Utah family law cases involve a range of legal topics from divorce, to child custody to child support and many more. Gaining a basic understanding of the laws involved and how the facts of your particular case are affected by these laws is essential to understanding the range of possible outcomes that exist for you. Our brief informative guide, below, will help you determine how much family law help you need in Utah or if you can go it alone. However, after learning the basics, if you decide it is too important to mess around with the case yourself – and it most certainly is – we can connect you to a Utah family law professional at no charge so that a local expert can evaluate your case and find out what moves are right for you.
Under Utah divorce law, individuals that wish to end their marriage can do so on either fault or no-fault grounds. No-fault based divorces are the most common in Utah and are normally much faster and less expensive than proving a fault based divorce. The requirements for a no-fault divorce in Utah are particularly stringent when compared to other states and can be found here at Title 30 Chapter 3 Section 1 of the Utah Code. A no fault divorce is found under Utah Code 30-3-1(3)(h) where it states: “irreconcilable differences of the marriage.” This essentially means that the marriage did not work out and neither spouse is placing blame on the other or saying that one person did something to cause the divorce.
While proving irreconcilable differences may be enough to receive a no-fault divorce award, the divorcing couple can also receive a no-fault divorce if they have lived separate and apart for at least three years, while other states typically require between 3-18 months of living separate and apart. This is found in Utah Code 30-3-1(3)(j): “. . . when the husband and wife have lived separately under a decree of separate maintenance of any state for three consecutive years without cohabitation.” If a no-fault divorce is not possible, a fault divorce can be granted one of the following grounds are proven with evidence and testimony before a Utah divorce judge:
(3) Grounds for divorce:
(a) impotency of the respondent at the time of marriage;
(b) adultery committed by the respondent subsequent to marriage;
(c) willful desertion of the petitioner by the respondent for more than one year;
(d) willful neglect of the respondent to provide for the petitioner the common necessaries of life;
(e) habitual drunkenness of the respondent;
(f) conviction of the respondent for a felony;
(g) cruel treatment of the petitioner by the respondent to the extent of causing bodily injury or great mental distress to the petitioner;
(h) irreconcilable differences of the marriage;
(i) incurable insanity; or
(j) when the husband and wife have lived separately under a decree of separate maintenance of any state for three consecutive years without cohabitation.
Proving one of the above grounds, with exception to sections (h) and (j) are difficult and require evidence, testimony, and normally can cost thousands of dollars. This is why no-fault divorces are much more popular in Utah than fault-based divorces.
Residency Rules and Mandatory Waiting Periods
Utah family law statutes provide that specific residency and waiting period requirements must be met prior to filing for divorce and prior to obtaining a final divorce decree. First, Utah Code 30-3-1(2) states that at least one person must be a “bona fide resident of this state and of the county where the action is brought . . . for three-months next prior to the commencement of the action. Next, Utah Code Title 30 Chapter 3 Section 18 states that the court will impose a mandatory waiting period of 90-days before the final divorce decree can be entered and approved by a Utah family law judge. The only exception to waiving the mandatory 90-day waiting period is if minor children are involved as custody decisions may need to be made quickly.
Property Distribution Rules
Utah courts follow the rule of an “equitable distribution of property” during a divorce. This does not mean an equal 50/50 split of all property (although it typically does). This means that a judge has broad discretion to award a larger share of property to one spouse over the other based on a number of far reaching factors such as inheritance, property purchased prior to the marriage, age of the parties, contribution by either party, education level of each spouse, length of the marriage, earning capacity of each spouse, and many others. The judge does what he or she believes is fair under the circumstances of each particular case. This “fair” decision by the judge will involve the division of property and also debt that the married couple has. Learn more by reading the actual statute here at Utah Code 30-3-5.
Alimony – Spousal Maintenance
Another topic that comes up in Utah divorces is the situation where one spouse pays alimony to the other for a specified period of time. Alimony considerations are covered under the same Chapter in the Utah Code at 30-3-5, so it is no surprise that a determination of whether alimony is appropriate and if so, how much and for how long, is based on similar elements as determining an equitable distribution of the marital property.
The purpose of alimony is to help one spouse maintain a reasonable standard of living. Factors that go into this include, but are not limited to, length of the marriage, age of the parties, earning capacity of each spouse, work history of each spouse, current income of each spouse, education of each spouse, and disability of either spouse. Alimony can have implications that last for years after a divorce is finalized – this is normally not something an individual should attempt to do without professional legal help.
Utah Child Support
One of the most confusing of all Utah family law issues deals with child support. Utah does not use a simple formula or percentage basis for determining child support payments. Instead, Utah child support awards are based on both parents’ gross incomes, which parent(s) is currently supporting the children, and the amount of time that each parent spends with the child (parenting time). The actual child support formula and reasoning can be found here in the Utah Code Title 78B Chapter 12. It is extremely confusing and most Utah residents rely on legal professionals to work with them on their child support case for this reason.
In many cases, Utah’s child support formula can be adjusted depending on specific circumstances, such as another child support case or the disability of either parent or the child involved. In addition to paying child support, it is normal for a Utah judge to also award the order both parents to pay a percentage of the child’s daycare, healthcare, or educational costs as well. A basic Utah child support calculator can be found here at the Utah Department of Human Services which provides a general idea of what parents can expect a child support order to look like.
Utah Child Custody
Utah family law courts base their decision on Utah child custody arrangements by a standard known as the best interests of the child. These are normally the types of cases that require the most Utah family law help as it deals with custody and visitation of children. This standard analyzes both parents past conduct, each party’s ability to support the relationships between their child and other parents, as well as the ability to co-parent and cooperate in raising the minor child. The court may even consider the child’s preference regarding which parent that they would like to have custody, but this is not common and is certainly not the deciding factor the judge uses in making his or her determination. To view the full-text of the statute read the Utah Code Title 30 Chapter 3 Section 10 here and apply the facts of your case to these elements.
Child custody cases can be born out of either a divorce or between two unmarried parents that had a child together (known as a paternity case). Paternity cases require a showing of proof that a man is the biological father legally prior to assigning that man any rights such as visitation or custody. Paternity also must first be established before a mother can begin collecting child support from the father. These cases can impact a child and adults life for decades, so it is important to be educated and make a smart decision as to whether to go it alone or seek professional Utah family law advice.
Utah Father’s Rights
Utah Father’s rights issues can arise during divorce, as well as during the child support and child custody award process. Though family law courts are prohibited from considering gender when making family law decisions, oftentimes awards are more favorable to mothers over fathers. This bias towards the mother happens slightly more in paternity actions than divorce actions. This is because, presumably, a father in a paternity action may not have been living with the mother and the child and therefore, the court assumes that the mother is the primary caregiver of the child until and unless proven otherwise. In divorce actions, a father may still have a slight bias against him by the court but because of the marital relationship, it is presumed that he has been in the child’s life since birth. Either way, a father must establish a connection with the child and assert himself as the better caregiver by avoiding pitfalls that can ruin his case. Father’s rights in Utah are difficult but certainly far from impossible to win, but definitely not the type of case that a person should attempt without serious advice from a father’s rights expert.
What to Do Now?
Simple – make sure that you understand the law and the consequences of moving forward with your Utah family law matter and speak to a professional to find out if you need help. While understanding the basics is essential, it is no substitute for a specially trained professional and we can connect you to a local Utah family law expert at no charge. Don’t be a victim of the system – get started with the family law help you deserve right away.