The Appellate Group

In re A.T.

In re A.T., 2020 UT App 50 (Harris, J.)

Child Welfare

After Mother’s and Father’s divorce, Mother was awarded sole custody of their two children. But after Mother overdosed, the children were removed from Mother’s care. Initially the court ordered reunification services. But when Mother did not fully complete her child and family plan, the juvenile court terminated reunification services and placed the children in the permanent physical and legal custody of Father. In so doing, it relied on the parental presumption. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding:

  • The parental presumption was introduced into Utah’s jurisprudence in a case involving a custody dispute between a natural parent and an individual without a biological or legal connection to a child. The presumption does not appear to apply here because this case involves two natural parents. But even if the presumption could apply in a dispute between two natural parents, the presumption does not apply here because both parents lost the presumption when the juvenile court entered uncontested findings of neglect against Mother and dependency against Father. 
  • The juvenile court’s analysis was highly dependent upon its understanding of the parental presumption. Based on its understanding, the juvenile court considered itself legally bound to make a ruling in Father’s favor. On remand, the juvenile court should not rely on the parental presumption and instead consider the statutory factors. 

Read the full court opinion