Utah standards for alimony are detailed and unique

One important consideration for the court is the parties' standards of living.

At the end of many marriages, the issue of alimony, meaning the payment of support from one ex-spouse to the other, can be very important economically and may have a direct impact on the standards of living of both parties. In Utah, the alimony statute articulates specific standards for the court to apply in deciding whether to grant alimony.

In many divorces, the parties negotiate, usually through their respective lawyers, a marital settlement agreement in which they set out jointly the resolution of the legal issues in the divorce, including alimony. If the parties do not settle the alimony issue, it will be a contested issue for the court to decide.

Utah alimony law

The Utah alimony statute says that the court must consider at least these seven listed factors when it decides alimony issues (but it may consider others):

1. Recipient's financial situation and needs

2. Recipient's earning capacity, including impact of time away from work to care for the payor's child

3. Payor's ability to pay

4. Marriage duration

5. Recipient's custody and support of children

6. Recipient's prior work in the payor's business

7. Recipient's contribution to payor's skills by paying educational expenses or otherwise enabling school attendance during marriage

In contrast to some other states, Utah says that the court has discretion to weight the fault of either party in deciding the alimony question. The fault must have been during marriage, have "substantially contributed" to the end of the marital relationship and have been one of these four acts:

1. Sexual relations with a person outside the marriage

2. Knowing, intentional physical harm to the other spouse or to minor children, or the attempt to do so

3. Knowingly and intentionally inflicting the reasonable fear of "life-threatening harm" on the other spouse or minor children

4. Substantial undermining of the "financial stability" of the other spouse or minor children

If appropriate, the court can try to "equalize" the parties' standards of living. Utah alimony law says to look at the standard of living when the spouses separated, but if circumstances and fairness support it, the standard of living at the time of the divorce trial can be the basis of an alimony award. If a marriage was short, the court can also look at the standard of living when the marriage began.

If a short marriage involved no kids, an option for the court is to restore the standard of living of each at the time they married.

In a marriage of long duration, in deciding alimony and property division, the court must consider an imminent increase in one of their incomes, if both spouses contributed to the increase. In addition, if one of their earning capacities was "greatly enhanced" because of the contributions of both of them, this may be considered in the court's property division and alimony decisions.

Duration

The length of time alimony is paid may not be longer than the marriage was, unless before alimony ends, the court determines that "extenuating circumstances" that would justify a longer duration.

Termination

Alimony ends at the end of the term specified in the divorce order or when the recipient remarries, dies or cohabits with someone else. Cohabitation must be proven to the court to get permission to stop paying.

Either party may ask the court for a change in the alimony order if there are "substantial material changes" in circumstances that were unforeseeable.

Alimony can be a contentious issue. This article is only an introduction to a complex area of Utah law that a family lawyer can explain further.

Lawyer Stephen Buhler of the West Valley City law office of Stephen J. Buhler, Attorney at Law represents spouses in divorce in the Salt Lake City area.