighteen years old] shall be entitled," id. § 30-3-35(2), unless "the court determines that Section 30-3-35.1 should apply" or a parent can establish "that more or less parent-time should be awarded," id. § 30-3-34(2). Under the default minimum schedule in section 30-3-35, the noncustodial parent is entitled to parent-time with the child during one weekday evening and on alternating weekends, which include Friday and Saturday overnights. See id. § 30-3-35(2)(a)(i), (2)(b)(i).

         ¶7 The Utah Code also provides an alternative statutory parent-time schedule for children between five and eighteen years old. Enacted in 2015, Utah Code section 30-3-35.1 describes an "optional" increased parent-time schedule. Id. ยง 30-3-35.1. Under this schedule, the noncustodial parent has parent-time for one weekday overnight and, on alternating weekends, three overnights (Friday through Sunday nights), resulting in the noncustodial ...


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