Parents that have children together but are not married to each other may ask the court for orders concerning their minor children, including paternity, child custody, child support and parent-time. This is done in a parentage case.
If there is a question about paternity, it is possible to ask the court for an order for genetic testing as part of the parentage case. See the Paternity web page for information about paternity-related issues.
The information on this page is general and addresses the most common procedures for obtaining a child custody order between unmarried parents. This page does not address situations where other family members are trying to get custody of a minor child. Parentage issues can be complicated so consider talking to an attorney for advice.
The parentage process
See the Roadmap for parentage cases for an overall picture of the process and timelines.
The parent starting the parentage case is the petitioner. The other parent is the respondent.
Domestic Relations Injunction
When a parentage case is filed, the court will automatically issue an order called a Domestic Relations Injunction. The injunction is a court order requiring parties not to harass one another, change insurance or beneficiary coverage, transfer property or make non-routine travel with the parties' minor children while the case is pending. There are additional prohibitions in the injunction. Be sure to read it carefully.
The injunction is effective for the petitioner when the case is filed. The injunction is effective for the respondent when the petitioner gets a copy to them. See the Domestic Relations Injunction web page for more information.
Petitioner completes the documents
The petitioner may use OCAP the Online Court Assistance Program to prepare the petition and other documents to file for parentage. Once in OCAP, choose the option called Custody, Support, or Paternity.
Petitioner files the documents
The petitioner must file for parentage with the appropriate district court. For information about how to file documents, see the Filing Procedures web page.
The petitioner must pay a filing fee when they file the papers with the court. If they cannot afford the fees they can ask to waive them. The OCAP custody program includes an option to ask to waive the fees. For more information, see our page on Fee Waiver.
Where to file
Generally speaking, if the minor children have lived in Utah for six months prior to filing the case, the case is filed with the district court of the county where the children reside.
If the petitioner uses OCAP, they will be asked a series of questions about where they, the respondent, and the children live. That may help determine where the case should be filed. The following flowcharts can also help you determine whether Utah has jurisdiction.
See: Utah Code 78B-15-101 et seq., Utah Uniform Parentage Act
Jurisdiction can be complicated. If there are questions about which court in Utah, or which state or country might have jurisdiction, talk to a lawyer.
Petitioner has documents served
The petitioner must have the respondent served with the petition for parentage, summons and other documents no later than 120 days after the petition is filed. The petitioner must provide proof of service once it has been completed. For more information about service, see the Serving Papers web page.
Respondent files an answer
The respondent has 21 days (if they were served in Utah) or 30 days (if they were served outside of Utah) to respond to ("answer") the parentage petition if the respondent disagrees with anything stated in the petition. The respondent may use OCAP, the Online Court Assistance Program, to prepare an answer. For more information, see the Answering a Complaint or Petition web page. If the respondent does not think Utah has jurisdiction, they may need to file a Motion to Dismiss instead of an Answer.
If an answer is filed, both parties must provide initial disclosures to each other, including a Financial Declaration. For more information and forms, see the Initial Disclosures web page and the Financial Declarations web page.
If an answer is filed, the court may order the parties to try to come to an agreement in mediation. For more information, see our pages on Mediation.
The respondent may also stipulate—or agree—in writing to the petition and the parentage or custody decree. If the parties can agree to the terms of the decree, they can use the OCAP Parentage Interview to prepare the documents. OCAP can create a stipulation at the start of the case, or at any point in the case if the parties come to an agreement. Follow the directions in the OCAP interview.
If respondent does not file an answer
If the respondent has been properly served and does not file an answer within the time specified in the Summons, the petitioner may ask for a default judgment. This means the petitioner gets what they have asked for, and the respondent won't have a chance to tell their side of the story. For more information and forms, see our page on Default Judgments. The default judgment forms are also available through the OCAP custody program.
Child custody, child support and parent time
The parentage case addresses the issues of paternity, child custody, child support and parent-time. For more information, please see these pages:
- Child Custody and Parent Time - information about the types of custody, parenting plans and parent relocation.
- Child Support - information about calculating child support, medical expenses, tax exemptions and collecting support. OCAP will calculate child support based on the child custody arrangement and the income of each parent.
