SALT LAKE CITY — Divorce in itself can be challenging, but add kids to the mix and a lot of those challenges become emotionally charged — especially when it comes to custody.
Questions such as who gets the kids, when the other parent gets to see them, and how much time the children will spend with each parent are typically answered by a judge. But all too often, parents don't follow the determined guidelines.
Many Utah dads claim to be the victims of so-called custodial interference. So is there a bias against fathers when it comes to custody cases?
A review of data from the past 10 years reveals the overall number of custodial interference cases nearly tripled in Utah. There are many who believe the rights of fathers are being ignored.
"There's nothing I've been through that's harder than this," said divorced Utah father Matthew Brown.
John Scott is in a similar position.
"I have over 200 documented cases of being denied parent time," he said. "In my opinion, they're extremely biased."
Brown and Scott claim they're victims of custodial interference. They said their ex-wives have intentionally kept their children from them, despite the fact they have custodial rights.
How can parents protect themselves?
- Bring divorce decrees signed by a judge to show officers you're legally supposed to have the children.
- Make sure intentions are good — don't file charges just to get vengeance.
- Keep hard evidence such as text messages, emails and phone conversations between you and your former spouse. Judges and lawyers said it's the only thing you have to protect yourself.
Both men said this is happening "without consequence."
"Do you want me to go and bang down her door and physically remove my kids from her?" Scott said. "That's not a healthy option to me."
Utah law states that if a parent intentionally withholds a child from the other parent who is entitled visitation, they've committed a crime. But Scott and Brown said they believe the law is rarely enforced against women.
On the flip side, they said, men feel the full extent of the law.
Scott claimed he received a threatening call from the Provo Police Department after his ex-wife gave them false information. He said his calls, however, do not produce the same results.
Police officers deny this claim.
"I have not seen that," said Provo Police Lt. Mathew Siufanua. "I have not seen where officers are biased in that way."
By the numbers
Siufanua said officers fully understand the law and enforce it as best they can. But if the parent won't give up the kids and the kids are not in danger, Siufanua said, officers are not going to create drama.
"They want us to go knock the door down, go inside, grab the kids and pull them out; make an arrest," he said. "We won't do that."
Jonathan Gwinn, an attorney with Cordell and Cordell, has been defending Utah fathers for years. He calls them the underdogs of the system. From police to prosecutors to judges — he said dads are not getting a fair shake.
"The many crimes that are out there, this is a crime against children which should be enforced by the courts," Gwinn said.
A KSL review of numerous cases did not reveal a solid bias against fathers in Utah. Records over the past 10 years show this, that and the other. While the overall numbers show more men have been charged, the prisons show more women have been convicted.
Commissioner Thomas N. Arnett Jr. has dealt with quarreling parents for the past 22 years. He said parent time is one of the biggest issues. But he said he doesn't see a clear bias in the way these cases are handled.
"We try to be gender-neutral in everything we do," he said.
A majority of custodial interference cases are thrown out by the courts. Of those cases, 63 percent were against mothers, while 37 percent were against fathers.
It takes an average of 232 days to get from filing to judgment on custodial interference cases. In short, if the law is broken, it takes a long time to get parent time back.