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Know the Laws: Wyoming

UPDATED October 20, 2012

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WomensLaw.org strongly recommends that you get in touch with a lawyer in your community for more information on custody. Go to the WY Where to Find Help page for a listing of organizations that can help.

General information

back to topWhat is custody?

Custody is the legal responsibility for the care and control of your child (under 18).* The court may award custody of your child to one or both parents as part of a divorce or separation proceeding. There are 2 types of custody: legal and physical.

Legal custody is the right to make major decisions about your child. Some types of decisions included in the right of legal custody are: where your child goes to school, whether your child gets surgery and what kind of religious training your child receives.

Physical custody refers to who your child lives with on a day-to-day basis.**

*W.S. § 20-5-202(a)(ii)
**W.S. § 20-5-202(a)(xiv)

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back to topIs there any difference between custody and visitation?

Custody can include the right to make decisions about your child (legal custody) and the right to have your child live with you (physical custody). A parent who does not have physical custody may be entitled to visitation. This means that even though your child lives with one parent, your child may get to spend time with the other parent. The court may order visitation with the other parent based on the best interests of the child.

You may also share legal custody of your child with the parent who has visitation. In this case, your child lives with one parent and spends time with the other parent, but both parents have the right to make important decisions about your child.

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back to topWhat are some benefits of getting a custody order?

Some people decide not to get a custody order because they don't want to get the courts involved. They may have an informal agreement that works well for them or may think going to court will provoke the other parent.

A custody order can give you:

* The right to make decisions about your child (legal custody)
* The right to physical custody of your child (to have your child live with you)

If you decide not to get a custody order, then you and the other parent have equal rights to both of the above. The only way to change the equal right to make decisions about your child and to have your child live with you is by filing for custody of your child with the court.

While a custody order may help in many ways, you do NOT need a custody order to file for child support. When necessary, the court will order child support for the financial maintenance of your child.* (See “Can I get financial support for my children and myself?” below)

*W.S. § 20-2-301

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back to topShould I start a court case to ask for supervised visitation?

If you are not comfortable with the abuser being alone with your child, you might be thinking about asking the judge to order that visits with your child be supervised.  If you are already in court because the abuser filed for visitation or custody, you may not have much to lose by asking that the visits be supervised if you can present a valid reason for your request (although this may depend on your situation).

However, if there is no current court case, please get legal advice BEFORE you start a court case to ask for supervised visits.  We strongly recommend that you talk to an attorney who specializes in custody matters to find out what you would have to prove to get the visits supervised and how long supervised visits would last, based on the facts of your case.

In the majority of cases, supervised visits are only a temporary measure.  Although the exact visitation order will vary by state, county, or judge, the judge might order a professional to observe the other parent on a certain amount of visits or the visits might be supervised by a relative for a certain amount of time -- and if there are no obvious problems, the visits may likely become unsupervised.  Oftentimes, at the end of a case, the other parent ends up with more frequent and/ or longer visits than s/he had before you went into court or even some form of custody.

In some cases, to protect your child from immediate danger by the abuser, starting a case to ask for custody and supervised visits is appropriate. To find out what may be best in your situation, please go to WY Finding a Lawyer to seek out legal advice.

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Thank you to the Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault for assisting us in gathering this information.

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