- Parenting Plans - information about plans for parents to work together to raise their children.
Either party can ask for a temporary order if needed during the parentage case. A temporary order can include child support, custody, and parent time. For more information and forms, see the How to get a Temporary Order web page.
A party can request that the minor's legal name be changed in the petition or counter petition. The request must include the child's current full legal name and the proposed new full legal name. If parties can't agree about what the child's name should be, the judge will make a decision based on what is in the child's best interest.
The parentage decree can also include adding or removing a parent's name from the minor child's birth certificate. For example, if man is determined to be the biological and legal father in the parentage case, the decree can order that his name be added to the child's birth certificate.
More information required by the Utah Office of Vital Records and Statistics to make changes to birth certificates is found on that agency's website.
Going to trial
The following procedures apply only if the parties are not able to reach an agreement in the parentage case.
Child custody evaluation
The parties may request a custody evaluation by a professional evaluator. The judge can order a custody evaluation even without a motion from a party. A custody evaluation may be expensive and the cost is often split between the parties. For more information, see Rule 4-903 and the web pages on Custody Evaluation and Child Custody and Parent Time.
See the Getting Ready for Trial web page for information about going to trial.
After the parentage decree
Changes to Birth Certificate
If the parentage decree or order says a Utah birth certificate should be changed a party can provide a certified copy of the order to Utah Vital Records and Statistics and complete their process for getting an Amended Birth Certificate. More information, see Vital Records website at https://vitalrecords.utah.gov/certificates/amend-a-vital-record.
Collecting Child Support
A party that has a parentage decree or court order that requires the other party to pay child support can work with the Office of Recovery Services (ORS) for help collecting child support. More information is available on the ORS Child Support Services web page.
A party who disagrees with the judge's decisions and thinks the judge has made a legal mistake may file an appeal, but must do so within 30 days after final entry of the parentage decree. For more information, see our page on Appeals.
Setting aside a judgment
A judgment, including a default judgment, can be set aside if there are good enough reasons for doing so. If a judgment is set aside, the case is reopened. A military service member has special rights to set aside a default judgment. To help prepare a motion to set aside a default or other judgment, see the Motion to Set Aside Judgment web page. For more information about default judgments, see the Default Judgments web page.
Correcting a clerical error in the decree
If there is a clerical error in the decree, either party may ask the court to enter a corrected decree. A clerical error may be, for example, if the monthly child support payment amount is supposed to be $450 but is mistakenly listed as $4500. For information on a motion to correct a clerical error in the decree, see the Motions web page.
Modifying a parentage decree
If there has been a substantial change in circumstances since the parentage decree was signed by the judge, either party can ask the court to modify the decree. For more information, see the web pages on:
A party wanting to modify a parentage decree to question the parental status of a man that has been declared to be the legal father should seek legal advice. That process is beyond the scope of this web page.
Enforcing a parentage decree
A party may ask the court to enforce a temporary order or parentage decree if the other party is not obeying it. For more information, see the Motion to Enforce Order.
Administrative child support order from the Office of Recovery Services (ORS)
It is possible to ask the Office of Recovery Services (ORS) to establish child support orders administratively. While the ORS order is not an order of the court, it has the same effect as a court order. An administrative order from ORS does not address child custody or parent time. Those issues must go through the court.
More information about the administrative order process is available on the ORS Child Support Services web page.
Forms for the petitioner
- Use the Online Court Assistance Program (OCAP) to prepare the documents to start a parentage case. Choose Custody and Support, or Paternity/Parentage – Petitioner.
Forms for the respondent
- Use Online Court Assistance Program (OCAP) to prepare an Answer to a parentage case and optional Counterclaim, or to prepare a Stipulation. Choose Custody and Support, or Paternity/Parentage – Respondent.
Used by the respondent to tell the court that they are not on active duty military service.
Going to trial
To be used by either party to tell the court what they know about how much money the other party earns.
(Used to object to the proposed order or Judgment)
Other web pages with forms
- Default Judgments
- Financial Declaration
- Informal Trial of Support, Custody and Parent-Time
- Modifying Child Custody
- Modifying Child Support
- Modifying Parent Time
- Motion to Enforce Order
- Parenting Plans